Last month I was invited to South Africa by the South African Zionist
Federation. The visit, my first to the country, opened my eyes to the daunting
challenges facing the country and its dwindling Jewish community of 70,000 16
years after the end of the apartheid regime.
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South Africa is a country of
paradoxes. On the one hand, it is exhilarating to see the blacks now in charge
after their long struggle. On the other, the ruling African National Congress’
record of governance is at best a mixed bag.
On the positive side, in
2008 it peacefully and democratically replaced the failed former president Thabo
Mbeki with his opponent, President Jacob Zuma.
But the negatives are
glaring. Corruption is endemic. Rather than punishing officials for
criminal behavior, the ANC is going after the messenger. South Africa’s ruling
party intends to pass a draconian media law to bar journalists from reporting on
governmental corruption. The ANC has dismissed opposition to the bill as racist,
accusing opponents of attempting to advance a “white agenda.”
particularly ill for the future is the fact that ANC’s Youth League is one of
the most illiberal bodies in the party. Aside from being among the most
enthusiastic supporters of the move to end press freedom, the Youth League is
also one of the primary forces driving foreign investors away from the
country. Its leader Julius Malema’s signature policy is his demand to
nationalize the country’s mines.
This has been a great year for South
Africa. Throngs of tourists visited during the World Cup soccer championship,
and the international press coverage was fantastic. Unfortunately, the relative
safety enjoyed by World Cup tourists was a striking deviation from the norm. The
ANC has failed to provide personal security for South Africans. According to the
UN, South Africa has the second highest per capita murder rate in the world.
South African sources place the annual murder rate at 23,000.
Africa is the rape capital of the world. In a 1998-2000 UN survey, one in three
women said they had been raped in the past year. One in four men admitted that
he was a rapist. Carjackings are a commonplace.
Even more devastating is
South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Nearly 20 percent of South Africans are
infected with the HIV virus.
One of the impetuses for removing Mbeki from
office was that he denied that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus, claiming instead
that AIDS is caused by poverty and the legacy of white oppression. Owing to this
view, Mbeki refused to allow South Africa to participate in international
programs to distribute anti-retroviral drugs which stem the development of
Two years ago a team of Harvard scientists published a paper
alleging that Mbeki’s actions had caused the preventable deaths of some 300,000
South Africans. They also alleged that his refusal to provide
HIV-positive pregnant women with access to anti-retroviral drugs caused 35,000
babies to be born with HIV.
Neighboring Zimbabwe also suffers from South
African neglect. With its international cachet and relative military might, the
ANC could put an end to Robert Mugabe’s reign of terror in Zimbabwe if it
desired. But Mugabe aided ANC fighters during their struggle against apartheid,
and the ANC refuses to act against him.
According to the UN and other
international organizations, more than two million Zimbabwean refugees have
streamed across the border since 2000. But since the ANC effectively sides with
Mugabe, these refugees are denied basic services like housing and health
Unprotected by the government, refugees are victimized by
xenophobic violence. Countrywide xenophobic riots in 2008 in which some 62
people were reported killed and thousands injured have been followed by
sporadic, often murderous violence against foreign refugees. Rather than protect
the refugees, the ANC just announced a new visa policy that will likely see the
deportation of millions of them.
ON A per capita basis, South Africa’s
Jewish community was more active in the struggle against apartheid than any
other nonblack group. This fact has not won the community any gratitude or
friendship from the government, however. In part due to the ANC’s close ties to
the PLO, the post-apartheid government has favored the country’s large Muslim
community and distanced itself from the Jews. Muslims hold most of the senior
positions in the civil service.
The vast majority of South African Jewry
resides in crime-ridden Johannesburg. The physical insecurity of the community
is palpable at all times. The Jews live behind walls and electric fences. It
seems that everyone has either been the victim of a violent crime or knows
someone who has. Even inside of Jewish neighborhoods, it is too dangerous for
children to play in the streets.
Partly because the state schools are
horrible, partly because of community cohesion and religious commitment, 80
percent of Jewish children in South Africa study in Jewish schools. With the
children in Jewish schools, community involvement is higher than in most
But the schools are at risk. Some years ago Jewish
school buses were stoned. The community responded by unmarking the buses.
Everyone entering or leaving Jewish campuses must pass through security
Community security is handled by the Community Security Organization. The day I
arrived in Johannesburg, the community’s radio station received a bomb threat
and the group’s representatives arrived on the scene within moments. Guards from
the organization are present at all community events.
