A few weeks ago, the South African Zionist Federation, of which I am chairman,
hosted Caroline Glick for a speaking tour. It was her first visit to South
Africa. In Cape Town, she was keynote speaker at the federation’s Cape Council
conference. In Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, she received standing ovations
from packed audiences.
One would subsequently have expected from Glick
some kind of communication thanking the community for its hospitality, but what
we received was something entirely different. Her article (“Out of Africa,”
November 10) turned out to be highly critical not just of South Africa in
general, but of its Jewish communal leadership in particular.
theme of Glick’s article is not particularly new or original. Over the past 50
years, many overseas commentators have opined that South Africa’s complacent
Jewish community should flee before it is too late.
Prior to dealing with
Glick’s prophecies, some of her more glaring factual errors concerning South
Africa and its Jewish community need to be addressed.
In providing an
example of how the SA Jewry is besieged by anti-Semitic attacks, Glick mentions
that some years back Jewish school buses were stoned. The only problem with this
is that no such event has ever occurred. Actually, the only time SA Jewish
students were stoned while on a bus was on an education program to Israel while
travelling in the West Bank. South Africa has strikingly low levels of
anti-Semitism. Last year it recorded only 95 anti- Semitic incidents, mainly of
a nonviolent nature, while Australia, with a similar size Jewish population,
Glick claims that the role of Jewish individuals in the
struggle against apartheid has not won the Jewish community any gratitude or
friendship from the government, which, in deference to the larger Muslim
community, has distanced itself from it. Nothing could be further from the
Firstly, she is wrong in stating that Muslims hold most senior
positions in the civil service. The latter’s composition is largely reflective
of the demography of the country, where over 90 percent are Christian. While SA
Jewry constitutes just 0.15% of the population, senior government leaders
regularly attend Jewish events. Every president, from Nelson Mandela to Jacob
Zuma, in addressing the Jewish community, has expressed appreciation and
gratitude for the role its members played in creating a free, democratic South
The respect shown toward the community is actually quite
remarkable. Last year, the general election date was changed because it clashed
with the seventh day of Pessah.
South Africa must be the only Diaspora
country that invites the chief rabbi to address the nation at every presidential
inauguration. When a deputy minister made anti- Semitic remarks during Operation
Cast Lead, the community received an apology from the president himself and
within two months that minister was no longer in government.
government and the community primarily differ is over Israel. While it would be
extremely convenient for us to keep our views about Israel to ourselves, we do
exactly the opposite. Every available resource and opportunity is used to defend
Israel in dealing with government, the media and society in general. Our efforts
are not restricted to quiet diplomacy. When South Africa recalled its ambassador
after the flotilla incident, the SA Union of Jewish Students held protests
outside the relevant government offices and upon presentation of its petition
was informed that the ambassador would return to Israel shortly (a promise duly
South African Jews are open and proud Zionists. Our celebrations
and demonstrations for Israel are attended by tens of thousands in the streets,
parks and stadia, are publicly advertised and receive national media coverage.
So far as local boycott, divestment, sanctions initiatives against Israel, to
date the community has been successful in thwarting almost every one of
Glick alleges that the community’s fear of Jewish turncoats has
prevented it from discrediting them. This, too, is nonsense; just one example to
the contrary being the vociferous criticism of Judge Richard Goldstone for
complicity in the disgraceful Goldstone report. If the establishment is careful
not to go overboard in criticizing Jewish dissidents, it is because they are so
small a minority and should not be given the publicity they seek to propagate
their anti-Israel views.
We are a community that is not afraid to debate
what it means to be a Zionist and hear views critical of certain Israeli
policies. We make no apologies for this and find Glick’s singling out of Hayley
Galgut, who intends moving to Israel and supports its right to exist as a Jewish
democratic state even if she is highly critical of some of its policies, to be
unnecessary and vindictive.
Perhaps the most insidious accusation Glick
makes is that rather than attacking “anti-Semites” like Desmond Tutu, South
African Jews have honored him by making him a patron of their Holocaust
Foundation. Actually, Tutu was appointed as patron more than 11 years ago, when
he played no role in any anti-Israel movement. His present conduct has met with
wall-to-wall condemnation from the community, best expressed by Chief Rabbi
Warren Goldstein’s excellent article recently published in The Jerusalem Post
(“An open letter to Archbishop Demond Tutu,” November 4).
as endemic corruption are not unique to South Africa (Israel, for one, also
appears to have a revolving door between politics and prison). Despite poverty,
unemployment, crime, AIDS and the threats of nationalization and curbing of
press freedom, South Africans (like Israelis) are tenacious, resilient and
creative in dealing with their country’s problems. An example is the innovative
community policing initiatives which the Jewish community has introduced in
Johannesburg’s northern suburbs and which have reduced crime in those areas by
more than 90%.
South Africa has an independent and vibrant judiciary,
media and civil society. No one takes our hard-won gains for granted. In the
past 14 years the country has experienced almost uninterrupted economic growth,
allowing millions of South Africans to escape poverty and receive housing,
electricity, water and sanitation for the first time.
SA JEWRY has
greatly benefited from and contributed to South Africa. In a little over 150
years, its members have created a unique community which, for its size, exhibits
an energy, vitality and unity almost unprecedented within the Diaspora. We are
one of a handful of communities whose children, because of an excellent Jewish
day school system, religious and cultural institutions and Zionist youth
movements, have a high probability of becoming active, identifying and
practicing Jews and Zionists. It is not by coincidence that the present governor
of the Bank of Israel and the director-general of the Jewish Agency were both
graduates of Habonin Dror South Africa.
The federation agrees
wholeheartedly with Glick that South African Jews should make aliya. In the past
decade we have, with the Jewish Agency, increased aliya by 300% and
reestablished Israel as the number one destination for Jewish émigrés. However,
our reasons for encouraging aliya have nothing to do with any doomsday scenarios
regarding our country’s future. Jews should immigrate to Israel because it is
the center of Jewish life and destiny, filled with promise and opportunity.
Zionists, rather than predicting the demise of others, let’s focus on fulfilling
our own prophecies of an ingathering of the exiles to Eretz Yisrael.
writer is chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.