Strong SA delegation at World Jewish Congress

Strong SA delegation at World Jewish Congress

Cape Board Chairman Li Boiskin, Honorary Life Vice President Mervyn Smith and Executive Director David Jacobson joined interational colleagues at the 14th World Jewish Congress (WJC) Plenary Assembly held in Budapest, Hungary, from 5 — 7 May.

The WJC had specifically chosen Hungary as the venue for this Assembly, usually held in Israel, to show solidarity with the local Jewish community as well as put pressure on the Hungarian government to deal with the rising antisemitism in Hungary. On the opening night, some 700 demonstrators protested outside the venue. The crowd was addressed by representatives of the far-right Jobbik Party, who alleged that there was a Jewish conspiracy underfoot to buy up the country and accused the WJC of choosing to hold its four-yearly gathering in Budapest to ‘shame the Hungarian people’. Jobbik won 17% of the vote in the 2010 elections and, with 43 seats, is the third largest party in the 386-member Hungarian parliament. SAJBD National Chairman Mary Kluk said that the demonstration brought home to her once again how fortunate South African Jews are to live in a country where such overt displays of anti-Jewish prejudice and hostility, particularly by a recognised political party, are all but unknown.

Some 500 delegates and observers from the WJC’s affiliated Jewish communities in 100 countries participated in the conference. The rise of neo-Nazi political parties in various European and other countries, and the situation in the Middle East were amongst the issues addressed.

A significant player in Jewish politics

The South African delegation comprised representatives of the National and Cape Council of the SAJBD, headed by Mary Kluk (National Chairman) and including Wendy Kahn (National Director), African Jewish Congress President Mervyn Smith and Cape Council chairman and executive director Li Boiskin and David Jacobson. Mervyn Smith’s contribution to world Jewry was recognised in his election as co-chairman of the WJC Policy Council. “The 14th WJC Plenary Assembly demonstrated clearly the scope and power of the World Jewish Congress, which still remains the primary global organisation representing all of world Jewry,” said Smith. “I am honoured by this appointment and the faith in which the WJC has shown in me, and by extension in the South African Jewish community. Our community still remains a significant player within global Jewish politics.”

“The Cape Board is immensely proud of Mervyn, who has acted as a mentor to me during my tenure as Cape Board Chairman and whose sage council is so valuable around our table,” said Li Boiskin. It was further confirmed that South Africa, as home to one of the twelve largest Jewish communities in the Diaspora, would be represented on the Executive Committee outside Israel. The SAJBD Chairman currently in office would be the South African representative.

As part of their visit to Hungary, the Cape delegation visited the very moving ‘Shoes on the Danube Memorial’, commemorating the thousands of Budapest Jews who were shot and thrown into the Danube by the fascist Arrow Cross in 1944.

The visit also included a tour of the famous Dohany Street Synagogue. “This magnificent shul, built to hold 3000 people, is a stark reminder of the decimation of Hungarian Jewry that took place so tragically just months before the fall of Hitler,” commented David Jacobson. “It is testament to the resilience of the Jewish people that the Hungarian Jewish community, like many others in Eastern Europe, is re-inventing itself so powerfully in the wake of both the Shoah and the scourge of communism.”