The future of the CSO is an open question. The government just passed a strict
gun control law that will make it difficult for its guards to bear arms. Without
guns, it is hard to see how the CSO will be able to provide
Crime levels are much lower in Cape Town, and it is safe to
wander around the city. But Cape Town’s Jews face other challenges, not the
least of which is that whereas there are some 15,000 Jews in Cape Town, the city
is home to 750,000 Muslims.
Ignoring the Jewish community’s deep
involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle, the ANC berates it for Israel’s
economic and military ties to the apartheid regime. The fact that the Arabs –
and particularly Saudi Arabia – had much stronger and longer economic and
military ties to the apartheid regime than Israel is never mentioned.
ANC is one of the most anti-Israel governments in the world today. After the
Mavi Marmara incident, aside from Turkey, South Africa was the only country to
recall its ambassador from Israel. But on the issue of Israel, the ANC and the
South African media see eye to eye. As Beverley Goldman from the South African
Zionist Federation explained at a Zionist conference in Cape Town two weeks ago,
the anti-Israel bias of the South African media is overwhelming.
boycott, divest and sanction Israel campaign was arguably born in South Africa
at the UN’s anti- Semitic hate fest in Durban in August 2001. It enjoys the
support of South African notables like retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who just
called for the Cape Town Opera to cancel its visit to Israel.
the University of Johannesburg narrowly defeated a motion to cancel its water
desalination research agreement with Ben-Gurion University. However, the motion
will likely be passed in the future, because while rejecting the motion, the
university demanded that BGU end ties with the IDF.
A movement to ban
Israeli products from the shelves of South African stores is gaining
A Jewish-owned grocery store chain was recently
Last month a firm that produces logo briefcases refused a
contract with the South African Zionist Federation to produce briefcases for the
Federation’s upcoming conference.
THE JEWISH community’s responses to the
challenges it faces are varied. Emigration rates are high and
rising. Australia is the preferred destination, but aliya rates are also
relatively high and rising. The Jewish Agency’s representatives are energetic
and committed. It would be helpful if Bnei Akiva sent more
representatives to South Africa in light of the religiousness of many members of
Most Jews leaving South Africa are young. Israel must
adopt measures to help older Jews come here.
On the other side of the
spectrum, the number of Jews who have joined the anti-Israel chorus is
growing. Jews were among the founders of an anti-Zionist, pro-boycott
group called Open Shuhada Street.
The option of turning on Israel and
their community is an attractive one for many young Jews. Since the end of
apartheid, with the rise in influence of the Muslim community and the ANC’s
hostility toward Israel, the only way Jews can achieve sure notoriety is by
joining forces with Israel’s enemies.
For its part, the organized Jewish
leadership struggles to remain relevant. It excels at its primary task of caring
for the welfare needs of an aging community. But defending Israel and
Zionism in the face of a vocal Jewish anti-Israel minority is becoming
increasingly difficult. Cultivating good ties with a government hostile to
Israel and committed to economic policies that hurt most members of the
community is also growing more challenging.
Sadly, it seems that despite
the best efforts of many committed Jewish leaders, the organized community is
breaking under the burden of these Sisyphean tasks. For instance, rather than
attacking anti-Semites like Tutu, who among other things claims that Israel uses
the Holocaust to justify its oppression of Arabs, South African Jews have
honored him by making him a patron of their Holocaust foundation. Richard
Goldstone is also a patron.
In the hopes of bringing blacks to the
Holocaust museum in Cape Town, the museum’s exhibition begins with a remembrance
of apartheid. By doing so, the museum equates the discrimination against blacks
with the genocide of Jewry.
The community’s fear of Jewish turncoats has
prevented it from discrediting them. For example, at last month’s Zionist
Federation conference in Cape Town, the organizers invited a self-proclaimed
non-Zionist attorney named Hayley Galgut to participate in a panel titled “South
African Zionism Today.” Galgut used her time to explain why she is not a
Zionist, and why the audience should abandon Zionism.
their decision to invite her by noting Galgut’s plan to move to Israel. But the
fact that she wishes to move to the front line of the war against Israel does
not make hers a legitimate voice. Galgut’s presence on the panel was
evidence of the community leadership’s unwillingness to take measures to
maintain a coherent Zionist message.
The physical beauty of South Africa
is arresting, particularly along the coast. And the material standard of living
that South African Jews enjoy is impressive. It is easy to see why many Jews
find it hard to leave.
But it is also clear that Jewish life in South
Africa will only get worse. The ANC is unlikely to improve its general
governance or its policies toward Israel. It can only be hoped that the Jews of
South Africa will make their way to Israel before the ANC fails them even more
spectacularly than it already email@example.com