The Jewish Report Editorial

I merely pose the question…

  • Vanessa
A well-placed foreigner who has lived for the past few years in this community, made a somewhat controversial observation in conversation recently. He said that the South African Jewish community had “access” to government and major decision-makers, but little “influence”. It is a thought provoking comment.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Mar 09, 2016

While South African Jewish business people have powerful political connections, create desperately needed jobs and lead noble and effective philanthropic endeavours for this nation, in the bigger scheme, he felt our community plays a fairly marginal role; consequently, making us quite powerless to promote a more balanced view on Israel in government or local media.

In his columns, former Jewish Report editor Geoff Sifrin has often bemoaned the fact that Jews are today, in the main, absent from formal South African politics, yet, in the early days, were prolific at every level.

The Progressive/Democratic Party had Helen Suzman, Tony Leon, Selma Browde and Harry Schwarz. The ANC boasted Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils who held Cabinet portfolios as well as Denis Goldberg and Ben Turok - and for a short while Gill Marcus, before she became Reserve Bank governor - as prominent MPs.

But apart from one or two, how many from our community have ever been close and trusted advisers to a South African president or made major decisions about our country’s economy or foreign policy goals? 

Although South African Jews have always courted the ruling parties for the pragmatic purposes of business interests or for the protection of our Jewish life, it is markedly different to the United States where Jews wield considerable influence in both politics and the media.

Consider former Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin and the last three chairmen of the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen) - American Jews have played critical roles in numerous White House administrations - and one may yet land up as the next president, namely Bernie Sanders.

In fact, there is a lot of criticism of “too much” Jewish influence in the United States.  This camp points to the Sulzbergers who control the New York Times, Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News, or the Newhouse family who, among other media interests, own the largest privately held newspaper chain in America, as prime examples.

Indeed, those who oppose Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians often blame America’s consistent support of Israel on the “Jewish influence” in American politics. Others, like Sheldon Adelson who was the largest single donor to the last American presidential election, are accused of using their financial resources to “buy influence”. Adelson is also a newspaper owner and a major funder of anti-BDS activity on campuses in the US.

When he visited South Africa for a Keren Hayesod conference at the end of last year, he was told about the strong anti-Israel lobby in the media here and that it was de facto policy among ANC elite and Cabinet ministers not to visit Israel.

He was completely baffled that with all the financial clout South African Jewry has - and he had been at a conference with some of South Africa’s major benefactors - there were still no attempts by powerful Jewish South Africans, other than a few sponsored tours for youth leaders and journalists, to push for effectively clarifying the other side of the story, whether through media ownership or getting government members they had relationships with to visit Israel to see for themselves. 

Why don’t South African Jews get more involved, he asked. Well, I uhmmed and ahed… South African Jews all live with their passports in their bags and their takkies (sneakers I translated) on and are a bit “disinvested”.

Also, I explained, because of their tiny numbers, they may feel powerless to implement any real change. Another principle that may be guiding the more religious element in our community, comes from the teachings of Pirkei Avos, the Ethics of our Fathers, which states that we should not hold any “domineering position”, nor “become intimate with the ruling power”.

Beyond these factors, fears about personal safety cause us, like others who can afford the luxury, to hide behind high walls and in our cars, without ever taking public transportation. This lack of real connection and engagement with the wider community might all add to a somewhat helpless and uninvolved, myopic view.

Are these reasons sufficient justification for our “access” but little “influence”? I merely pose the question…



  1. 3 yitzchak 11 Mar
    you fantasize if you think that any white/ Jew could have any influence on the ANC, unless they were an AK47 carrying MK
  2. 2 Elderly readers 13 Mar
    Probably not the place to write this comment, but we could not find another.

    Irrespective of the context, we find the poster of the two sodomites  on the front page of this week's edition, to be highly offensive, utterly disgusting, and completely  un-Jewish.
    How low have the values of this Jewish paper sunk?

    a group of elderly readers.
  3. 1 nat cheiman 13 Mar
    Leave the finance to Jesse Duarte, Zuma and the Gupta's.
    The ANC want cars, credit cars, planes and tenders. Who needs a clever Jew as a financier?
    Its easy. Just gap what you want. Theres no intellectual process involved . Just raw gapping.  


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