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South African Draft Resisters Win Praise from Reform Leader

November 1, 1989
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A decision by 33 young South African Jews to refuse compulsory military service because of their opposition to apartheid has won praise from a leader of Reform Judaism here.

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who is president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, praised the “courageous stand” of the South African Jews as “an expression of our Jewish faith and heritage.”

He hailed their “commitment to the Jewish values which inspire them.”

The 33 are among a group of 771 white South Africans who publicly declared last month that they would refuse to be drafted into the South African Defense Force (SADF) and wished to be registered as conscientious objectors.

In his statement, Schindler noted that there is no provision in South African law for conscientious objection or alternative service, and that each participant in the anti-conscription campaign faces an automatic prison sentence of six years.

“For these young men,” the UAHC leader said, “the fight against racial inequality has become a most personal imperative.”

In making their announcement, the 33 Jewish draft protesters spoke as proud members of the Jewish faith. They said.

“As Jews, members of a people who possess a religious tradition of social justice and who have endured a history of oppression, we have resolved not to serve in the SADF. Our opposition to being conscripted is based on our Jewish identity, which consists of religious, historical and cultural elements.”

“We see our objection to serving in the SADF as an expression of our Jewish faith and heritage, and as loyal to the majority of South Africans,” they said.

Two Jewish conscientious objectors — David Bruce and Saul Batzofin — are already serving prison terms for refusing military service.

According to Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, international affairs director of Reform Jewry’s World Union for Progressive Judaism, most of the 33 young Jews are members or graduates of South African Reform Jewish institutions.

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