‘Terror-backing South Africa betrayed its own people at the ICJ’

As his nation wastes resources on supporting Hamas, its people suffer from poverty and corruption, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi tells the JC


South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor speaks to the media at the International Court of Justice (Photo by REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

If there’s one quality South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein does not lack, it is courage.

Speaking to the JC in an exclusive interview, he said that his country’s push to have Israel declared a genocidal state by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a betrayal of millions of South Africans.

The South African government was putting precious resources into supporting a foreign terrorist organisation while its people suffer from poverty, economic crisis and institutional corruption, he said.

Speaking a week before Transparency International, a Berlin-based corruption watchdog, gave South Africa its lowest ranking yet – 83rd out of 180 countries – Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said that the ICJ policy was “immoral” and damaged the country’s regional leadership role.

He added, however: “The hostile ANC is not the people and the government is not the people. There are many allies of the Jewish community in South Africa and there are many who, with shared values, are supporting Israel.”

Asked whether his swingeing criticism of South Africa’s government could endanger him or his community, Chief Rabbi Goldstein responded: “I’m not scared. One of our enormous blessings here is we are a free society. We can feel secure knowing that we live in a free democracy governed by the rule of law, with an independent judiciary and a robust, tenacious free press holding government and other institutions accountable.”

He said he was currently campaigning for an immediate investigation into three major South African banks that have been reported to be holding accounts for Hamas fronts. If true, this would break international and US-imposed money-laundering sanctions.
The chief rabbi promised to “personally” pursue all legal remedies against any bank where evidence of malpractice emerges and against anyone judged to have breached anti-terror international laws.

South Africa has refused to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation. Recently it has allowed senior representatives from Hamas to attend an anti-Israel conference in South Africa and to pay homage in December 2023 to Nelson Mandela at his huge statue in front of the Union Buildings in the administrative capital Pretoria.

Living in this kind of political environment appears to have merely strengthened the rabbi’s resolve, however.

Speaking about the ICJ move, he said that Jews would “not take this lying down.

“We are not the Jews of 1938, or of the Roman expulsion or of the Spanish Inquisition. This generation can and will fight.

“We will fight back with every measure possible, with dignity, with strength, with self-belief and with the sense of the justice of our cause.”

He added: “The Jewish world is strong and we have allies in the fight against genocidal movements, who threaten not only us but the civilised world, exactly as the Nazis did.”

He urged support from democratic countries to declare the ICJ “fundamentally illegitimate”, though he noted that Israel had chosen to engage with the process at The Hague.

“The ICJ comes from the United Nations General Assembly. The majority of the members of the General Assembly are non-democratic countries. It should not have the right to instruct a democracy what to do.

“You can’t have non-democratic countries using these instruments against a free democracy to deny it the right of self-defence, or how it conducts its self-defence. The institution itself is fundamentally illegitimate,” he said.

He said the recent ruling by the ICJ that there is a “plausible” case of genocide against Israel, along with its order that Israel report back within a month on measures to avoid civilian harm, “sets a dangerous precedent for the future” of all democratic countries battling international “barbarism”.

Despite the behaviour of the government, he insisted: “The overwhelming majority of South Africans are decent, tolerant, respectful and understanding.

“When it comes to antisemitism, it is measurably among the lowest in the world.”

A key reason, he said, was that the vast majority of Christian churches representing the black population were evangelical, staunchly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel. He also pointed out that Jews had been disproportionately anti-apartheid in the previous era and that, since the non-racial free democratic elections of 1994, they had played a positive role in developing the economy and in medical, scientific and humanitarian fields.

“We are a particularly proud and strong Jewish community, with flourishing schools, shuls, and every kind of organisation – security, welfare, political. We were at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement to liberate South Africa from its racist regime, and since the birth of freedom and democracy in 1994, we have contributed disproportionately to our relatively small numbers in advancing the new South Africa in every field of human endeavour – business, law, medicine, politics and the arts, employing millions and running and funding probably more humanitarian initiatives than any other community in this country.”

South Africa’s chief rabbi in the 1990s, Cyril Harris – formerly of St John’s Wood shul – was an influential and respected member of a religious affairs committee that advised Mandela.

Mandela was a supporter of Palestinian rights but never condemned Israel as an apartheid state, language that is regularly used by the current regime under President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Chief Rabbi Goldstein also pledged to campaign against alleged South African connections with Iran, which include reports of links between a major telecoms company and the IRGC.

“We stand tall and strong with Israel and oppose the naked prejudice and aggression of the ANC government against the Jewish state,” he said.

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