South African Jews and the ANC

Mandela was arrested in August 1962, formally for his work in Umkonto we Sizwe, the underground wing of the ANC whose activities were directed at sabotaging installations—often ineptly. Nearly a year later, the entire leadership of Umkonto we Sizwe were surprised by a police raid on the home of Arthur Goldreich in Rivonia near Johannesburg. The seventeen who were arrested included Sisulu and Kathrada, the respective leaders of the banned African and Indian National Congresses. The five whites amongst them were all Jews. Goldreich himself managed to escape and flee to Israel where he still lives.

There are countless examples of individual Jews involved in anti-apartheid activities, covering the left-liberal spectrum. Even so—and despite the emergence of “Jews for Justice” in South Africa and other such Jewish groups in Israel, the United States and Britain—there are discernible signs of a movement to the right, away from the Progressives and towards the National Party, by South African Jewish voters. Sam Bloomberg succeeded in capturing the Johannesburg constituency of Bezuidenhout for the once detested National Party in the 1987 general election, and became that party’s first Jewish MP. Gideon Shimoni, of the Hebrew University, in an article in the 1988 American Jewish Yearbook, points out that “the total number of Jewish members of the White Chamber remained at four, the same as at the close of the previous parliamentary session, but the fact that the number was now equally divided between the parliamentary (National) party and the progressive opposition was surely indicative of this trend”. Clearly, many South African Jews have absorbed the views and attitudes of the indigenous white population. The recent departure of Rabbis Isaacson and Franklyn, whose opposition to apartheid was highly vocal, appeased the wishes of many who wanted a quiet life.

South African Jews have also been disturbed by the emergence of political groupings, further to the right, who are at worst anti-Semitic and at best ambivalent to Jewish concerns. An additional factor has been the increasingly negative reaction of the black leadership to Israel and Zionism as well as the deepening hostility of South African Muslims. Both Bishop Tutu and Reverend Boesak, whilst recognizing the contribution of South African Jews, have attacked Israel’s military cooperation with South Africa. Even Chief Buthelezi who opposes the ANC recently commented that “Jews criticize, through their liberal press, the policies of the government but secretly pray for the retention of Afrikaaner power because they feel secure with it”.

In a book to be published at the end of 1988, The Jews of South Africa: What Future? (Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg), the widening gulf between Jews and blacks is documented in interviews with leading figures in the struggle against apartheid by the authors, Alan Fischer and Tziporrah Hoffman. They quote Neo Mnutrizana, an ANC spokesperson at the United Nations:

Jews like all people, would “have a choice to either abandon segregation as practice and join with the rest . . . in building a free, united, non-racial and democratic South Africa or to exercise their freedom to leave the country and go to those climates which would be more conducive to Zionism”.

Such hardening attitudes probably represent the future for South African Jews. Arab propaganda and assistance may well have had an important effect on black perceptions, but clearly the policies of successive Israeli governments seem to have been incredibly short-sighted. Israeli government sanctions against South Africa last year seem classically too little and too late.

Jewish Quarterly Winter 1988

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