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« The Kasrils Affair Book Launch | Main | Our low life expectancy »

November 12, 2008



in the circumstances, I think that my recent post re Joel's book launch is also relevant here. For those who have read it before, I apologize.

Has The SAJBD fully understood some of the fundamental tenets at the heart of multi-party democracy?

Here are The 10 Commandments...

(1) you must not be scared.
(2) you must not seek favours from those who are in power.
(3) you must believe in confronting lies with truth.
(4) you must fight for your democratic rights enshrined in the constitution.
(5) you must never see yourself as a second class citizen, a dhimmi.
(6) you must believe in freedom of expression and do your best to defend it.
(7) you must fight for the principles underlying multi-party democracy.
(8) you must not try and cut unpalatable deals.
(9) you must not be politically naive.
(10) you must remember that David defeated Goliath.


I sometimes wonder whether The SAJBD's "court jews" policy is based purely on vanity...

" Darling, how did your meeting with President Mbeki go today? Was he impressed by what you had to say about Iran's threat to world peace?"

And Zev replies..
" Thabo was extremely friendly. We got on so well. I think that he fully understands the wisdom of what we had to say. And once the tea was served, he was so relaxed. Such a charming man."


I hope that this isn't below the belt. But there are times when forthright questions have to be posed...

"What are Zev Krengel's academic qualifications? Has he ever studied politics, history or international affairs? Does he have a particular interest, for example, in modern Jewish history?"

I do not know the answer to these questions. And I ask them, because I believe that my 10 commandments can only be fully understood by people who have studied these academic subjects.


Whilst I also praise Greenberg for opening up the debate on South African Jewish leadership’s response to government I’m not comfortable with “the South African Jewish experience has been characterised by fear”. It’s a difficult notion because the heart of it is correct. But I find it inappropriate because that fear has not been unique to Jews in SA – it’s a fear that the entire South African nation has endured. I don’t think it has anything particular to us being Jewish; I would say it is more consonant with us being whites in SA.

This paragraph troubled me, perhaps readers can help correct any misunderstandings I had:

“Amidst the uncertainty, South Africa’s Jewish community continues to live in relative affluence. Jews have established their own suburban enclaves within South Africa’s major cities, securing themselves behind ten–foot concrete walls replete with electric fencing and barbed wire, attempting to adapt to the crime epidemic. Houses are built like fortresses and private security companies patrol “gated suburbs.” Yet try as they might to insulate themselves from the rest of the population, South Africa’s Jews, like Sheldon Cohen, cannot escape the country’s instability.”

1 – Jews all over the world tend to live together in their own enclaves. The dwindling numbers of Jews has precipitated fewer but more condensed Jewish communities. The concentration of the community towards Sandton and Glenhazel happened years before GAP was formed.

2 – High walls and electric fences are not particular to Jews, and though I doubt Greenberg meant it this way, it comes across like that to me. So what should I do? Should I take down my fence, move to a suburb where there is no Kosher food and no shul and live in a house without a wall? All northern suburb communities live like this – there is nothing particular to being Jewish about it. Further, and though I believe the SAJBD should be more outspoken and less inclined to explain ANC attitudes to us (let the ANC do it if they care, I dont think community money should be spent explaining ANC policy!) the SAJBD’s attitude towards government will not affect the crime problem one iota.

I may be coming across as hyper-critical, but living here and enduring the fear makes it then difficult to read the criticism of us for the situation that we endure. Jews all over the world are somewhat insular. Its ingrained into our genes from centuries of being forced apart. It’s also a function of our religious code – walking to shul means we live close to the shul. And we all know that our “gated suburbs” (found almost everywhere, with or without Jews) are no real protection from crime. We know that we can get hijacked and killed anywhere. We know we can be attacked in shopping centres etc. I think its rather obvious and needs no pointing out that we still haven’t been able to escape “Sheldon’s fate”.

Living in fear is a function of living in SA; not of being Jewish in SA. Our “fear” is a disease, precipitated by violent crime, which has infected all South Africans, black and white. The fear that I live with in South Africa has nothing to do with being Jewish, nothing at all.

