It all began when the Africa Middle East Centre Director Na’eem Jeenah posted on his private Facebook page. It was a notice by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), where they publicize the launch of a book called Mensches in the Trenches: Jewish foot soldiers in the anti-apartheid Struggle, by Jonathan Ancer, 2021.
From the commentary, I was enticed to write a poem. But more of this later. What I want to do now is to explain a bit about the book and the organisation promoting it, starting with the latter.
The SAJBD is an affiliated member of the South African Zionist Federation and have, for many years steadfastly, defended all the wars on Gaza, and on Palestinians in general. They have done so in defiance of the dissident, progressive South African Jewish Voices.
One such group called Not in My Name rose against the Jewish Board of Deputies, Zionist Federation and Chief Rabbi concerning Israel’s attack on Gaza January 11, 2009. On 29 January, 2009, they boldly declared that they, South African Jews, condemned the Israeli attack on Gaza. Their statement was in response to these persons and groups for “claiming to speak on behalf of the South African Jewish community.” They wrote that:
“We are dismayed by the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli military in Gaza. So far over 750 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed. Many of the Palestinian casualties are civilians — unarmed and uninvolved in any operations against Israel. We deplore all the lives lost whether in Sderot or Gaza. We are acutely aware that while parts of Southern Israel have lived under the constant threat of Hamas rockets, the residents of Gaza are experiencing significantly greater terror and destruction.
We strongly oppose the rockets Hamas has been firing into Israel before and during this bombardment. These have deliberately targeted civilians and we call on communities and groups vocal in their support for the Palestinians to condemn these, as we do.
As members of the Jewish community we recognise that Israel’s response is an inhumane and disproportionate collective punishment prohibited under international law. We also condemn the long siege Israel has inflicted on the people of Gaza and call for this to be immediately lifted to allow food, medical supplies, fuel, electricity and foreign aid to reach credible agencies in Gaza.
We call for an immediate ceasefire by both sides and lifting of the siege of Gaza. We also recognise that Gaza’s fate, in the minds of Palestinians and in reality, cannot be severed from the West Bank and that ending the occupation in the West Bank is a critical part of resolving tensions in the region.
Reaching a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians is an extremely difficult challenge as it is and the attack on Gaza moves us further away from this goal. We also call on the Jewish Board of Deputies not to exacerbate local tensions with statements that demonstrate a lack of compassion for Palestinian lives.”
The death toll of the Palestinians was about 1 400 and is remembered by Palestinians as the Gaza Massacre whilst the Israeli Defense Force called it Operation Cast Lead. A total of 13 Israelis. Many were injured and remain disabled.
It is interesting to note that some in the list of signatories of the statement above were included in the book. In interviews, the author says that there was always a difficulty to include all the anti-apartheid Jewish activists. To do so, he said, would have turned the book into a telephone directory! They had formed a committee that recommended names and consulted people and so on but they realised that they could not include everyone and then did not even try.
That said, there are a number of great patriots there who played a critical role in defending universal human rights.
So I was thrilled when I read the advert or the blurb advertising the webinar on the book. It was in plain English: “Wendy Kahn and Zev Krengel will pay tribute to Jewish South Africans who made a contribution to the anti-Israel struggle in South Africa.” No longer would we have to run to the Press Council of South Africa or the Human Rights Commission for being mislabelled as anti-Semitic, haters, etc. We are at last on the same page fighting for those who resist white supremacy and bigotry in all its forms.
Inspired by the unexpected turn of events, and prodded by my comrades, I wrote this poem.
Wendy and Zev
to all those, they say
did not take fright
fought the good fight
white racism at home
and bigotry abroad
to the anti-Israel fight
I hear them praise Comrade Kasrils, Friedman, Favish
and hundreds who told the haters:
NOT in my name
tis not a game
still in the
they take to the streets
on their own two- feet
they’re shouting it loud*
*we’re anti -Zionists and proud*
thank you Wendy
thank you Zev
Now the world knows
“Fighting racism is not anti-semitism”
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