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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The South African Jewish Community in the post-Goldstone era

This email came to me from a reader who is a South African-born freelance Israeli journalist currently working in South Africa.
I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on how things are going in the South African Jewish community. I’m including some pics with my email and if you want, feel free to blog on it.

Two weeks ago I was in Durban for my first freelance job covering a government technology conference which focused on providing electronic services to citizens.

In addition to technology directors, I met with municipality heads and government ministers – and was surprised to learn how far behind the curve SA is, especially when compared to Israel.

Mentioning this to some of the people I interviewed they were surprised to hear how technologically developed Israel is. "How can they be so advanced when they are fighting wars all the time," asked a minister? I had to tell him what life is really like in the country, how educated Israelis are. "You know, my wife and I are devout Christians and we really want to walk in the steps of Jesus but we are afraid to go to Israel because it's just too dangerous," another told me. I had to set the record straight for the man and showed him photographs of Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim on my laptop but it frustrated me to hear how Israel is only known for one thing.

Walking out of the convention centre that same day (I’d come in via the underground parking) I noticed the photographs in the lobby of the well-known people who had spoken there and was shocked to see large pictures of Arafat and Castro prominently displayed. I then I realised where I was. The same convention centre that hosted the Durban conference on racism. I was no longer surprised as to why South Africans have such a negative view of Israel.
Since my return to Johannesburg I’ve been seeing old friends and most were initially happy to see me, however, as I continue to hold views supportive of Israel it appears that I will need to make new friends who hold similar beliefs as I've actually encountered a fair amount of hostility.

Two weeks ago, a friend’s mother attacked me, launching her frail 62-year-old body over her dinner table to stab at me wildly with a fork, because I said it was “shameful SA is selling arms to Syria, Libya, Iran, Sudan and North Korea.” She then threw food and drinks at me before wildly kicking & punching at me.

"If you don't like this country (splash) why did you come back (stab), why do you criticise (stab) South Africa, our (drunken) judiciary (stab), our (pro-dictatorship) foreign policy (stab, stab, stab went the fork).

I was later told that I had been disrespectful to her mom, a former anti-apartheid activist who mixes in circles where Goldstone is often a dinner guest. "No-one here really cares about Israel or the palestinians," my friend said, adding that while it was understood I had lived in Israel for 6 years and probably had different opinions, it was best for me to “keep them to yourself if you expect to still be friends with people who’ve all been looking forward to seeing you again."

Israel? The palestinians? I never mentioned them, but that comment was a reference to a “discussion” I’d had this February with a (now former) friend who happens to be a leading prosecutor. During Operation Cast Lead she had taken to posting a lot of anti-Israel; pro-palestinian rhetoric on her facebook page and eventually I raised my objection.

The fallout from THAT discussion (which saw her screaming it me at one point that "THE ONLY SOLUTION WAS FOR ISRAEL TO DISAPPEAR! ISRAEL AND THE JEWS MUST DISAPPEAR! THAT IS THE ONLY SOLUTION!") had repercussions among all my SA Jewish friends (some of whom actively support the "Not in my name" crowd and/or date Muslims, however, none of them were privy to her anti-Semitic outburst or her parting comments that she, “Hated me… You used to be such a good person but now you have become a force for evil…”.).

A line has been drawn.

Ultimately what has happened to the Jewish community of South Africa? It is my belief that, faced with the crime wave that has hit the country and the growing rise of anti-Semitism initiated by the Muslim community, orthodox Christian Afrikaners and the liberal Jewish backlash, the community has turned inward, becoming more conservative and religious.

Last week I went to a shabbos lunch at a family friend. At some point I mentioned that the Israeli press now paints South Africa(n Jewish community) as being anti-Israel. To which one woman replied, "It's that 'Not in my name' group and [Jewish former intelligence minister Ronnie] Kasrils [pictured. CiJ]!! They're only 200 people! They don’t speak for the community. South African Jews support Israel - you have to tell people (Israeli's) that."
But it's not just the 'Friends of Kasrils' who are the problem. On a recent visit to the very liberal Johannesburg suburb of Melville I noticed anti-Israel graffiti stenciled on trash bins in the main street [see picture at top. CiJ] . There's a nearby university and several Muslim communities so I wasn't "that" surprised to note the tone of the neighbourhood.

So what can be done about this? It’s my belief that, technology aside, on a moral level, Israel is far, far ahead of South Africa, however, these are not the kind of points one can use to do good PR, although it is in that area I believe Israel has room for improvement vis-à-vis stronger Jewish community relationships and dialogue and perhaps fact-finding tours targeting the local Christian community (and I don’t mean Bishop Tutu).
Well, if it's anything like the US, we probably have a better chance of reaching the Christians than the Jews.

Unfortunately, the last IDF officer who went to South Africa for a speaking engagement was nearly arrested for his role in Operation Cast Lead. And he was a lawyer....

I certainly hope that the South African Jewish community participates in Birthright, but I have no idea what the statistics are. Many of the South Africans I know in Israel and the US no longer have relatives in South Africa, leading me to wonder who is left there and how we can have a constructive impact.

What we're seeing in South Africa may yet be what we see in many countries where large parts of the Jewish community up and leave - to Israel or elsewhere. In a multi-culti world where all countries vote equally, we're 'losing votes' because Jews are moving out. No, I'm not advocating that Jews stay there. But we need a democratic leadership in the world community that recognizes that 'one country, one vote' is a dangerous way to go. Right now, that leadership is being provided by Binyamin Netanyahu, and not by the President of the United States. That's not likely to be enough.


At 12:58 PM, Blogger Ashan said...

Speaking of the despicable Goldstone, check this out: Richard Goldstone is to be Investigated for Criminal Activity (Ben-Dror Yemini) http://israelbehindthenews.com/bin/content.cgi?ID=3722&q=1

At 6:12 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

As the Jewish Diaspora dissolves, Israel will have to defend itself. In a world increasingly hostile to Israel, this is a very heavy burden.


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