Joint statement by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council) and Western Province Zionist Council in response to the Human Rights Delegation visit to Israel
1. During the month of July, 23 South African Human Rights Activists, from diverse backgrounds went to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a fact finding mission.
2. Contrary to certain rumours, neither the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council) nor the Western Province Zionist Council were in any way sponsors of this trip.
3. When they returned contact was made with some Jewish communal leaders including the leadership of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council) and the Western Province Zionist Council. Following on an initial report back and discussion, a decision was taken to invite members of the delegation to address a joint meeting of the committees of the SAJBOD & WPZC.
4. During the course of that meeting, numerous points were addressed to members of the delegation present, namely, Doron Isaacs, Nathan Geffen, Jonathan Berger and Fatima Hassan.
a) That there had not been sufficient cognisance, of the context in which certain decisions had to be taken and policies implemented by government and Israeli security forces. Some consequences of these are certainly distressing. This is recognised by most of our community and any one group or delegation does not have a monopoly on compassion for the suffering of others. However, this is a conflict which has brought much pain to both sides, and the abuse of Israeli human rights must also be included if the delegation seeks to be relevant.
b) The delegations focus was on very specific geographical and demographic areas and they completely disregarded areas such as Sderot, an Israeli town situated completely within internationally legally recognised borders and whose residents lives have been utterly disrupted and endangered by the constant firing of Quassam rockets into their midst.
c) In private discussions, at least with certain members of the delegation, there seemed to be recognition, at least in part, that the above reservations are valid. We are disappointed that this has not been reflected in any of the public utterances, letters or articles in the press, emanating from members of the delegation.
d) Furthermore, there is a seemingly total disregard of the fact that Israel faces an existential threat to its very existence and in the case of certain members of the delegation there is a clear disregard for a two state solution, being the internationally legally accepted solution.
5. Members of our community have been understandably distressed by the lack of balance and context to date. We are hopeful that certain members of the delegation will seek to address this imbalance in the coming days. To date it seems that most of the public utterances emanating from the delegation have focused on demonising Israel and apportioning blame to only one side, thereby stirring up ill feeling and creating an obstacle to constructive engagement.
6. Notwithstanding these reservations, SAJBOD & WPZC believe that it is fit and proper to engage with all members of our community who seek to take part in communal discourse. We believe that it is vital that we show respect for each other’s views, while at all times reserving the right to disagree. Our
meeting with the delegation was in no way an endorsement of their visit to Israel, the itinerary they followed or the views or thoughts they have
expressed on their return to South Africa. Our meeting with the delegation was an endorsement of communal discourse and open and honest debate and discussion on issues that face us and the Jewish people. There are many and varied views that are held by members of our community and they should all be allowed to be expressed and discussed and debated. In that light, for example, we also look forward to hearing more from members of the Rabbinical delegation who recently attended a five day conference hosted by Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein in Israel. They too have first hand experiences to relate and a paradigm and perspective within which they present their views and cherished beliefs.
4 July 2008 3 Av 5768