Notable figures among 500 South African Jews calling for immediate ceasefire in Gaza
Some of South Africa's most prominent Jewish figures have joined growing calls for a ceasefire in the spiralling conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Israel started its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after its fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7. Israel said 1,200 people were killed and about 240 captives taken during the attacks. Gaza health officials said more than 11,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed by Israel's military offensive.
The conflict has left nations divided and has seen many calls for a ceasefire as the death toll increases.
South Africa has joined a growing list of countries that have referred Israel to the International Criminal Court for investigation into the “war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing”.
Locally, political parties, lawmakers and organisations have also spoken out about the deadly conflict. On Wednesday more than 500 South African Jews added their voices to the issue, signing a letter calling for a ceasefire.
Among them are Nedlac executive director Lisa Seftel, celebrated artist William Kentridge, advocate Jonathan Berger, veteran journalist and academic Anton Harber and award-winning film critic Tymon Smith.
The signatories, who describe themselves as a “diverse group of South African Jews”, said they are “dismayed by the situation unfolding in Israel and Palestine”.
At last count, the letter had 573 signatories.
“Through it, the world has witnessed a catastrophic loss of life, and indeed a loss of humanity. We mourn every life lost: Palestinian and Israeli. We believe in the universal values of peace, justice and equality, and condemn in the strongest terms any and all violence against civilians, and against children in particular.
“We must hold to account those responsible for violence against civilians, whether perpetrated in Gaza, the West Bank or Israel. We do so not in spite of our Jewish identity, but because of it. One of the core beliefs of Judaism is the sanctity of human life and the duty to preserve it, enshrined in the principle of pikuach nefesh (“saving a soul” or “saving a life” is a principle in Jewish law).
“We are devastated that the lives of about 1,200 Israelis, including 31 children, were lost to the gratuitous violence that occurred on this day. We grieve with the families whose loved ones were killed or taken as hostages.
As Jews with diverse views, we do not feel represented by the institutions who claim to speak on behalf of the South African Jewish community on Israel and Gaza
“We insist, however, that one heinous crime does not justify another. The experience of persecution and genocide is woven into our collective memory. We are therefore called upon to prevent it from happening again, anywhere, to anyone. Moreover, we have a particular obligation to oppose such atrocities, especially when perpetrated in our name.
“For this reason, we call for an immediate cease to Israel’s bombardment and blockade of Gaza. We condemn the denial of basic resources such as water, food, electricity, internet and medical supplies to Palestinian civilians.”
The concerned citizens said they abhor “the use of collective punishment” and “see Israel’s response as dramatically disproportionate”. They said they are distressed the conflict is taking place alongside “state and settler-led violence against Palestinians in the West Bank”.
“We note with great concern the rising incidence of Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crimes worldwide. We reject attempts to conflate the parties to this conflict with entire religious or ethnic groups, just as we reject the notion that criticism of the state of Israel necessarily constitutes anti-Semitism. As Jews with diverse views, we do not feel represented by the institutions who claim to speak on behalf of the South African Jewish community on Israel and Gaza.”
Harber and Seftel explained why they signed the letter.
Harber said: “I signed this letter because in the midst of all the hate-filled din from extremists from both sides, we need to reassert our shared humanity, the knowledge that Judaism values life above all else. We need to strengthen the voices of peace which are being drowned out by the extremists. We need to push back the warmongers. That is why I signed.”
Seftel saluted the “millions of people all over the world who have marched, petitioned and protested to support the call for a ceasefire and the cause of the Palestinian people”.
“For South African Jews to make common cause with this call, as this statement does, is important in the face of increasing polarisation and the equation of Zionism and Judaism. The tragic events since October 7 have demonstrated again that the future of this world is indivisible — we are all affected and we should endeavour to do what is in our means to pressurise for peace.”
— Additional reporting by Reuters
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