No Rabbi Boteach, the Jews of South Africa have NOT been muted…

This blog appears in The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Boteach’s blog “Getting the Apartheid-Israel Equation Right” covers a number of interesting if contentious points.  He certainly does dispel some of the Apartheid accusations leveled against Israel and raises important issues like the conditions of dhimmitude that Jews lived under in Arab land which were tantamount to Apartheid, but he also makes some unfounded accusations against the South African Jewish community.

 As we approach the tour of racism known as International Israel Apartheid Week, South Africa and in particular, the Jewish community comes yet again under the microscope of scrutiny. One of the communal leaders aptly named South Africa the “ground zero” of the BDS movement. This is the country in which Apartheid was born and eventually defeated and it is from South Africa that some of the most vocal detractors of Israel originate – Tutu, Pillay, Dugard et al.

 South Africa cannot and should not be ignored or taken lightly because of its lack of

influence vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine. In fact, this is the first place pro-Israel activists should go to, to spot the alarming trends.

 In 2001 at the UN Conference against Racism, held in Durban, the voice of the BDS movement really gained momentum. Where else but in the home of Apartheid?. The symbolism of this is not lost or diluted by either side. Over the last few years, relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have seriously deteriorated, culminating in the push to re-label products originating from the West bank or outside of the 1948 borders, as “goods from the Occupied Palestinian Territories” and finally a resolution adopted by the ruling ANC to start investigating the possibility of sanctions against the Jewish state.

 But it is Boteach’s accusations against the community that must be challenged..

 As someone who is a veteran of pro-Israel activism in South Africa and still active after my Aliyah, I feel it incumbent to address these accusations.


South African Jews traditionally are fierce Zionists but their voice is becoming

increasingly muted. Faced as they are with a post-apartheid landscape that has changed dramatically in its posture toward Israel, they do not wish to be too out of the step with government and national sentiments.

 Rabbi Boteach is correct, South African Jews are fiercely Zionist. This is evident in the number of Olim but also in the incredible efforts made by members of the community, organised and private, to make the case for Israel in the media. These efforts are spearheaded by groups like the Media Team Israel, South African Friends of Israel, the SAZF, the SAJBOD and SA Union of Jewish Students. For Jews in South Africa, Israel = Apartheid is not a week long event that happens once a year but rather a daily occurrence, replete with venom and vitriol. Boteach says that we do not wish to be too out of step with the government and national sentiments. The South African Jewish narrative is far too complex and intricate to understand and sum up in one or two visits. It is a politically delicate situation that requires a great deal of thought and careful manoeuvering. It is a phenomenon that needs to be accurately understood and contextualised before such loaded statements are made. South African Jewish communal leaders have not stayed silent in the face of “government sentiment”. Rather, numerous attempts both in a legal framework and diplomatic framework have been embarked on. Sometimes when one goes to battle the more direct route is not the best, and sometimes alternative tactics are needed. Just because they do not make headlines, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. At a time when legislation like the Freedom of Expression Act threatens to curtail the democratic right to criticise the ANC government, the community punches above it weight by continuing to voice its dissatisfaction. Loudly.

 The Jewish community of South Africa must learn that if they’re not vocal and don’t defend Israel gallantly and publicly with the facts at their disposal, their de facto spokespeople will be journalists like Zapiro who malign Israel and trivialize the Holocaust.

 It is very easy to point fingers at South African Jewry but instead of criticising, I invite Boteach and others to hear some of the success stories. A statement like the above is confusing to us who labour so hard to fight the ongoing anti-Israel sentiment. Our Media Team was once told that outside of the Arab world, the South African media is the most hostile. Our answer to that is to continue to fight in the media. Our answer has been to build bridges with other communities and this was evident last year when overwhelming support was shown both for Israel and the community by Christian Zionists, King Goodwill Zwelithini and the Zulu nation, the Shembe tribe and their leadership and the African Christian Democratic Party led by the indomitable Rev. Kenneth Meshoe. Just weeks ago over 250 people participated in an advocacy day for Israel. Most were Christian Zionists. The sterling work done by organisations like the Jewish National Fund and their outreach into impoverished communities builds trust and cooperation. The sheer chutzpah of the community led by its youth who have protested, made demands and embarked on fierce campaigns makes sure that Israel’s side is heard. These efforts are most gallant.


