Jews react to new S. African president Zuma

CAPE TOWN (JTA) – South Africa’s Jewish umbrella group said it its relationship with the winner in the country’s presidential election has “always been good.”

The electoral victory for the ruling African National Congress in Wednesday’s vote made Jacob Zuma South Africa’s next president, though the ANC fared more poorly in this election than in any other since the end of apartheid. By Friday, it still was not clear whether the party had reached the two-thirds parliamentary majority necessary to make changes to the country’s constitution.

Michael Bagraim, president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, told JTA that the country’s Jews voted for "every single political party" and that his group was "very pleased" that the elections had been free and fair.

"We also believe that democracy has been shown to be the correct system, especially for South Africa, and we are absolutely satisfied with the outcome," he said.

Bagraim noted that after Zuma became chairman of the ANC in December 2007, he was "very willing to foster a good relationship" between South Africa and Israel. He "has recently indicated to us in no uncertain terms that his relationship with the Jewish community must be kept at an all-time high,” Bagraim said of Zuma.

In the past, the Board of Deputies has complained about the ANC’s pro-Palestinian stance. Bagraim told JTA he doesn’t think Zuma will adopt that attitude as president.

"Mr. Zuma has indicated on numerous occasions, and certainly in the last few months, that he’s got bigger issues, like poverty and AIDS, than worrying about the Middle East,” he said. “He’s indicated that to us as well."

As president of the ANC, Zuma sent the Jewish community a letter last October explaining a pro-Palestinian resolution passed at the movement’s national conference in Polokwane in December, 2007. He said the ANC "categorically supports" a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the resolution did not deviate from that position. "It was a resolution specifically on Palestine and solidarity with the Palestinian people given our historical relations," he wrote.

Two weeks ago, Bagraim said he met with Zuma, who told him he was keen to visit the Jewish community in Cape Town soon after the elections.

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