South Africa's Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
(photo credit: GCIS)
South Africa’s Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, a top contender for the country’s vice presidency, lashed out at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) during a memorial service at Temple Israel in Cape Town on Friday.
“It is a very interesting moment. I am [a] Muslim South African in a synagogue in a temple which has just made the Jewish Board of Deputies very angry with her,” she said.
“They have written to me, they say, on behalf of all the South African Jewish community, which I don’t quite believe. Nevertheless, I am a recipient of such a letter.”
The SAJBD requested a meeting with Pandor after she stated in parliament last week, “The majority party [the African National Congress] has agreed that government must cut diplomatic ties with Israel, given the absence of genuine initiatives by Israel to secure lasting peace and a viable two-state solution that includes full freedom and democracy for the Palestinian people.”
SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn responded, “We wrote to her requesting a meeting to discuss and clarify certain remarks she had made in parliament concerning the South Africa-Israel relationship. Our letter was respectful and non-confrontational.”
In the letter, which The Jerusalem Post
obtained, the SAJBD wrote: “We noted your comments in parliament yesterday... This statement has caused great distress amongst members of the local South African Jewish Community. We request a meeting with you to discuss this issue.”
“However, on Friday, Minister Pandor was invited to speak at a service in memory of the late AnnMarie Wolpe... to reflect on Mrs. Wolpe’s illustrious career in the field of human rights activism and in particular her important contribution to defeating apartheid.
She used the opportunity to rebuke the SAJBD,” Kahn said.
“The Minister claimed we were ‘angry’ with her. Nothing could have been further from the truth,” she emphasized. “Our letter was courteous in our request for a meeting to engage with the Minister. Surely as the representative body of one of the South African stakeholder groups, this was the correct recourse in addressing what we believed to be distressing to members of our community?” Kahn continued: “The minister further questioned the credentials of our 115-year-old democratically elected representative spokesbody of the South African Jewish community.
Since the Minister has chosen to interact with us in the public domain, we too are forced to respond in this way.”
Kahn also remarked that the SAJBD failed “to understand why it was relevant to draw attention to the fact that she is a Muslim South African speaking in a synagogue. Those who had come together for the occasion were not doing so as Jews or Muslims, whites or blacks, but as fellow South Africans wishing to pay tribute to someone whose life had been devoted to bringing people together, not dividing them.”
“Moreover, the implied suggestion that there was something unusual in a Muslim person speaking in a Jewish place of worship is entirely incorrect. The Jewish community regularly holds interfaith events in our places of worship, and joint prayer services,” she added.
Kahn reiterated that the SAJBD remains committed to engagement and dialogue.
Following Pandor’s comments in parliament last week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa voiced his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that to some degree, contradicted her earlier statements. “We reiterate our call to the Israeli government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Palestinian leaders to find a resolution that affirms the equal rights of both people.”