Observations and Lessons Learned by South African Jewish Liberals

One of the first rules taught in most creative writing courses is that when penning an opinion-type piece, one should not sound like an apologist nor spill ink justifying why one has the credibility to espouse the views that follow. While I am naturally acutely aware of the aforementioned guidelines, I have outlined a short preamble describing my personal background not only so that the comments that follow are not misconstrued, but also to ensure that the concerns articulated below are given the appropriate gravitas …

I was born and spent all my formative years in South Africa during the so-called Apartheid years. That said, my track record evidences a person who always fought for an equitable solution rather than perpetuating the status quo. Amongst other well publicized initiatives that I spearheaded during my years at the University of the Witwatersrand (“Wits”) in Johannesburg, for three years in a row, I produced “The Free People’s Concert by Antony Gordon,” which at the time was the largest non-racial music concert with a clear Anti-Apartheid message, calling for a “free people.” While at Wits, I was the recipient of several human rights / civil liberties based academic scholarships culminating eventually in being awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, my final year thesis focused on the inherent inequalities of the Apartheid regime, and more specifically, how the racist laws at the time impacted the entertainment industry in South Africa.

South African Jews were disproportionately responsible for the emancipation of Nelson Mandela and building the foundation of the post-Apartheid South Africa.  Whether it was the work of the late Arthur Chaskalson in assuming the role as one of the architects of the new South African constitution; the tireless work of Sir Sydney Kentridge who defended Mandela in the famous Treason Trial or the courageous voices of the late Helen Suzman and Alan Gaveck, who were the lone dissenting voices in the South African parliament under the Nationalist Party, it was blatantly clear to any scholar of history that the Jews in South Africa assumed a leadership role in ensuring that Apartheid met its inevitable demise.

Sadly, the dream of building a great “rainbow nation,” as Mandela referred to the aspiration of all races living together in harmony and collaborating together for the greater good of building a color blind and egalitarian society, has, especially in the past couple of years, turned into a sad nightmare for most idealistic liberal Jews in South Africa.  For the South African Jews who have continued to identify with the liberal call for freedom and equality, events of the recent past have been confusing and sobering.

The series of jolting wake up calls which the South African Jewish community has been forced to face recently include increasing calls to boycott and sanction Israel; the hero’s welcome that Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal received when he accepted an invitation to South Africa a couple of years ago and the shocking Anti-Semitic rhetoric which echoed through the halls of my alma mater, Wits University, during the so-called Israel Apartheid Week earlier this year.

The existential question that I, Antony Gordon, have posed to many former classmates and colleagues who were at the forefront of the fight to break the shackles of Apartheid, is whether, in light of the apparent betrayal and lack of any sense of debt of gratitude to the South Africa Jews, the battle they have fought should really continue to be the battle cry of the Jewish community.

This is a question that American Jewish liberals will invariably confront if they naively believe that organizations like Black Lives Matter are not racist or will embrace American Jews that are apparently sympathetic to their message.   The Jewish People will always be a ‘light unto the nations’ and espouse the importance of equality and human rights which is embedded in the moral DNA of every Jew.  Having said that, as America becomes more polarized, and as the struggle returns to animosity between the races, perhaps American Jewish Liberals should take a good long look at the thankless ‘stab in the back that many South African Jewish liberals are left feeling today and at least ask themselves whether this is really the existential fight that Jews should be fighting?

Antony Chanan Gordon

About the Author
Antony Gordon, a Fulbright Scholar, graduate of the Harvard Law School and member of the Advisory Council for Israel and Middle East Security spearheaded by Congressman Ron DeSantis, Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee is the co-author of the renowned research article titled “Will Your Grandchild Be Jewish? and one of the most sought after speakers in the Jewish world in America.
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