The head rabbi of South Africa sees an opportunity in the connection to advocate for an imprisoned Jew, despite the country’s President receiving criticism for not severing ties with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
In a weekend visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein wants the President to support Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal writer detained in Russia in March.
“Mr. President – you are in a unique position to intercede on his behalf,” Goldstein wrote in a letter to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday. “Please speak directly to President Putin and urge him to release Gershkovich, whose ongoing incarceration violates human rights, international press freedom, and the rule of law.”
On the eve of an African leaders’ trip that he is leading to seek peace between Russia and Ukraine, Ramaphosa was sent a letter that has not yet received a response from him.
On Saturday, the delegation will meet with Putin after arriving in Kyiv on Friday.
Ramaphosa stated in a lengthy statement last month that “South Africa will not take sides in a contest between global powers,” in contrast to the United States and many European nations who back Ukraine. The United States, meanwhile, has accused South Africa of arming Russia.
Goldstein mentioned the South African movement to remove apartheid in his letter, which looked for partners on both sides of the Cold War. He also said that South Africa is a member of the BRICS group of countries comprising Brazil, India, China, Russia, and South Africa.
Geshkovich, detained without charge for spying in late March, received Goldstein’s support by appealing to the fight against apartheid.
Jews worldwide have fought for Gershkovich’s release since he is the son of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. The Wall Street Journal and the US government claim that the allegations against him are unfounded, and other nations have concurred.
“We know from our own bitter history here in South Africa how the apartheid regime cloaked tyranny and cruelty in the garments of sham legal processes, including detention without trial,” Goldstein wrote.
“Mr. President, you are in a position of particular influence given South Africa’s BRICS leadership and your government’s close relations with Russia. I appeal to you — in your personal capacity and through all available government diplomatic channels — to intervene to secure his release so that he can return home safely to his family in the US.”
Ramaphosa does not seem to have made any public remarks regarding Gershkovich’s detention.