Throwing down the challenge

Jewish Board of Deputies 27/10/07 Gala opening at President Hotel

Individuals could influence public opinion in the “war of legitimacy” being waged against Israel, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights NGO, said at the gala opening of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council) 2007 conference.

The packed gala opening on the Saturday night at the President Hotel was addressed by the dynamic Mr Neuer. His address: ‘Israel at the United Nations: a nation that dwells alone’, outlined the harsh reality of the anti-Israel bias at the UN Human Rights Council. It was hard-hitting, sobering and very well received by the over 300 strong audience, setting the tone for a highly successful and well-attended conference, aptly themed ‘Challenges and Choices’.

“Israel should not be immune to scrutiny and criticism, but this is not a rational critique on the issues – it is designed to demonise Israel,” Neuer said. “We try to educate public opinion. A lot of people, Jews and non-Jews, do not know the facts. We need to get the information to people of goodwill, who will act if they know the facts. We can make a difference around the world and this message is getting out there.”

The evening had its fair share of pomp and circumstance. After an opening prayer from Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, greetings were delivered by SAZF President Adv Jonathan Silke on behalf of the Israeli Embassy and the Western Province Zionist Council, Eliseo Neuman of the American Jewish Committee, Board National chairman Zev Krengel and Marco van Embden of the United Jewish Campaign. Cape council chairman Moonyeen Castle gave an overview of her year in office.

Hillel Neuer was introduced by Board National President Michael Bagraim and thanked by Cape Council vicechairman Owen Futeran. Three Cape Town chazanim, Barry Braun, Ian Camissar and Ivor Joffe, accompanied by Matthew Reid on keyboard, provided the lively musical entertainment.

The ‘star of the show’ at the gala opening of the Cape Board’s 2007 Conference was undoubtedly Mr Neuer. While small in stature, his message was large and substantial. Israel was a nation that dwelt alone at the United Nations, he said. After the Six-Day War the Arabs had opened a new front on the diplomatic battlefield, inverting Karl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum, “war is a continuation of politics by other means” — in making politics their way of continuing their war against Israel by other means. In 1975, the UN General Assembly had adopted a resolution equating Zionism with racism. Although the resolution was rescinded in 1991, Neuer noted that “the spirit of the resolution lives on in an endless series of United Nations resolutions.

“They created a veritable infrastructure designed to delegitimise and demonise the State of Israel.”

The UN Human Rights Commission met every year in Geneva. Most of the worst human rights abuses were never mentioned, but a grossly disproportionate amount of time was spent in singling Israel out for condemnation. Half the resolutions against abuses worldwide were passed against Israel alone. A special agenda item was devoted to “human rights violations in the occupied territories, including Palestine”, the only one relating to a specific country.

The evening was a huge success, by all accounts, but the final word must go to the outgoing Chairman of the Cape Council, Moonyeen Castle. “I have no compunction in categorically stating that this small community of 16 000 people is one of the finest in the world. We may have some warts and blemishes, but most importantly, we have heart and soul.”

Looking Forward

‘Are we Jewish South Africans or South African Jews?’ The theme of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council) Conference was highlighted in each of the sessions on Sunday, October 28. The Israel Abrahams Hall of the Albow Centre was filled with delegates, with the added presence of National Chairman, Zev Krengel, Executive Director, Wendy Kahn, Gauteng Chairman, Doron Joffe, KZN Chairman, Mary Kluk, Border doyen Theo Blumberg and Head of Communications, Charisse Zeiffert. The international guest speaker from Geneva, Hillel Neuer, also participated.

Issue Session
In the opening session of the conference, Moonyeen Castle, outgoing chairman and the first woman to head the Cape Council, set the tone by delivering an address that was different from the usual but highly relevant. Instead of offering a ‘laundry list’ of Board achievements, she laid down the challenges she saw facing the Cape Town Jewish community. From identity, to faith and outreach, she offered an open and frank account of what she had learned during the course of her tenure as chairman.”The challenge within our own community is to accept that there is not a one-size-fits-all brand of Judaism,” said Mrs Castle. “We are (also) aware that there are unaffiliated, uninvolved Jews — (‘Hidden Yidden’ — who need to be bought into the fold.”

War of the Words

Discussing the media and propaganda war against Israel, in a session on ‘Yak attack’, Vivian Anstey, who chaired the session, said the community had to decide when, how and if to respond to media attacks, but could never ignore them.Charisse Zeiffert, head of communications, SA Jewish Board of Deputies, discussed media developments on a national level. In questioning some possible negative motivations of coverage, she said the Board had to ascertain whether there was “a tokolosh under the bed”, promoting an anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic agenda.Hillel Neuer offered the international perspective, while the Cape outlook
was proffered by Adv Jonathan Silke and Professor Mike Berger.

Berger, co-opted onto the media subcommittee, suggested that the Cape Town media initiative should respond to the pervasive blatant or subtle anti-Israel bias through a local media team, working with its national counterparts, and a high-level electronic publication. He said that our message did not always need to be broadcast at top volume.

Moral Regeneration for the Nation

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein called for a ‘Bill of Responsibilities’ to be introduced to all schools in this country as a sustainable project that could make a difference to South Africa on an ongoing basis.His original proposal to the National Religious Leaders Forum and through it, to President Thabo Mbeki, had been a Bill of Morals, but that had proved problematic. A Bill of Responsibilities for schools had the required focus and precision. There was no need then to define morals and deal with the sensitivities of a secular country. It re-phrased each of the rights in the Bill of Rights in the SA constitution presenting its corresponding responsibility. It would act as a mirror copy of the Bill of Rights, to complement and complete it. The concept was based on two Torah concepts: that rights contained responsibilities and that words made a difference — they created worlds.

Walking the Talk

Discussing ‘Walking the talk — the Cape Board in action’, Li Boiskin, chairman of the outreach committee, spoke on the Board’s outreach programmes; CSO director Trevor Shaff, on communal security; Lester Hoffman, former national vice-chairman of the Board and treasurer of the Religious Leaders Forum in the Western Cape, on interfaith activities, and Cape Council treasurer and chairman of the country communities committee, Joe Fintz, on finance, bursaries and country communities. Rael Kaimowitz, projects co-ordinator of the Cape Council, presided over the session.

Straight Talk

Apanel comprising Michael Bagraim, national president of the Board, Moonyeen Castle, outgoing chairman of the Cape Council, Zev Krengel, national chairman of the Board, Prof Paul Sulcas, chairman of the Cape Council’s Staff Wise subcommittee, and Amy Stein, South African Union of Jewish Students (Western Cape) representative on the Cape Council, answered questions from the floor in the session on ‘Straight talk — a conversation with your Board’. Cape Council vice chairman Owen Futeran chaired the session.


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