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South Africans living in Trump’s America

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When Donald Trump became president of the United States of America, South African Jews had a great deal to say either in support of or against this man. The Jewish Report has since run numerous political articles written by Americans about the Trump administration, but this week we bring you the views of three South African-born Americans on the impact of Trump on their lives.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Mar 30, 2017

LEORA RAJAK
I’ll always remember that awful moment in November last year when I woke the kids for school to tell them Donald Trump won. Not just because of the horror of the election results, but because I’d spent weeks assuring them that there was nothing to fear, people in our newly-adopted home would not choose someone like Trump to lead them.

We soon realised that we had no idea who we were really sharing the country with. Living near New York City, in the Democrat state of Connecticut, we are sheltered from the anger and frustration felt by the Trump voter, usually depicted as middle American, white, scared and with their jobs under threat.

But after the elections the hidden Trump voters started to show themselves. At dinner parties and business meetings we came across the well-educated, successful business woman - a Republican who detests Hillary Clinton and thinks Trump will be good for taxes and business.

She’s Jewish, so she believes Trump will be good for Israel (his son-in-law is Jewish, she reminds me). And that meant she could forgive him everything else.

I have met several people like this. I am shocked each time, and reminded of how, when living in South Africa under apartheid, it was hard to fathom how people one would meet at weddings and barmitzvahs were able to forgive so much of what was wrong in the present because of their fear of what lay in the future.

Thankfully, as in South Africa in the 1980s, I have again learnt that decent-minded people, of which there are many, do not wait passively for things to change. Trump’s election has spurred civil action and community advocacy.

The wave of energy felt when women marched on Washington and elsewhere, is being harnessed, whether it’s about immigration, gun control or reproductive rights, people are organising.

And while it’s very exciting, I can’t help but feel a combination of envy and amusement at what it’s like for the American activist in 2017. Meetings and demonstrations get called in minutes over social media, there is no fear of reprisal, no inkling of what it means to work under an oppressive regime.

Protesting the Trump administration means receiving “calls to action” tweets that explain how to phone a senator, or joining Facebook groups detailing each step required to defeat problematic issues coming up for a vote in State congresses.

It’s all done formally according to specific norms and protocols. It is about activists and ordinary citizens working within the system, not trying to overthrow it. At worst, they say, it will be like this for four years. At best, they say, we can win issue-based victories and smaller elections along the way and see change emerge earlier from within.

Businesswoman Leora Rajak recently moved to the US with her family. 

RONIN VAN MIR
It’s a very long way from Vanderbijlpark to New Jersey. In fact, it’s about a lifetime and a half, and then some… spanning three continents and two countries - first Israel and now the US.

Childhood in Vanderbijl and then Johannesburg in the 1970s was very protected. I learned more about the politics of South Africa in my first year in Israel than I had in 13 years in South Africa.

Having left soon after the Soweto riots in 1976, just before the amazing transformation of South Africa, it’s exciting to be a part of what’s happening now in the US.

Only in my early 20s when the new South Africa was founded, it’s through a very different lens that I now view the current changes in the US and with a much broader global focus.

As a father of teenage and young adult children, and as a Jew in a world where the threats to both the US where I live and to Israel which will always be my home, are very real and imminent, I’m feeling a sense of true optimism for the first time in many years.

The globalist socialist philosophy of his predecessor has left President Donald Trump with a plethora of pressing issues that all need to be addressed urgently (economy, national security, healthcare, civil discourse, hostile media and more).

Despite the resistance from his detractors, including the mass media, he is pushing forward to make good on his campaign promises. Most encouraging is his drive to return the US to a market-driven society, away from the centralist, government-dictated society that brought the US to break away from Britain in the first place 250 years ago.

While the social discourse and attempts to violently undermine and delegitimise his presidency are extremely troubling to me, and are tantamount to sedition and subversion, I have faith that as people begin to feel less and less of a government hand in their pockets and purses, this atmosphere too will change.

