Shabbat Zachor: We can’t tolerate the political abuse of people who suffered under Apartheid

Rabbi Schell SAFI ConferenceThis coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor – the Shabbat of Remembrance, one of the special Shabbatot leading up to Passover. In addition to the regular Torah portion congregations conclude the reading with an additional reading of Deuteronomy 25:17-19. These verses tell us to do something difficult – remember what Amalek did to us after we left Egypt, while we erase the memory of him. Shabbat Zachor is always the Shabbat before Purim, because the villain of the Purim story, Haman, is an Amalekite – a direct descendant of Amalek. One way to fulfil the idea of our additional Torah reading is the practice during the reading of the Book of Esther to make noise each time Haman’s name is read, in effect obliterating his name, while we still remember everything he did to us.

It is a very interesting coincidence that our Shabbat Zachor falls on the same weekend South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day. Because the South Africa’s Human Rights Day is connected with the Commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre from 1960, we have a powerful reminder that Human Dignity is unfortunately nothing we can expect to be respected by everyone. Protagonist will easily trample on the rights of others if it is in their interest. It is the story of Amalek attacking the just freed Israelites, Haman who planned to kill all Jews in Persia because of a personal vendetta, and also the apartheid-regime that wanted to stabilise their power.

Last week we all could once again read about and witness the abhorrent actions of the BDS movement, running a so called “Israel apartheid week” in many universities of South Africa. Not only that the analogy of Israel being an apartheid state is without any substance, it turns the idea of reconciliation up-side down. Because the victims of apartheid, those who were killed, or imprisoned, those who were marginalized and robbed of their human rights, are once again reduced to objects for a distasteful  political cause. Again their human dignity has been stolen from them by people who have no interest in human rights, who don’t care for the Palestinians, nor the victims of apartheid. The goal of the BDS movement is to wipe out Israel and the Jewish people at any cost, including misusing the memory of the victims of the apartheid regime.

For us Jews it is not only a biblical commandment to stand in support for Israel and against our enemies, but also to stand for the human dignity of all our neighbours. We know what it means when people try to erase our existence. That is why we need to oppose those actions, why we can’t tolerate the abuse of the people who suffered under Apartheid. Why we need to make clear that there is a fundamental difference between the State of Israel, its pluralistic and democratic make-up, and the utterly unjust, and to the core inhuman reality of the Apartheid state, which we all have overcome.

This Shabbat Zachor, this Human right’s Day, we remember all victims of injustice no matter where. We vow that we will be vigilant, and work towards a better future for the Jewish people, for this country, and for all humankind.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (This text has been also published in the JR of this week)

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