While journalists like Zapiro are controversial enough to warrant column inches and headlines, assuming that the community is not vocal in their defence of Israel is at once insulting and shows a lack of understanding of the situation at hand.

 Rolene Marks is a member of the Media Team Israel, a voluntary body associated with  the South African Zionist Federation that counters bias against Israel in the media.

 Rolene Marks has written numerous published opinion-editorials, addressed groups and has been featured on radio and television countering bias against Israel. Follow Rolemarks on Twitter or read her blog:

Israel the new Scapegoat?

This article is featured in the WIZO Lapid Newsletter

Click to access lapid107english.pdf

In today’s social media savvy and fast paced world it seems that the face of anti-Semitism as we traditionally know it is rapidly changing. Modern day anti-Semitism is no longer restricted to the desecration of Jewish graves or the barring of Jews from sports clubs as we used to see in the past. Today we see a shift from attacking the individual to the attack of the ultimate Jewish symbol, the State of Israel. The new anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head in the form of virulent anti-Zionism. On University campuses around the world and in calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against the Jewish State are increasing.

 Attempts to equate Israel with pariah states like Apartheid South Africa and deal out the same treatment that brought the notorious African regime to its knees, seems to be the new modus operandi that forms part of the new assault on Israel’s legitimacy.


March brings with it perhaps the most nefarious event on the anti-Israel calendar, Israel = Apartheid Week. On university campuses across the world “activists” will be staging various forums to attack and vilify Israel. Drawing comparisons by alleging that Israel practices crimes of Apartheid anti-Israel activists are treated like visiting rock stars and Jewish students are feeling the heat as anti-Israel activists use intimidation tactics. Many feel too intimidated or that Universities are complicit in fostering climates of hatred.The other battlefield that is growing in momentum are the calls for cultural, academic and economic boycotts and divestment (BDS).


This attempted assault on Israel’s legitimacy is the new manifestation of anti-Semitism. It has become the cause du jour for actresses like Emma Thompson or musicians like Roger Waters. These so called human rights activists are also strangely silent when rockets rain down on Israel’s civilians but this just exposes the scary double standard at play. Last year, music icon Stevie Wonder, cancelled his scheduled appearance at the Friends of the IDF benefit after he was inundated with letters and petitions from activists. The sad reality is that the people who stand to lose the most in campaigns like this are the very people human rights activists purport to help.The new tool in the arsenal of hatred is Holocaust inversion or the accusations that the Jewish victims of the worst crime of atrocity known to mankind are now the perpetrators. This was evident in South Africa last week when at an event to commemorate International Holocaust Day (organised by the BDS Movement  – oh the irony!), the CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission declared that “The Holocaust survivor has become the War criminal of today.” This nauseating and offensive statement that is meant to give these nefarious organisations the moral high ground only serve to expose their true intent.


Israel has become the favourite scapegoat much to the detriment of other conflicts around the world. Beating up on the Jewish State has become the sport of choice in the world media and in the hallowed halls of the United Nations. One has to wonder how victims of human rights atrocities and genocide in places like Syria or Darfur feel that their suffering is of little consequence when Israel is the focus of so much attention. Sadly when we needed the focus of the world it was lacking. But if the tyrants and terrorists of the world unite against us and use us as a scapegoat, perhaps we are doing something right?Rolene Marks is a member of the Media Team Israel, a voluntary body under the auspices of the South AfricanZionist Federation that counters bias against Israel in the media.


Rolene Marks has written numerous published opinion-editorials, addressed groups and has been featured on radio and television countering bias against Israel. Follow Rolemarks on Twitter or read her

Hate-a-Palooza – Apartheid Israel Week Begins!

It is an annual event held on university campuses around the world. An anticipated festival featuring clowns and jokers and a whole bunch of magic tricks. The rock stars of hate finely tune their instruments for the tour that covers over 250 cities across the globe and occurs in February and March every year.