Ronin van Mir describes himself as a traditional conservative Jew, who is passionate about Israel and his Jewish identity. 

MIRIAM LACOB STIX
Like so many other people, when Donald Trump first announced his presidency, I didn’t take him seriously. It was hard to believe that an individual this ill-informed, whose main currency was fear and outright prejudice, and whose reputation as a businessman was somewhat sketchy, could be a serious candidate for the highest office in the country.

There is still an element of unreality to Trump’s ascendance and his isolationistic rhetoric, choice of Cabinet members and attacks on the media go against everything I stands for.

I was born in Johannesburg in 1950, two years after the Nationalist government started to put the system of apartheid in place, and just five years after the end of the Second World War. My psyche has been impacted by the awfulness of the Holocaust and the terrible privations and poverty endured by black South Africans.

I was witness to the ugliness of a political system that segregated, divided, and discriminated against people based on the colour of their skin. And, while I was fortunate that my extended South African family did not directly suffer from the Holocaust, it is a deep part of my identity. In fact, I can proudly report that my father was one of the demonstrators who pressured the then-South African government to preserve its allegiance to the Allied cause.

Nevertheless, in my childish imagination, the inescapable terror of being hunted and murdered only on account of one’s religious identification, was indelibly imprinted in my mind.

Thus, when Trump speaks about registering Muslims, it sends chills through my spine. When Trump bans people from certain countries from entering the US, it gives me goosebumps. 

The fact is that no one from any of the targeted countries has committed an act of terror in the United States. Rather, I am horrified that the US Government can engage in such a heartless act as to deny desperate refugees the kind of sanctuary that is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

As a privileged immigrant to the US myself, I am attuned to the reasons people have for immigrating to the United States, where its Constitution and the Rule of Law make a life that was impossible for them on their home countries, possible and full of hope here.

And I am enormously saddened and afraid that Trump’s administration and the individuals who are in positions of enormous power, do not honour either the Constitution or the Rule of Law.

Many Jews endorse Trump based on his support of Israel. I honour them and him for that. I was raised in a milieu in which Zionism and support of the State of Israel was a given, and the self-reliance and courage of the Israelis was celebrated.

However, I question whether that is a reason to support him unequivocally, particularly when the hateful rhetoric he expressed in his campaign, appears to have unleashed terrifying xenophobia and racism that has often been targeted at the Jewish community and Jewish journalists. 

My only wish is that Trump would take a leaf out of Nelson Mandela’s book and unite rather than divide. If I were his communications coach, I would make him read “Long Walk to Freedom” and look up to exemplary leaders who preached reconciliation to bring people together.

I would work with him to understand the term Mandela referred to as ubuntu - we are human through the humanity of others. 

His actions and rhetoric up until now are certainly devoid of this sentiment, but I am hopeful. 

Miriam Lacob Stix is a former South African journalist living in New York City

2 Comments

  1. 2 David B 31 Mar
    All opinions at this point in time are invalid as Trump has not had the beginnings of the time to upstage any one from the previous 'regime'
    Being a self confessed conservative I believe that so little can be accomplished in the first 100 days that it is wasted hot air to even discuss it
  2. 1 Russell Fig 02 Jun
    Having lived over here for years after leaving Cape Town and living in the Boston area which is noted for it's liberalism I am surprised that someone like Trump got elected. However it seemed like the choice had not been a good one Hilary had not been inspiring so it seems to me that it came down to a chice of the lesser of the two evils. It woud have been better if a different lot of candidates were running unfortunatly that had not been the case..
      
      Althopugh I live in liberal Massachusetts I recently met a fellow South African living in this state a college teacher a Coulourd who told me that people in his town support Donald Trump which surprised me this being liberal Massachusetts. He told me that they show it and he likes giving them the middle finger.
      The Jews that I have spoken to are not impressed with Donald Trump's pro Israel remarks and seem to feel that he is not benificial. I wonder how he is pro Israel and yet has some anti Semits in his administration?

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