The World Jewish Congress held its fourth annual National Community Directors Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2017, bringing together the senior professional leaders of dozens of member communities to foster communication on issues of common concern, including combating the delegitimization of Israel, strengthening the security of Jewish institutions, effective communication on social media, and the WJC’s expanding diplomatic efforts.
“The WJC is a powerful network of professionals, leaders, Jewish community members and representatives, organizations, and more,” said WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer in his opening address. "We are better equipped to face these challenges than any other Jewish international body, and we will continue to work together to preserve our Jewish culture and traditions. We are one global Jewish community, and together, WJC is at its strongest.”
Mary Kluk, the President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said following the forum: “Having this remarkable group of leaders in South Africa was such an incredible morale booster for our community. Seeing our country and our community through the eyes of the WJC participants gave us a renewed appreciation of our community. It is a true privilege to be part of the WJC family.”
Over the course of the two-day forum, the delegates from more than 40 communities exchanged knowledge and experiences, and discussed solutions and strategies for the key issues facing the Jewish world. The main point of discussion was the BDS movement and its impact on the various communities, including strategies for reactions, rapid responses, and preparation in the face of anti-Israel campaigns.
Delegates also held three working groups to exchange best practices from the large communities to the smaller communities, deciding on a number of strategies and plans of action to work together on issues including security of the Jewish communities and international coordination; online anti-Semitism and cyberhate; and using legal methods to combat anti-Semitism and the BDS movement. The discussions also included promoting the global definition introduced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and a preliminary plan of action was devised for a global campaign engaging internet companies against cyberhate.
The delegates also discussed the various activities being planned by the WJC and its communities ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel.
Delegates to the conference were introduced to the nuances, history and social fabric of South African Jewish life. This included a panel discussion in which three community members involved in the transition from apartheid to multiracial democracy - Ann Harris, Judge Albie Sachs and Johnny Copelyn - shared their memories and insights.
The subsequent gala dinner, which was attended by parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, academics, members of the diplomatic corps and other distinguished personalities, took place within easy view of Robben Island – once a maximum-security prison for political dissidents and today a place of memory in honour of those who fought for justice and democracy.
The guest speaker at the closing Gala Dinner on Monday evening, Tokyo Sexwale, a former government minister and Chairman of the FIFA Monitoring Committee on Israel-Palestine, also made reference to his time there. Speaking on the Palestinian to expel Israeli teams from the international football organization, Sexwale said: “Our hearts go out to both Israelis and Palestinians because they need peace. Football should be viewed as a tool to unite people.”
The Premier of Cape Province, Helen Zille, welcomed the delegates at the opening dinner on Sunday with a keynote address in which she shared personal recollection of her mother’s Jewish family that the fled the Nazis in Germany.
Zille also touched on the WJC mission statement, “Kol Yisreal Arevim Zeh beZeh" (All Jews are responsible for one another), and said: “Since its foundation in 1936, in Geneva, Switzerland, the WJC has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of Jews and Jewish communities around the world. This has been a crucial role, everywhere… this Talmudic injunction is a complex one in the modern world, and it is one we have to address honestly, especially knowing that the world’s future will increasingly be one of managing complex, plural societies, whether people like it or not.”