Jewish South Africans have always managed to live relatively obscurely. We have sent our children to Jewish day schools, taught them a love for Israel and Judaism, seen a massive growth in Jewish religious observance in the last twenty years and proudly celebrated Israel’s Independence Day, every year and in full public view. Yes, we have suffered with the rest of the nation through those uncertain years of transformation into a democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s death and electrical blackouts. And yes, we’ve practically built a labyrinth around ourselves, made of walls, electric fencing, security companies and closed roads to guard or our homes, schools and Shuls. More recently we’ve set up security patrols to close the GAP (Glenhazel Area Patrol) that was still being infiltrated. But even this is failing us. For South African Jewry who has always managed to keep the mad world out, it seems that the world demands us to be in it. And not because we are South Africans, but because we are Jews.

While some fellow South African Jewry expressed surprise at some of the guests at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, such the PLO’s Yasser Arafat and Libya's Muammar Gadaffi, I and many others took the intellectual approach: Mandela was merely embracing the ANC's former allies. It was after all Libya, Russia, Cuba and the PLO who provided the ANC with arms, money, education and a safe haven during Apartheid.

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In hindsight we should have also paid more attention when Mahmoud Abbas, said on Mandela’s death that he was a "symbol of freedom from colonialism". Because not only did Abbas identify the other thread (besides supposed Apartheid) that ‘connected’ the Palestinians to South African freedom fighters and victims, he was making Mandela another symbolic head of the Palestinian discourse that includes Israel as a colonial power (amongst the many other ideological transmutations imputed to Israel). We were it seems, too worried about South Africa’s future post-Mandela, than we were about being Jews post-Mandela.


The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, commented before Mandela died, that he was "too saintly" and too soft on whites after Apartheid. It is indeed Madiba’s saintliness which protected us from the likes of Mugabe and Abbas. Just a year and four months since Mandela's death, Abbas’ support has grown exponentially. We are not just seeing and hearing rhetoric against Israel but experiencing the galloping and unabashed anti-Semitism for which anti-Israel sentiment has become a cover. The highly inaccurate Israel-Apartheid analogy has lead to an inevitable mass movement that calls for the exclusion of Jews from academic, cultural and social life and resonates with the memory of the Holocaust. For example this year in a shocking display of anti-Semitism, at the Durban University of Technology, students chanted “Death to the Jews” and members of student government called for the expulsion of all Jewish students from their campus. The kind of anti-Semitism we are witnessing is I believe, just gaining momentum.

The South African Zionist Federation and the South African Jewish board of Deputies appeasement approach evidenced by the meeting with Mahmoud Abbas last year and being critical of the Israeli government’s refusal to give the South African, Blade Nzimande a visa, is gravely mistaken. For, a very real ideological brotherhood between South Africans and Palestinians has been successfully created, even though it is a fictionalised one. The BDS movement has been so successful in South Africa that Abbas awarded a Palestinian gold medal to it last year. The attendees of the SA–Israel trade exhibition held in March were further witnesses to this, when they had to be escorted out of the Sandton Convention Centre by the South African Police Service, to ensure their safety. The crowd gathered there, threatened violence, jeered, and chanted anti-Semitic slogans including “You Jews do not belong here in South Africa!”

The most recent events at Wits University in Johannesburg reinforce this view and are an indication of the depth of the Palestinian and South African believed bond. The head of the students representative council’s statement, that he admires Hitler, and his apportioning blame for his dismissal on “Jewish Zionists” is testimony to the fact that we as Jews in South Africa are no longer safe or obscure. It is time to acknowledge that we have entered an entirely new era and our belief that everything is going to be okay, which served us well before Mandela’s death, is going to betray us, for we are now in an anti-Semitic and political labyrinth which we cannot dismantle.
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