The tour will feature its usual playlist – activists spewing venom and vitriol and leveling accusations of the practice of Apartheid at the Jewish State. If you strip away the “glamour” and look at the motivation behind such an event, it is easy to see that although disguised as concern for human rights abuse, these rock stars of hatred and discrimination single out only one country, Israel, and use words like Apartheid to rally support behind their nefarious cause.

On many occasions I have lamented the tragic hijacking of the word “Apartheid” which in essence meant the legislated and enforced laws of racial segregation that classed the black citizens of South Africa as disenfranchised and second class. Instead, this definition has become a sexy way to package, market and sell anti-Israel hatred. The word Apartheid is provocative, emotive and evocative and inspires a variety of strong emotions. The rock stars of hatred are well aware of what people’s reactions to the word Apartheid will be. In their haste to demonize Israel, detractors have forgotten to define what Apartheid was! The black people of South Africa suffered tremendously under the Apartheid regime and by comparing Israel, an imperfect but thriving democracy, to the former South Africa makes light of their suffering. It is an odious comparison to say the least.

This campaign of hatred is nothing more than a scurrilous attempt to assault the legitimacy of the State of Israel. One must note that even in the darkest days of Apartheid, NOBODY questioned South Africa’s right to exist as a country, no matter how much the world objected to its racist policies. Calling into question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State or the rights of Jews to organize themselves along political lines and call it Zionism IS racism. By painting Israel as a pariah state that has little right to exist and ignoring true racist states says more about those pointing fingers than our plucky little country. I grew up in South Africa and bore witness to the horrors of Apartheid and I live in Israel and while it is not perfect and yes, racism exists, it is a far cry from the daily humiliation and persecution suffered by the people of South Africa. South Africa is perhaps one of the most important centres for this campaign of delegitimisation because it is the country that not only holds the benchmark for defeating Apartheid but exports anti-Apartheid activists to the above mentioned centres to promote their Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel and spew forth their vitriol.

And Gaza is the favoured symbol of oppression. It is astounding that some will say that Israel is practicing policies worse than Apartheid in Gaza (an area that Israel completely disengaged from including the uprooting of the dead) while ignoring true crimes of Apartheid perpetrated by Hamas – the guardians of Gaza. Gender apartheid, religious apartheid, restriction of freedom of the press, persecution of political opposition and the persecution of Homosexuals. Should I go on?

Those advocating BDS assume that by “punishing” Israel with cultural, economic, sporting and other sanctions it will bring us to our knees, and we will abandon the idea of a Two State Solution. They assume that by isolating Israel it will result in Palestinians and Israelis living happily ever after in a giant rainbow nation like South Africa and everything will be sunshine, lollipops and roses. Except for one small detail. Palestinians and Jews both have their own national aspirations based on their own ethnic or nationalistic identities.

By advocating a One State Solution, BDS advocates not only patronize Palestinian national aspirations but Jewish as well.

During last year’s on-campus hate fest an attempt was made by an Israeli student to engage with a representative of the BDS movement. His hello was met with a call to F… off. Offensive, appalling and it just proves the point that discourse and engagement is not the aim of these movements, but rather isolation and abuse. It is my belief peace will be built from the ground up and cutting off engagement is contrary to any attempts to broker peace.

It has become trendy to join the anti-Israel frenzy on campus. It saddens me that in order to become pro-Palestinian the trend is to become as anti-Israel as one can possibly be. Academic institutions are supposed to be hotbeds of free thinking so I am going to send this message to students: start a new trend – become rebellious rock stars and buck the system by becoming pro peace and being informed of the realities in this part of the Middle East. Rebel by choosing not to harass Israeli speakers, diplomats and IDF representatives who visit your campus. Look for positive ways to build dialogue and change. Don’t be a supporting act by advocating policies of BDS.

Come on students, this is YOUR time to challenge authority….

Disclaimer: Hate-a-Palooza is in no way a slight or criticism of the highly successful rock tour, Lollapalooza.

This post is featured in The Times of Israel.