Hundreds of delegates rallied behind Israel at South Africa’s largest Zionist conference in some 20 years.
The 45th conference of the South African Zionist Federation, held last weekend in Johannesburg, recalled the vibrant movement that played a leading role in the community until the late 1980s.
With the 80,000-strong Jewish community feeling less secure than it has for many years because of the government’s perceived pro-Palestinian bias, the conference was a significant show of solidarity.
Speakers included South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad; the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon; and the chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sallai Meridor.
In his remarks, Pahad said South Africa unequivocally supported “the right of the State of Israel to exist within defined borders, in full peace and security with its neighbors.”
He also said the condemnation of “any terrorist outrage committed against the civilian population of Israel” was another “immutable principle” of South African policy, which also calls for the creation of a Palestinian state.
He said the South African government has been as unequivocal in its condemnation of the military policies of the Israeli government as it has been of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.
Leon, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, said that “too often, leading members of the government misuse my religion, or my wife’s national origin, in a despicable attempt to place a bar or ceiling on my party’s support.”
He described a report on the Middle East issued last year by South African legislators as “outrageous,” saying it “glossed over” Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
“To treat the problem of Israel/Palestine simply as a matter of the illegal occupation of foreign territory and to dismiss Israel’s concern for security is to willfully misrepresent the reality. It also suggests an attachment to ideology that is much stronger than an attachment to peace,” Leon said.
He said the South African government tends to characterize the Israeli-Palestinian problem simply as a matter of illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, portraying it as the racist and colonialist oppression of a dispossessed and less powerful group.
“The essence of the conflict in Palestine is really very different from the conflict in South Africa,” he said.
Meridor used his remarks to call on South Africa’s Jews to make aliyah. Israeli officials have offered a special package of incentives for those moving to Israel from South Africa.
Many delegates at the conference signed a declaration supporting Israel.
Issued several weeks before the conference, it has been signed by 9,000 South African Jews.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.