Polakow-Suransky’s letter was outstandingly gratuitous. I don’t understand why he has called us (community as a whole and not just leadership) “touchy”? Is it because we complain about the bad press that Israel receives in South Africa? Is it because we vehemently oppose comparisons between Israel and apartheid? The community of today is different from what it was during apartheid so maligning us with the brush of the past is extremely illogical.

I also have problems with the innuendos of his rejection of Shimoni’s claims about the hands-off attitude towards Apartheid being a characteristic minority group response. What was it then? Did the Jewish leadership actively support Apartheid? I don’t buy it. I think he overplays the dependence South Africa had on Israel (presumably the result of his excessive focus on this given the book he is currently writing) and this precipitates a view that South Africa would never harm its Jews because it needed Israel. Even if looking back now, we see that this probably wouldn’t have been the case, we should not be so quick to presume that this courageous view was attainable back then. We cannot discount the rawness of the wounds of the Holocaust.

He also seems to reject the notion of a change in policy in 1976, amazingly citing subsequent South African government behaviour. No-one is claiming that the Boards comments had an effect on government. It’s as if they had a magical wand, which when waved could stem the tide of Apartheid. Regardless of what they said, the government would still have entrenched themselves in the mires of apartheid.


Lets face it.. Africa aint a place for Jews. Our modern milieu is not really lions, rhinos and crocs.
In "Broadway Danny Rose" (Woody Allen movie), Danny Rose is described as being "strictly pavement".
Like Danny Rose, most South African Jews would be more comfortable walking the "pavements" of New York.


Looking backward, my perspective is that the South African Jewish community has experienced tremendous religious growth. I see this as a good thing.

Looking forward though, I think you are correct.

Regarding your questioning of Zev's credentials: I disagree with you. I don't think academic qualifications are necessarily relevant. I think Zev has very good historical knowledge and he understand politics - though I do draw vastly different conclusions to his.

But I don't think its wise to suggest the leadership ought to have academic qualifications in politics or history. (Though it does no harm). Do you think Benny Morris would make a good communal leader? He has the qualifications that you are looking for.


re: academic qualifications.
I am not saying that everybody with a Phd in political science would make a good communal leader.
But I certainly do not believe that Krengel "understands politics". He never gives me that impression for one moment.
Anybody who "understands politics" would understand my 10 Commandments. Krengel does not, and I believe that this is due to a peculiar kind of political naivety.
Btw, what is your specific "problem" with Benny Morris?

And by the way, If Benny Morris came to South Africa and stood for SAJBD election, I would vote for him rather than Zev Krengel.

I also think that many South Africans, like Krengel, do not have an inkling about living in a democracy. They were brought up under apartheid. They literally do NOT understand how multi-party democracies differ from race based minority dictatorships.


No problem with Benny Morris. But I don't see his historian credentials as boosting his case for communal leadership.

Btw, I don't think you would get to vote.


However if Dr Steven Friedman with his politics phd stood for SAJBD election (highly unlikely I know) I would not vote for him.

Neither would I vote for Doron Isaacs or Nathan Geffen. Even if they had
written the best political science Phd's at Harvard or Oxford.


Re, Benny Morris.. I think his "historian credentials" might help him to analyse the post apartheid shenanigans a bit better than the current SAJBD.

Yes, I cannot vote. And they can't bring me in as Chief Rabbi from the UK because I am not a Rabbi. In the circumstances you will have to stick with, the much loved, Dr Warren Goldstein.


Steve et al,

I wonder whose interests, within the Jewish community are served, by the SAJBD's nauseating "court Jews" habit? This question is seldom posed and I am not even sure whether Joel Pollak has asked it in his book.

With regard to this question, is possible that Krengel is not quite as politically naive as I have suggested.

My guess is that it is the wealthy Jewish establishment that actually call the SAJBD's "political" shots. It is their interests that are being protected although this strategy might, of course, back-fire.


Sasha Polakow-Suransky writes:
“Even former Board President Boomie Abramowitz lends support to Greenberg’s argument, claiming “There’s a parallel...Whether you like it or not there are almost echoes of the past. We must not say anything that will upset the status quo.”

