Originally published in Jerusalem Post
The South African Zionist Federation on Sunday disputed an Israeli media report that it endorsed the African Christian Democratic Party, a conservative Christian party. According to the report, which appeared in Haaretz several days ago, ZionFed had endorsed the ACDP in an email to members, listing the parties running in Wednesday’s general election in order of their support for Israel.
Jewish leaders in South Africa, however, disputed the report.
Claims that ZionFed endorsed any specific party are “mischievous and dishonest,” Zev Krengel, the President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, told the Jerusalem Post Sunday evening, echoing similar remarks made by his brother Avrom, who heads the Zionist group.
“It’s all a storm in a teacup created by one mischievous journalist who misquoted everyone, including the Zionist Federation,” Avrom Krengel said, denying having endorsed any specific party. “ All we did was put together a very carefully researched analysis of each party’s policies towards Israel. Any voter who wants to incorporate that into their decision making may do so.”
“This is something that is done in democracies across the world,” he added.
ANC “not a friend”
Two graphs rating the various parties running in the election according to their stance on Israel were also uploaded to ZionFed’s Facebook page. The ACDP garnered a rank of 10, or “good friend,” while the ruling African National Congress (ANC) was ranked at two or “not a friend.” The Democratic Alliance, a party closely aligned with the Jewish vote, was given a rank of seven and was termed a “friend.”
One of the graphs was titled “are you voting for a friend of Israel?” The scores were based on the parties’ policy and approach to Israel, public support for Israel and for their track record in combating anti-Israel activities.
Both Krengels expressed skepticism regarding comments attributed to South African Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, who was cited by the Israeli newspaper as saying that a political endorsement based on concern for Israel “raises the question [of] where does the first loyalty of South African Jews lie?” “I would say that Jews should be patriotic, especially if they live in a democracy. And therefore their concern should be, in terms of their vote, what’s good for the country – not what’s good for Israel. You have to vote in the country in which you live – it has nothing to do with Israel,” Haaretz quoted Maharaj.
When asked about Maharaj’s words, Avrom Krengel said that he did not believe he would have made such a statement, while his brother said that “It’s just so unlike Mac to bring in the dual loyalty” and called the official “a very good friend of the Jewish community.”
Speaking to the Post on Monday morning, Maharaj said that when he had spoken to Haaretz he was under the impression that ZionFed was “giving advice as to how members of the Federation should vote” based on parties track records towards Israel.
“I think the Jewish community throughout the world wherever they exist have shown a record that they owe their loyalty to the country where they stay. The question of their attachment to Israel is a secondary issue but not the primary attachment,” Maharaj said.
Asking people to vote based on how parties approach Israel is the “wrong type of perspective because it endangers the fact that the Jewish people in South Africa too are loyalty citizens of South Africa.” No organization should recommend voting based for a party solely based on an issue like Israel, he said.
“I believe that the Jewish community is an integral part of the South African community, their citizenship is unquestioned and that’s where matters stand,” he said.
“The SA Jewish Board of Deputies for its 110 year history has remained apolitical,” a spokeswoman for the group said. “Our ‘Make us Count’ election campaign has exposed SA Jewry to several political parties, providing exposure on issues of relevance to our community. At no time have we endorsed any of these parties.”
Many Jews have been critical of the ANC over its approach to Israel.
In 2012, Ebrahim Ebrahim, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister and a member of the ANC, called on his countrymen not to visit Israel, stating that the Jewish state is “an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel.”
“We discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process,” he was quoted as saying in the local press.
The party’s International Solidarity Conference issued a declaration, hosted on the party website, “support[ing] the call of civil society’s BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign.”