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Israel supporters counter antis in Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG (JTA) — Israel supporters rallied in Johannesburg, overpowering an illegal anti-Israel demonstration.

The anti-Israel rally Feb. 6 was staged by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Palestinian Solidarity Committee on the streets outside Beyachad, the Jewish community center in Raedene, a densely populated Jewish residential area.

The Johannesburg City Council had denied permission for the two organizations to hold the rally protesting the South African Jewish community’s pro-Israel stance on the Middle East situation.

Busloads of pro-Palestinian demonstrators were turned back by police. A group of about 100 protesters gathered outside Beyachad, where they were countered by 300 members of Jewish groups and individuals in an organized counter rally behind the center’s security gate. Police and helicopters were present to prevent violence.

The Jewish center was cleared hours beforehand and Jewish leaders gathered in the car park and grounds, while Israel supporters were shuttled there from a meeting point at a nearby shopping mall.

"We draw the line at such demonstrations in our schools and neighborhoods," said Avrom Krengel, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, after some five Jewish schools in the vicinity were closed as a precautionary measure.

Krengel said the Zionist Federation "strongly condemns this blatant attempt to bring the Middle East conflict to South Africa’s streets in this openly provocative way, particularly when it involves a reckless disregard for the country’s laws."

"COSATU’s call is anti-Semitism and racism," said South Africa’s chief rabbi, Dr. Warren Goldstein.

"We believe in the justice of the cause of Israel. We are not ashamed of anything — COSATU has to be ashamed and embarrassed," Goldstein said. He called on the government to "rein COSATU in," condemning the organization’s conduct and the targeting of Jewish people of the world and "this country in particular."

Shouting pro-Palestinian slogans such as "Allahu akhbar" (Allah is great), "Free Palestine" and "Apartheid Israel," the anti-Israel demonstrators waved the Palestinian flag.

Among them was Member of Parliament and former Cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils, a Jew, who said he was there as a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee and not as a government representative. Kasrils has become persona non grata within the Jewish community since instigating the Not in My Name group "of Jewish descent" and was openly viewed on national television sporting a Palestinian kaffiyeh.

"Blame the Israeli government," Kasrils told JTA. "I kept on saying it [a war] would happen again and it has — in Gaza."

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