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Knee-jerk rejection of ADL report unhelpful

  • 2b-Letter6
I don’t lightly critique the views of Jewish organisations, especially of those with feet on the ground in their own country. While any survey about attitudes can be challenged, for 50 years, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has used a set of 11 standard survey questions worldwide, across language groups and cultures, with the goal of raising awareness, alerting governments to bigotry, and increasing efforts to fight anti-Semitic attitudes.
by Dr Eric Hassall, San Francisco, CA | Dec 12, 2019

In this regard, I offer the following comments regarding the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) rejection of the ADL Global 100 Survey’s report of a 47% rate of anti-Semitism in South Africa. The SAJBD called the report “deeply misleading and unreliable”.

The SAJBD declares that in South Africa, “Jews walk around proudly and visibly Jewish” without fear of anti-Semitic threat or violence. But there’s not necessarily a correlation between feeling safe on the street as Jews and anti-Semitic attitudes, which are readily expressed covertly, including in blogs, social media, or surveys. The ADL study looks at attitudes, not hate crimes.

Some anti-Semitism in South Africa still emanates from the traditional source: the far right. But in recent years, most of it – especially the overt, high-profile anti-Semitism – has come from the hard left. In 2001, at the Durban United Nations World Conference on Racism, large crowds of keffiyeh-wearing South Africans of all races demonstrated support for Islamist terrorist organisations dedicated to the elimination of the only Jewish state in the world.

Delegates reported being “deeply disturbed by the hateful anti-Semitic atmosphere that plagued the conference”. In 2014, a pig’s head was placed in the kosher-meat section of Woolworths in Cape Town by militants of the Congress of South African Students, an African National Congress (ANC)-affiliate.

In 2015, the students council at a university in Durban called for Jews who didn’t disavow support for Israel to be expelled. In 2015/16, during the “RhodesMustFall” era, in spite of his ill-fated capitulations to the radical left at the University of Cape Town, vice-chancellor Max Price was often vilified for his Jewishness and his connection to Israel.

Zapiro’s cartoons show an obsession with selectively portraying Israel as a genocidal child-killer and an evil state, often with a Magen David displayed. With regularity, the ANC government selectively threatens to expel Israeli diplomats and “downgrade” relations with Israel, while totalitarian governments get a pass. In September 2014, in an article for the Mail & Guardian, Benjamin Pogrund, the anti-apartheid hero, graphically described the strangling, oppressive attitude of the press in South Africa, singularly biased against Israel.

This is anti-Semitism. It’s in the ether, pervasive. How can this not affect peoples’ attitudes, conscious or otherwise?

Regarding the ADL study, David Saks of the SAJBD asserts, “Most of those interviewed have never met a Jew and know far too little about them to have been able to answer the fairly complex questions put to them in the ADL survey.” This is naïve at best. A defining element of anti-Semitism is that it’s not based on knowledge. In whatever manner anti-Semitic attitudes propagate and travel, they do so, and there’s no evidence people have to know something about Jews to be anti-Semitic. Further, when the SAJBD alleges that respondents didn’t understand the questions, it’s condescending and based on no evidence.

Saks also said, “Every second South African you meet is anti-Semitically inclined? We know that’s not true.” Professor Karen Miller said, “We know … that we have one of the lowest incidences of anti-Semitism in the world.” They “know”. Given their daily lived experiences as Jews in South Africa, it’s understandable why they say it doesn’t feel accurate to them, and why it’s upsetting. But they are definitive, they just “know”.

Their gold standard is a 2016 study of 40 households by the Kaplan Institute – blacks only, no whites, no Muslims, a much narrower focus than the ADL sample size of 515, stratified across races. In the absence of a study group comparable to the ADL’s, how can they “know”? The data is the data. The SAJBD is simply choosing to disbelieve peoples’ answers to professionals applying the same questions in many countries across many cultures and ethnic groups in the world.

The ADL figure for South Africa in 2014 was 38%. Did the SAJBD reject that finding? If not, why now? The point is, does it matter whether the “real” figure is 30% or 38% or 47%? It’s high. There’s no denying that there are powerful and prevalent anti-Semitic forces at work in South Africa, including in the press, the ANC government, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, not to mention the far right. The press and government don’t necessarily assault you in the street, but they can profoundly and broadly undermine attitudes and tolerance.

Bari Weiss, of the New York Times, in her recent detailed historical analysis of anti-Semitism, shows how in times of conflict, economic hardship, or immigrant issues, anti-Semitism rises. She also shows how in recent years, the traditional perpetrators – the far right – have been more than matched by hard left/Corbynite-types and radical Islam.

Jews are ill-served by underplaying the prevalence and threat of anti-Semitism, whatever its manifestations. The goal is to recognise it – and fight it.

  • Dr Eric Hassall, MBChB (UCT), FRCPC is emeritus professor of Paediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC. He grew up in South Africa and in Rhodesia, before it was Zimbabwe.

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