South Africa’s Jewish community is demanding answers from Pretoria following reports that their country’s delegates to last week’s African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea objected to the presence of a Jewish group from the United States.
The Jewish group, organized by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, walked out of the summit on Thursday after the Egyptian and South African delegations reportedly refused to enter the hall while they remained inside. A delegation from Iran, which is not a member of the AU , also objected to the presence of those whom they are said to have termed “Israelis.”
“We will be in touch with the AU leadership and hopefully get some letters of apologies and embarrassment,” Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
In a statement on Monday, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJ BD) said that it was “outraged over this blatant display of anti-Jewish bigotry at this important gathering of African leaders.”
“By and large, the greater part of the African continent has been mercifully free of anti-Semitism. It is therefore deeply regrettable that certain countries were allowed to introduce their prejudiced and grossly intolerant attitudes at a gathering whose purpose was to bring Africa’s diverse communities together,” the group said.
In response to “unconfirmed reports” of South African involvement in the exclusion of Hoenlein’s group, the SAJ BD wrote to President Jacob Zuma to request “clarity” on the issue. The Jewish communal body also said that it is has contacted the AU to see what steps the continental association is taking to prevent a recurrence of Thursday’s events.
"The statement is noted," a spokesman for President Zuma told the Post. "The Presidency will respond to the letter of the SAJBD upon receipt. The SA constitution and bill of rights are the basis upon which we execute our foreign policy. SA agrees that 'The banning of people from public forums by virtue of their race, religion, ethnicity or any other grounds" is unacceptable. We believe in ethos of tolerance, acceptance of diversity and commitment to fight racism and bigotry.'"
According to South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, “The AU ’s commitment to tolerance and non-racialism is on now trial” and it “cannot tolerate this kind of bigotry, especially at a time when the African continent is being torn apart by religious hatred.”
Calling for strong action against those responsible, Goldstein said that the AU must “publicly and unequivocally apologize for such a shameful incident.”
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group headquartered in Los Angeles, came out strongly in favor of an AU reprimand of those who objected to a Jewish presence.
“If this despicable lack of hospitality was indeed the result of efforts by the Egyptian and Iranian delegations, the former should be disciplined according to the steps available to the African Union under such circumstances, while the latter should be permanently barred from all future summits,” Zuroff demanded.
The African Union also did not reply to a request for comment.