Prof Karen Milner, National Chairperson of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies responds to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s betrayal of the SA Jewish community.
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Letter to President Ramaphosa in the Sunday Times | 15 October 2023
Dear Mr President,
Last Saturday, the Jewish people suffered their greatest tragedy since the Holocaust 78 years ago.
That barbaric attack, first on a concert attended by defenceless young people and then on communal farming villages in which everyone from newborns to the elderly and infirm were sought out and slaughtered, has seen the deaths of more than 1300 Jews. The death toll increases every day as more and more victims are found. Scores have been taken hostage; thousands more have been wounded.
In a world of increasing depravity, the scale and scope of this brutality have left the international community aghast. World leaders have put aside their differences to reach out and condemn this atrocity for what it was. Yet there has not been a word of condemnation from your office. Instead, we have had to endure members of your administration and your party who have dared suggest that somehow these murders were the victims’ just desserts and justified.
This was a brutal, utterly inhumane terrorist attack by a proscribed organisation, Hamas.
Mr President, you ordered the current deployment of the South African National Defence Force to Mozambique to protect Mozambicans and South Africans from Isis, Hamas’s sister terrorist organisation. Your government has repatriated many South Africans caught in other terror crises worldwide. And yet, your administration has not offered any assistance to South Africans in Israel caught in the middle of this tragedy.
We are left with a profound sense of hypocrisy and double standards on the part of our government.
Last Saturday’s attack is a tragedy that transcends ideology of faith, it is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions: an inflection point for the world because it threatens to irrevocably unlock a Pandora’s box of prejudice virulent antisemitism that has festered for millennia. This week, we have witnessed a surge hatred and incitement to violence across the world. We have seen that same virulent antisemitism being spouted right here at home, enabled and emboldened by the government’s tolerance of it.
It is difficult to explain the depth of our horror and our hurt to those determined not to understand it. This week has been doubly harrowing for Jewish South Africans. We have been in this country for over 200 years. We arrived at different times seeking a better life for all of us – escaping first the pogroms of Eastern Europe and then the greatest crime against humanity, the Holocaust itself in which more than 6-million of us were murdered. The many Jewish freedom fighters who fought side-by-side with the ANC in the liberation Struggle did so because of this history of persecution.
We have been reminded in graphic form, every day since last Saturday of that terrible history: of people having to hide in attics or bunkers before being dragged out into the streets to be shot and killed; of babies having their throats slit in their cribs; and of women being defiled, raped and murdered. This time the killers captured their deeds on camera and then posted those abominations on social media.
We have been overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the compassion of so many ordinary South Africans. We are a very proud part of the South African nation, determined to do more than what is asked of us – as we always have done and will continue to.
But the silence from the Union Buildings and the hostility of your party is stunning. In this instance, it is tantamount to complicity. We are not asking for special privileges, Mr President, we are just asking to be seen for what we are: South Africans deserving of the same respect and consideration as that accorded to their fellow citizens. In our time of greatest need, you have ignored us. You have no inkling of the depth of the pain and trauma we are feeling, of the palpable sense of betrayal.
In a country with one of the most lauded constitutions in the world, which guarantees the equality of all South Africans, irrespective of race, gender, orientation, religious or political belief, this week we felt like second class citizens. Are some lives less sacrosanct than others? Are we once again, as has been the recurring narrative for more than 2 000 years, somehow less than other human beings?
Pease tell us it isn’t so, Mr President.
Prof Karen Miner
National Executive Director,
South African Jewish Board of Deputies
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