AIPAC-style lobbying group launched in South Africa

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — A pro-Israel lobbying group modeled after AIPAC was launched in South Africa.

The Cape Town-based South African Israel Public Affairs Committee, or SAIPAC, launched Tuesday said aims to establish relationships with members of Parliament and other communities, as well as strengthen the South Africa-Israel relationship in South Africa.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee advocates for pro-Israel policies to the U.S. Congress.  

“There’s a gap and a desperate need for a lobby in Parliament and to get the truth out to those who support us,” David Hersch, a co-founder of the group with Kenny Penkin, told JTA prior to the launch.

Hersch, who sat on the Cape committee of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and served as national vice-chairman and Cape chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, said he is in touch with AIPAC, attended its conference in Washington some years ago and lobbied with the group in the U.S. Congress.

"There’s no doubt that this is an uphill battle, but we will do it,” said Hersch, alluding to the perceived pro-Palestinian stance of the country’s ruling African National Congress.

Penkin said the community needs “a vibrancy” in this regard and to “stand up and be counted, be proud Jews.”  

Hersch stressed that SAIPAC will be “completely independent” and not affiliated “in any way” to the Board of Deputies or any other Jewish body, though he does not rule out dialogue with key Jewish groups.

SAIPAC will, however, “always be in sync and close association with the Israeli Embassy,” he said, while emphasizing that the group is not in the employ of the embassy but is simply pro-Israel, regardless of who is running the government.

The group will draw on the experience of AIJAC, its Australian counterpart. While it is based in Cape Town, satellite SAIPAC branches in Johannesburg and Durban are in the plans.

Hersch says SAIPAC plans to raise funds, partially for hosting expert speakers and analysts from Israel and elsewhere, in pursuit of its goal of “keeping our community and others informed and empowered with knowledge and information.”

Membership will be open to Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel.

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