In Europe, now South Africa – Jews are feeling uneasy
By David E. Kaplan
The recent spat between the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ vice president, Zev Krengel and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu, illustrates not only the widening chasm between South Africa’s ruling party and its Jewish community but something far more alarming.
It exposes an increasing unease Jews are feeling with their position in South Africa today.
The “issue” is not over anything pertaining to Jewish wellbeing in their country – the primary concern of Krengel’s organisation the SAJBOD – but over South Africa’s relationship with the Jewish State – Israel.
Once a ‘sign’ of inclusivity, the much touted “Rainbow Nation” image of the Mandela era has lost its sparkle. That inclusivity comes today for South Africa’s Jews with a price tag:
“Stop Supporting Israel.”
Can this really be expected as an option for a People who have repeated for over 3500 years from the Psalm of King David:
“If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem! let my right hand forget its skill!”
Zionism – the nationalist movement of the Jewish people that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel – is in the DNA of South African Jewry. Well over a half century before the Holocaust in Europe, Zionism arrived in South Africa “in the knapsacks of the Litvak Jews.”
Many of the young new arrivals from the late nineteenth century had been members of Hovevei Zion societies in Eastern Europe – the forerunners and foundation-builders of modern Zionism. These societies aimed to promote Jewish immigration to their ancestral homeland in Ottoman ruled Palestine, and advance Jewish settlement there, particularly in agriculture.
It was therefore no surprise the South African Zionist Federation was established as early as 1898 – over a decade before there was even a Union of South Africa – followed by the Board of Deputies in 1903. Nine years later the ANC was founded in 1912, with the aim of fighting for the rights of black South Africans.
Now the organisations tasked with fighting for the rights of Jews and Blacks are facing off over an issue a continent away!
What has startled the Jewish community even more, was the rebuke Krengel and the SAJBOD received as if they had no right to criticize the ANC member.
The criticism in question was Krengel referring to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu as “the single biggest enemy” in government to South African Jewry. This was in response for her crusade for South Africa to sever diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Krengel had every right to articulate his concerns particularly following the Minister’s ignorance, bias and antisemitism all evident in her accusing “the Israeli government of funding WITS” (University of the Witwatersrand) and adding to her accusation “This was a fact that must be taken into account when implementing the proposed downgrade of the South African embassy in Israel.”
If the British Labour Party, once the political home for much of Britain’s Jewish community is being investigated for institutional antisemitism – why should senior members of the ANC be free of similar rebuke?
The Jewish leadership would have been remiss in not taking the minister to task.
As national vice chairman of the South Africa Zionist Federation Ben Levitas in Politicalweb expressed:
“the SAJBOD did what they were elected to do by opposing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s decision to act on the ANC’s 54th National Conference resolution “to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel”. The Boards mandate is to guard and protect the interests of the Jewish community and the downgrade of relations with Israel most certainly impacts on the well-being of the community.”
While the cracks have been paved over following the recent national election, some members within the community are seeing through the façade of rainbow-nation-like unity and camaraderie. A May 23 letter by Brian Josselowitz to the editor the SA Jewish Report is revealing:
“You can schmooze with the political elite, and even take selfies with ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, but he serves at the pleasure of the national executive committee, and he will not vote against ANC policy, especially on the question of Israel.
The SA Jewish Report (SAJR) gave him its unqualified backing when he won the ANC presidency at the party’s last elective conference, and if he has, as the SAJR would have us believe, an open mind about the conflict, why didn’t he take cabinet colleagues Naledi Pandor and Sisulu to task, in public, for their anti-Semitic remarks? Why has he allowed Sisulu to say that all relations with Israel are being severed, and the embassy will be downgraded to a visa office, without repudiating her in public?”
A Deep Sense Of Foreboding
What is happening to freedom of speech in South Africa when the Board’s director, Wendy Kahn, feels the need to defend her organisation’s right to criticise government.
“…I think the Jewish community, as with all citizens of South Africa have got a right to criticise and condemn statements and actions of government.”
All this follows:
- in 2018 the ANC put out the red carpet in Parliament for the terror organisation Hamas that had only weeks before fired close to 500 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel with the intention of endangering the lives of Israelis. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was co-signed by the ANC and Hamas that supported – inter alia – “the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel” and ensured that “ANC leaders and government officials do not visit Israel”
- The ongoing crusade of South Africa’s premier university – the University of Cape Town (UCT) – to boycott academic institutions in Israel
- The passing of a motion brought to the Johannesburg council by the ANC, Al-Jamaah and EFF to rename one of the city’s prominent roads, Sandton Drive, after Leila Khaled. While glorified as the “poster girl of the Palestinian struggle”, this is the same Leila Khaled who, holding two hand-grenades in her hands in 1970, terrified a planeload of passengers on an EL AL Flight from Amsterdam to New York City and who the previous year, in 1969, had hijacked a TWA Flight from Rome to Tel Aviv diverting it to Damascus International Airport, where together with her partner, blew up the nose section of the Boeing 707. These are South Africa’s role models today – dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel. Khaled was not hijacking civilian aircraft in support for a Two-State Solution:
In 1970, there were only 1,514 Jews living in the West Bank!
Is it any wonder that Jews in South Africa are questioning the direction of their country, the policies of its political leaders and the nagging thorn pricking daily, whether it is a suitable place for their children and grandchildren?
An old acquaintance in Cape Town who recently put his property on the market remarked:
“It’s now just a house; it’s no more a home!”