No man is an island

By Gwynne Robins, Senior Researcher, Cape SAJBD

One of the most important aspects of the work of the Cape SAJBD is combatting antisemitism and racism.

But we cannot only be concerned about racist antisemitic remarks, prejudice and persecution, without being equally concerned about the effect of prejudice and persecution on others.

As Rabbi Hillel said in that most quoted saying: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” If we are only for ourselves, what are we?

Or, as John Donne wrote in his poem No man is an island, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

We are involved in humankind and we cannot only speak up when Jews are the target.

As a result, the Cape SAJBD, as a human rights body, has also spoken out about, and written letters to protest the persecution of the Baha’i in Iran, the persecution of the Hizmet movement in Turkey, of the Uighur Muslims in China, and the effects on the health of the Congolese in Shinkolobwe due to the exploitation of its uranium which was used in the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II.

We also published a letter when the Ahmadiyya Muslims, regarded as heretics by mainstream Muslims, contacted us when cars drove by and pelted their Rondebosch mosque with eggs, and when fundamentalist Christians left a pig’s head outside a Kalk Bay mosque. Its imam read out our letter of support in the mosque at the public protest meeting they organised.

Because of our commitment to working for the betterment of human relations between Jews and all other peoples of South Africa based on mutual respect, understanding and goodwill, we regard involvement in interfaith relations as important. As such, the Board is a member of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative which, in its turn, is a cooperation circle (CCs), one of more than 800 such circles that make up the United Religions Initiative (URI), a global grassroots interfaith network.

The Board was saddened to receive a communication from URI saying that, as a precautionary measure, it had removed all information about CCs in Afghanistan from the URI website and social media, and advised any organisation that had a website or social media presence to do the same if it held any information about people or groups working for peace and other humanitarian causes in Afghanistan. The Council of the Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions has also issued a warning, and even Facebook has announced new security measures to protect users from Afghanistan.

It is not only the supporters of interfaith who are at risk, so too are people working for women’s rights and for the rights of the LGBTQI+. The Taliban takeover has been described by the EU’s foreign policy chief as “a catastrophe and a nightmare”. Already images of women on posters are being vandalised and it has been reported that the Taliban has been going door to door arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on the Taliban to stop attacking journalists and searching their homes.

What a tragedy that not only are women’s rights at risk since the Taliban takeover, so too is the safety of any organisation or individual promoting peace and harmonious relations between people of different faiths. In a world facing threats of COVID-19, global warming, poverty and hunger, it is all the more important that all people should work together to solve these problems irrespective of where or how they pray.

No man is an island. We all live on the same planet.

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website:, Instagram, and Facebook page.

• Published in the PDF edition of the October 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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