Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson and world-renowned artist William Kentridge are among several high-profile South African Jews who have signed a declaration describing Israel’s recent attack on Gaza as “inhumane and disproportionate”.
The 11 signatories also include actor Sir Antony Sher, photographer David Goldblatt, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Carole Lewis; Competition Appeal Court president Judge Dennis Davis, mining boss Rick Menell, prominent advocates Geoff Budlender, Gilbert Marcus and Jules Browde and author Gillian Slovo.
The signatories condemn Hamas’s firing of rockets at Israeli settlements but identify themselves with another petition signed by 300 South African Jews earlier this month in response to the endorsement of the Gaza attack by the Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein.
That petition warned that the Gaza conflict “is likely to inflame feelings in the region, holding out little prospect for peace”.
The latest declaration says: “We consider Israel’s response which has caused widespread death, destruction and suffering in Gaza to be inhumane and disproportionate.”
It adds: “It is critically important that these recent events [in Gaza] do not imperil relations between sectors of South African society, and that people of all faiths and none engage with the issues at stake rationally, in good conscience.”
It coincides with a move by concerned South African Jews to dissuade local Jewish youths from joining the Israel Defence Force (IDF).
The call is part of a growing demand by Palestinian sympathisers to investigate the role of South African Jews in the IDF.
Reacting, Jewish Board of Deputies chairperson Zev Krengel claimed that the majority of South Africa’s Jews were solidly behind Israel, saying: “We are proud of the freedom of speech in our community and are quite comfortable about [the signatories’] stance.”
At the height of the conflict, the Board of Deputies said in a statement that South Africa’s Jewish community “firmly supports the decision of the government of Israel to launch a military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip”.
Meanwhile, signatories to the two declarations have also condemned last week’s outburst by Deputy Foreign Affairs minister Fatima Hajaig at a pro-Palestinian rally in Lenasia in which she said Jews “control [America], no matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democrat, whether Barack Obama or George Bush”.
According to a transcript of the speech cited by the DA, she said: “Control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money, and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything.”
One of the signatories, Doron Isaacs, said he was “outraged and saddened” by Hajaig’s statement, which had insulted the South African Jewish community, many of whose members did not support the Gaza attack.
The deputy minister had failed to distinguish between Israeli actions and “little conspiracy theories”.
Calling on her to apologise “urgently” , he said such statements only served to undermine the Palestinian liberation cause. This week the Board of Deputies laid a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission about Hajaig’s remarks.