S. African Jews use web to fight apartheid comparisons

For Jews who lived through apartheid, claims that Israel is an apartheid state even more upsetting.

Kahn 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kahn 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
NEW YORK – The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has recently gone online with its project www.letstalkisrael.com, a website intended to explicitly debunk claims that Israel is an apartheid state, an allegation frequently made by Israel’s detractors.
At a briefing session on South African Jewry Thursday at the World Jewish Congress’s New York office, South African Jewish Board of Deputies national director Wendy Kahn underscored the importance of the www.letstalkisrael.com project, calling the apartheid-Israel analogy a deeply flawed one, particularly for those who lived through apartheid.
“It’s very disturbing to us to hear talk of Israel within the framework of our apartheid,” Kahn said, adding that she herself remembered attending segregated schools as a child. “For us in South Africa, it’s even more upsetting.”
The website, and its accompanying electronic book (e-book) and video presentation, highlights Israel’s democratic and multicultural society and systematically elucidates the concrete differences between the allegations about Israel and the legal realities of South African apartheid law.
“It’s simply not a useful analogy,” Kahn said, adding that the website is not only aimed at South Africans, but at the world at large.
Kahn characterized today’s South African Jewish community, estimated at around 70,000 Jews, as “very, very connected to Israel, and very, very involved in our community.”
“We never hide our Zionism,” Kahn said. “We are very proud of our Zionism.”
Seventy-one percent of South Africa’s Jews live in Johannesburg, Kahn said, with 22% in Cape Town and the rest in smaller communities. Over 80% of South Africa’s Jews attended Jewish day schools, and six out of ten South African Jews visited Israel within the past ten years, Kahn said. Fifty-four percent of South African Jews characterize themselves as having a strong attachment to Israel, while 33% characterize themselves as having a moderate attachment to Israel. Only 1% stated that they have negative feelings toward Israel.
Jews’ civil rights are accommodated in South Africa, Kahn said, and reports of anti-Semitism, which skyrocketed during Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, are few and far between.
Recently, though, there has been more and more blurring of the lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
South Africa’s relationship with Israel is strong, Kahn said, despite the temporary recall earlier this year of Ismail Coovadia, South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, in the wake of the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident. South Africa, Kahn pointed out, was the only country other than Turkey to recall its ambassador due to the flotilla incident.
Kahn cited tension regarding the cooperative water purification project between the University of Johannesburg and Ben-Gurion University, a call for an boycott of Ahava products and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s advocacy of a Cape Town Opera boycott of Israel as examples of recent anti-Israel actions in South Africa.
Despite these incidents, Kahn said she was optimistic about the future of South African Jewry and South African-Israeli relations.