SA-born Joel Pollak touted as next US ambassador to SA
South African-born, Harvard educated lawyer Joel Pollak is touted as forerunner for the job, as is social media personality, Mike Cernovich.
Pollak, senior editor-at-large for alt-right-wing news website Breitbart, has extensive political and personal links to this community. He read for a masters degree in Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town during the 2000s, when he was also chief speechwriter for former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon. He returned to the United States where he ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress as a Republican for the conservative Tea Party.
Born in 1977, Pollak immigrated to the US with his family as a young child and became an American citizen 10 years later. When he came back to South Africa, he rose to the awareness of SA Jewry with his ardent public criticism of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for the latter’s negative comments about Israel and Palestine in 2002, in a visit that was extensively covered internationally.
Pollak has written widely on politics and community. In 2009, he published two books relating to the South African Jewish community and political issues in SA and the US: The Kasrils Affair: Jews and Minority Politics in Post-Apartheid South Africa and Don’t Tell Me Words Don’t Matter: How Rhetoric Won the 2008 Presidential Election.
The former examines the political mindset of contemporary SA Jewry, in response to public statements about Israel and other matters from the then minister of water affairs and forestry, Ronnie Kasrils, using this as a prism to reflect on the politics of minority communities in post-apartheid South Africa. The latter is a self-published analysis of the role of speeches in former US President Barack Obama’s election victory in 2008.
In 2014, he e-published Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, which conservative commentator Stanley Kurtz praised for its balanced analysis.
Last year, another book by Pollak, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle was released in the throes of the American election, before Trump emerged as winner. And earlier this month, he wrote How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution in collaboration with Ohio-based historian Larry Schweikart.
Also born in 1977, Cernovich is an Illinois-trained lawyer who was admitted to the California Bar in 2009. He is vocally pro-Trump and has lucratively published several guides on how to be successful.
The owner of a website called Danger & Play, he punts himself as a misogynist and has been referred to as a right-wing troll with a massive Twitter following, by publications such as The Observer, the New Yorker and Media Matters. Notoriously, he recently tweeted: “White genocide in South Africa is real… if nominated for ambassadorship, I’ll say it to Congress.”
Those closest to Pollak in South Africa have chosen not to talk to the media until a decision has been made over the ambassadorship.
“Leave him alone,” said Pollak’s mother-in-law Rhoda Kadalie, who is also a respected anti-apartheid activist, in response to the Jewish Report’s requests for Pollak’s contact details. She referred to “fake news” that the media has been circulating, but also to the fact that no one is able to confirm either way if Pollak is being considered for the position, or whether this is hearsay. “The media has written about Joel but no one has interviewed him. Just shocking how everyone recycles their own rumours,” she added.
Wits University finance lecturer Michael Kransdorff, a long-time friend of Pollak who studied with him at Harvard, says he is a man of high calibre with a sophisticated sense of justice and would make a “great ambassador” as he has a “fantastic understanding of South African politics”.
Speaking of Pollak’s personal popularity – which contradicts remarks in recently published articles condemning him – Kransdorff is critical of the media’s coverage of Pollak and his political leanings: “Joel has been smeared by association. No attempt was made to understand [him] directly.”
The Jewish Report made several attempts to reach Pollak directly for more than a week, but at the time of going to press, he had not yet responded.
Spokesperson for the US embassy, Cynthia Harvey says deliberations regarding the ambassadorship could still take months. Jessye Lapenn is Chargé d’Affaires at Pretoria’s US Embassy until a new ambassador is chosen.