Amid rising anti-Israel sentiment throughout South Africa, nearly 20 South Africans, led by Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, arrived on Sunday as an expression of solidarity with Israelis, specifically former South Africans living in the North.
The four-day mission was organized by the World Zionist Organization and includes participants from Johannesburg and Durban. The group plans to travel north on Monday to visit the nearly 300 South Africans who live in areas under fire.
"If your brothers are in the front lines, there is nothing you can do sitting in South Africa," said Daniel Kaplan, one of those on the mission. "Why should they be out there while you are in South Africa? The least you can do is show your solidarity."
Goldstein described the group's goal as straightforward: "We are here with one simple message - there is one Jewish family around the world... Also, we are also here to deliver the message that we, and the vast majority of our community, believe in the justice of the cause of the State of Israel."
Through the help of the South American Zionist Federation, known as Telfed, the mission met with three South African families from the North at a Jerusalem restaurant on Sunday. The residents spoke of rockets that hit just meters from their homes, and thanked Telfed, the South African community and the Israeli community for their overwhelming support.
Over the past weeks, Telfed has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at helping those in the North. In conjunction with Table to Table, it has delivered 36,000 parcels of food, with another 10,000 parcels being packed daily by local volunteers. Additionally, Telfed has decided to adopt an army unit by raising the funds necessary to provide it with whatever it needs.
"The specific needs of the soldiers at the moment are clean shirts, socks, underwear etc," said Hilary Kaplan, vice chairman of Telfed. "As of now, we have raised NIS 43,000 and have ordered 2,000 army T-shirts that will be delivered and sent up to the northern border."
Telfed chairman Itz Kalminowitz commended the group for traveling to Israel amid recent anti-Israel events in South Africa. He cited two "traumatic" incidents - a letter signed by a group of South African Jews blaming Israel for starting the "unjustified" war and a demonstration urging South Africa to impose sanctions on Israel.
Goldstein also commented on the anti-Israel tension, attributing much of it to the misconception that Israel's actions parallel the apartheid system once employed in South Africa.
About 20,000 people took to the streets of Cape Town on Saturday in a demonstration organized by the Sanctions Against Israel Coalition, a mostly Muslim group, to protest the Israeli operations in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, organizers said.
The demonstrators chanted slogans such as "Down with Israel," "Who made George Bush God?" and "Zionism equals Apartheid".
Amir Mizroch contributed to this report.