A Shallow Comment that Cut Deep

Well that didn’t take long. According to the daily South African newspaper, The Sowetan, newly elected leader of the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, “Stunned the South African Jewish community” by supporting the ANC’s view on Israel. He described the “Pro-Israel” position as being “ narrow and fundamentalist.”

Apparently, “Successive Israel regimes have refused to recognise Palestine as an independent state,” which is just rude if one thinks about it. Perhaps not as rude as the Hamas Charter that not only neglects to recognise Israel, but also takes it a smidgeon further by calling for its destruction. Oh and also for the death of all the Jews who might have thought that they might be spared. But I assume that is just semantics and one shouldn’t get too caught up in that sort of thing.

In his defence, perhaps Maimane assumed that the Hamas wording is just rhetoric and posturing, and indeed South Africans are used to the benign calls for our death (examples such as the popular “Kill the Jew” musical number chanted at BDS events). One has to assume that Maimane’s message is that the community shouldn’t take it to heart and should be a little less sensitive when people say they want us dead, but for the fact that Hamas seem to mean it. And demonstrate they do, by actually trying to kill us.

It is somewhat perplexing that Maimane’s one sided view of the conflict was aired in front of a largely Jewish audience. That said, at least no one can accuse him of speaking behind anyone’s back. It might also be worth mentioning that the forum he chose to do so, was none other than at the book launch of Jewish member of the DA, Jack Bloom, who at the very least had to be slightly irritated that the coverage of the event was more about Maimane’s statement and less about the book he was launching.

It is interesting to note that the DA has always been the political party that most South African Jews have identified with. Helen Suzman, Tony Leon and a multitude of other members of the tribe have utilized the DA (formerly the PFP) platform to fight against the horror and injustice of apartheid, and succeeded in assisting the country to right the many wrongs that existed. Jews are still members of the party and hold a number of positions of prominence. It needs also to be said that the DA is not known in any way to be an anti Semitic environment, even if its view of Israel is ambiguous and influenced by the anti Israel ANC government. And perhaps, maybe, there is the small matter of voter numbers, where Jews are significantly less voluminous than, well than those that don’t love Israel (and I am not referring to kilograms per capita).

Over the last few years, an alternative political party has started to win the hearts of the Jewish community. The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) was formed in 1993 with and has 3 seats in the current parliament. It is headed by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe who is vocal in his support of Israel. His daughter, the formidable Olga Meshoe runs the organisation DEISI International (Defend / Embrace /Invest in Israel), founded in 2013 by the Reverend, is a champion of Israel’s cause and is a constant voice of support for a fatigued community.

The irony of course is that on the most part, SA Jewry supports a 2 state solution. Maimane, when asked about Israel, did not answer that which the majority of the community would be uncomfortable with. If it were not for the fact that he chose to align himself with ANC who have come to represent intolerance, corruption and racism, especially when it comes to Israel, and were it not that he laid the blame squarely with Israel, his comment would not have been offensive. But it was. It was myopic and it was simplistic and it was unfair. It was a shallow response that cut deep.

South African Jews are vulnerable. The torrent of anti Semitism that swirls around them, coupled with the challenges of living in a country in decline has left them exhausted, drained and fatigued. Given the context, it would have been a lot smarter for the new leader of the DA to extend a firm branch to hold on to rather than choosing to further loosen the twig to which they cling.

About the Author
Howard Feldman is a lawyer, a physical commodity trader by industry and a writer by obsession. He is very active in the Jewish community and passionate about our world.
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