Blacklisted writes;
It could be argued however that The SAJBD is not just unwilling to upset the status also actually supports the status quo. When this becam public knowledge ( I refer to the SAJBD email describing Tony Leon's "toilet speeches") it became extremely embarassing for the SAJBD and led to a sacking.
I suppose it was quite likely that Joel Pollak had written the "toilet speeches' for Tony Leon. If so, it might partially help to explain why Joel is critical of The SAJBD!
So the question arises.. " Should "The Kasrils affair" be read in the lav? Over to you Joel..



Btw, has anyone heard anything more about the SAJBD's monitoring of The SABC's Middle East coverage? Will Wendy Kahn and Zev Krengel produce a report for the SAJBD's annual conference?
If Snuki Zikalala is still running the SABC news output, perhaps he might also issue a report??

El Hermo

While it is clear that this is the most ineffectual comment stream/debate I have ever seen (no offense meant, dudes), I have an interesting view on this.

While it is easy for the more liberal Jews (such as myself) speak in generalisations about South African Jewish Condition, Steve's point that not only jews have high walls and electric fences is clearly not a particular jewish problem, and this matter of security is linked profoundly to broader South African issues.

But having said that it is interesting to view the high walls and electric fences as a metaphor for Krengel's reaction to Daniel's piece, and the defensive tone that he takes in his attempt to protect the reputation and actions of the board of deputies. The South African community has erected high walls, and their behaviour is different both inside and outside of these barriers. On the inside, We are openly critical of the ANC government, we say (without hesitation) how we feel about their governance - and for the most part, we are relieved about the new opposition. The DA, who the majority of Jews have voted for in the past, have let us down - so we sit in the security of our house, moaning about the state of our country and our lack of voice.

On the outside of our high wall, our representatives, the board of deputies and our chief rabbi snuggle up with the ruling party and leaders in the private sector who have benefited from the ANC's economic policies, in their attempts to "secure the future" of South African Jewry. This is not an altogether bad thing - it is helpful to have powerful friends - but its not representative of whats going on inside our high walls, in our living rooms and shabbos tables. Therein lies the communities' dilemma. We can recieve lovely, unsolicited messages from the President on yontov, but the truth of the matter is that its not quite what we want.

We want the following:

1) Reinforcement that South Africa is our country, that we are a part of this nation and dictate the terms of our time in this country.

2) Reinforcement that the government has our best interests as individuals and as a community at heart.

I consider the board to focus mostly on the second aspect - but so long as what happens on the inside of our high walls is not aligned to what happens on the outside, i fear that they will not succeed in reassuring the community on the first aspect.


El Hermo,

You write
"We want the following:

1) Reinforcement that South Africa is our country, that we are a part of this nation and dictate the terms of our time in this country.

2) Reinforcement that the government has our best interests as individuals and as a community at heart."

I ssume that you are a citizen of Sourth Africa? You are free to vote in elections? Let me assure you that "you are part of this nation" ( I have, btw, no idea what you mean about "dictating the terms of our time in this country.")

Africa is not for sissies. Seems that you yearn for a babysitter or a therapist. Not a govt!
Why the hell should the govt you the "reinforcement" that you so desperately crave for??

El Hermo


I was merely suggesting that as citizens, which we are, we need to feel like we have a govt that takes care to be representative of our views and needs as a community. As a community, we need positive reinforcement, not 'lip service', to the effect that we have a role to play in the future of this country.

My point is that while the BoD tries hard to secure this by having good relations with the ruling party, they don't do enough to ensure that there is alignment between what the community wants, and what the government offers us.

A government, while obviously taking the people who have voted for them and their own manifesto into strong account, should be doing more to unite all factions of the country. The BoD should play a role to ensure that the needs of the community are reflected more strongly in the national agenda, but in order to do that they need to be more connected to what the community actually wants.


El Hermo,
You are still harping on about "positive reinforcement' from the Govt.
Precisely what should the ANC govt say and do to put your mind at rest?
And should they make similar statements to other religious minorities? Should they also directly address the concerns of the Hindus and Sikhs?

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