David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies [SAJBD] is finding it increasingly difficult to defend Israel. Having not only to contend with pro-Palestinian solidarity activism, which has become more pronounced and widespread in the country’s diverse groupings within civil society, Saks has to contain critical Jewish voices too.
Never before has the SAJBD faced such sharp criticism of its blanket support for Israel as now and from within nogal.
It has come as a huge source of embarrassment for the SAJBD that its claim to represent all SA Jewry has been challenged as severely as now with the latest rebuke from the ranks of elites such as Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Nadine Gordimer, William Kentridge and Prof Gill Marcus.
Their press statement in the wake of the Gaza onslaught in which they alongside other luminaries including Anthony Sher, Gillian Slovo and Dr AnnMarie Wolpe, have endorsed the sentiments expressed in the statement by more than 300 SA Jews, entitled “Response by members of the SA Jewish community to a statement by the Jewish Board of Deputies, Zionist Federation and Chief Rabbi Concerning Israel’s attacks on Gaza” which condemn excessive force used by Israel.
This amounts to a huge slap in the face for the SAJBD. It also raises questions about the Board’s ability to continue monopolizing Jewish views particularly with respect to Israel. The message inherent in the public disavowal of the Board’s unconditional support for Israeli war crimes clearly signals a lack of confidence in its leadership and propagandists.
One such propagandist is David Saks. As the SAJBD’s associate director, he has compiled annual “anti-semitism” reports for the Stephen Roth Institute in Israel. The sloppy research and vindictive nature of its contents characterizes a tendency to demonise legitimate comment and debate on Israel as ‘anti-semitic”. Besides, it’s a useful tactic to divert attention by fabricating “red herrings”.
Prominent journalists Mathatha Tsedu and Tim Modise alongside anti-apartheid activists Barney Pityana and a range of others have been cited in these annual reports. Their “crime”? Being critical of Israel!
Tsedu was singled out for “publishing two articles with anti-Jewish overtones”. Pityana’s crime was that he was quoted as saying that it was inherently unfair that Jews were receiving reparations for the crime of the Holocaust while black Africans were not receiving comparable reparations for the crimes of slavery and colonialism. Tsedu at the time was deputy editor of The Star while Pityana was the chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
Yet, another prominent columnist cited in the anti-semitism report was Mandla Seleoane. His article titled “The Jewish Question, according to Marx” was viewed as “overtly anti-Jewish” and accused of exploiting “the intense anti-Israel mood in the country”.
In a radio interview with 702, Saks accused the author of “The One State Solution” Professor Virginia Tilley as a “radical, anti-Israel academic” and went on to question her trustworthiness.
In his latest diatribe, Saks has yet again unleashed his venom against Muslim NGOs by disputing Tilley’s defence of the Media Review Network [MRN] and the Muslim Judicial Council [MJC]. He accuses the MJC as having a long history of “anti-semitic conspiratorial statements” while charging that the MRN indulges in “unabashed support for theories alleging pernicious Jewish behind-the-scenes influence”.
The “Cry Wolf” mentality of people associated with South Africa’s pro-Israel lobbies has been given a rude shock by those who feel abused and violated as fellow-Jews. It is becoming increasingly clear that since Uri Davis, author of “Israel an Apartheid State” rocked these lobbies in South Africa with his eloquent articulation of a narrative inconsistent with Zionist myths, more Jews have begun to re-assess the SAJBD’s role vis-Ã -vis Israel.
One can almost hear these voices becoming louder and louder in proclaiming to Saks: “Speak for yourself!”