A blind eye in exchange for Israel support is risky

  • Taking Issue Geoff Sifrin Home
Fallout for South African Jewry from Donald Trump’s controversial presidency in the United States has not been felt directly thus far. It is experienced more as general anxiety about the rise of nationalistic demagogues with anti-Semitic leanings - open or disguised - in many countries and fear about the future.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Feb 09, 2017

For Jewish interests specifically, this challenges attitudes towards Jews’ and Israel’s situation in the world.

South African Jewry, with its history of passionate Zionism, is internally divided similar to other Diaspora communities about Israel’s place in Jewish life: Is it primarily a Jewish sanctuary in an untrustworthy, hostile world, or a society representing the best universal Jewish values?

GEOFF SIFRIN  - HEAD AND SHOULDERS 4Some people cling to idealistic Zionism as the Jewish people’s liberation movement in the process of creating a flourishing Jewish state which must do whatever it takes to survive; others support Israel as a Jewish state with every right to exist, but criticise it for various human rights considerations. Israel’s complex situation means neither side is always correct.

To what extent should support for Israel outweigh other considerations? If someone practises objectionable policies yet backs Israel - as Trump says he does - should he be embraced?

Jews who are appalled at Trump, ask why Israel is so supportive of him when he represents much of what Jewish history tells us should be rejected.

His polarising effect on local Jews was illustrated by the anger against this column for criticising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently for showing such warmth to Trump and publicly calling him “my friend” after Trump’s inauguration.

Support for Trump comes at a price. This is already apparent in Israel’s muted reaction to the omission of any reference to Jews in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

Trump’s administration said it is better not to single out Jews in order to be “inclusive” of others who suffered. But Jewish individuals and organisations - such as the Anti-Defamation League - were shocked and saw it as a case of disguised Holocaust denial. Netanyahu’s silence on the matter, however, was deafening.

American white supremacist Richard Spencer, ideologue of the so-called “alt-right”, said not mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism was an important step in the “de-Judaification” of the Holocaust. The White House press secretary called critics of the statement “pathetic”.

Israel seems scared to criticise Trump. Is Netanyahu prepared to give up recognition of Jews’ central place in the Holocaust, hoping Trump will be his friend, allow more settlement building in Judea and Samaria and sabotage the two-state solution?

There are unfortunate echoes of this sort of policy in South African Jewish history. Israel openly criticised apartheid in the 1950s and ‘60s, building alliances with post-colonial African governments.But after African states broke ties after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it drew closer to the apartheid regime in Pretoria.

In 1976 it invited Prime Minister John Vorster - a former Nazi sympathiser - to visit. At a state banquet, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said both countries faced "foreign-inspired instability and recklessness".

Many Jews were embarrassed by this support for an apartheid leader. Others justified it by saying Israel was unfairly branded a pariah state and needed support, even from another pariah state such as South Africa.

Negative reaction about this perceived closeness to South Africa - including military co-operation - was a reasonable price to pay, they argued. Until today, Israel still faces an abiding coolness towards it from South Africa, despite having diplomatic relations.

Jewish and Israeli leaders seem to risk repeating this by ignoring Trump’s threats to important progressive global alliances and his offensive attitudes towards women, the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) community, immigrants and Muslims which are causing a furore in his own country, in exchange for support for Netanyahu.

And given Trump’s intemperate nature, this support could change whenever it suits him.

Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog sifrintakingissue.wordpress.com


  1. 8 Gary Selikow 09 Feb
    Once more Geoff Siffrin 
    Sorry, user, that type of insulting response is unnecessary, hateful and hurtful   -MODERATOR 
  2. 7 Harvey 09 Feb
    once again a sensible article from a fine journalist.
    keep up the good work expressing views that do not regurgitate what the unthinking mainstream cling to
  3. 6 Adam Shain - Jerusalem 09 Feb
    Please can you stop bigot comments here. I come to read your web for only Mr. Sifrin and it looks to me like Souch Africa have very bigot society
  4. 5 nat cheiman 10 Feb
    Adam. Your understanding of the word "bigot " is fallacious. Bigot refers to anti Semites and racists and people like the Iranians, Palestinians and Radical Islam, who want to extinguish Jews and Israel. 
    Most liberals are bigotted because they deny conservatives the right to democratically elect their own president. They burn and trash like savages.
    When immigrants have their rights removed because of protection, by the president, liberals protest and interfere. 
    Mr Sifrin is entitled to articulate his views and so are you. But you, are incorrect about name calling.
    Perhaps you share Mr Sifrins view. That is okay too.
    Be reasonable, and don't call me a bigot because I am not one. It may be, that if I think carefully about your approach and Mr Sifrin's, that you are bigots.
    Allow freedom of speech and understand that you and people like you do not speak for me. You speak for a small group of people, whom, in my opinion are clueless about politics and the vast dangers afflicting innocent people globally.
    By the way, Mahmoud Abbas is a hypocrite and  bigot. He and his people train children to be terrorists whilst threatening to charge Netanyahu with war crimes at the ICC. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are bigots. They hate Jews.
    Nu!!!!!!!!! Now do you understand bigotry?
  5. 4 Choni 10 Feb
    Glad to see that Sifrin writes..... "more settlement building in Judea and Samaria", which he  used to call the 'west bank' Well done Geoff; at least some progress.
  6. 3 Choni 12 Feb
    I agree with everything Gary wrote, that you have censored.
  7. 2 Choni 12 Feb
    Adam Shain, A few weeks ago Mr Sifrin wrote a column supporting Res.2334. He considers any Jew living in East Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria an illegal.
    Harvey, Sifrin might be a fine journalist but a supporter of Jews living in Judea he is not.
  8. 1 BDS Works 20 Feb
    Kerry offered Netanyahu exactly what Netanyahu claims to want Yet Netanyahu walked away. #NoPeace


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