Message from the Chair

By Adrienne Jacobson

I have just returned from the American Jewish Committees conference in Washington, where, together with National SAJBD Chair, Professor Karen Milner, and our Cape SAJBD Executive Director, Daniel Bloch, we had an exciting opportunity to engage with global Jewish leadership and provide some valuable briefing and lobbying on the work we do in SA to an international political platform. We were listened to intently, asked many questions and received much positive response from our briefings. 

While it was uplifting to see how the world Jewish heart beats in unison, it was poignant and reflective to see how the global Jewish mind is grappling with the same questions in the post-October 7th climate – asking of their country, “Do I belong here? Is there a Jewish future for me and my family and, if so, what will that look like?” 

Difficult questions, as the rising tide of antisemitism and pro-Hamas rallies wash across Europe, UK, Australia, Chile, Latin and South America, and the USA. Even during the conference, protests were happening outside the White House and at our conference venue. 

As Jewish South Africans, on the one hand, we have been at the forefront of the global set of challenges facing our community as our ANC government led the effort to bring Israel before the ICJ on charges of genocide, creating an incredibly challenging political climate for us. On the other hand, it’s clear that the ANC strategy to campaign a national election on a foreign policy Israel/Palestine platform has failed miserably. The politicking around this has achieved little in the hearts and minds of South Africans, who remain committed to a constitutional democracy and upholding its freedoms and the rule of law, evident in the formation of a government of national unity. 

The SA Jewish community continues to experience low levels of antisemitism, and our Jewish way of life is unhindered. Our work over the last 15 years at SA universities has ensured that the situation is far better than in the USA, especially at Columbia. We successfully combat all forms of hate speech and promote tolerance and respect. 

Jake Sullivan, US National Security Advisor to the White House, spoke about fighting global antisemitism, and said that the difference between this point in history and pre-Nazi Germany is that, “We’re already doing the work now“. It’s happening through understanding that antisemitism is not just a Jewish issue, but that the tropes about Jews controlling the world are a threat to democracies and constitutional order the world over. We understand that antisemitism is coming from Iran and Russia, so the US is building global allies. 

Jewish leaders are continuing that work and fighting fiercely and tirelessly. Jewish people have every right to contribute to our communities, our societies and our countries.

We will not tolerate a world that treats us as if we deserve antisemitism, or allows even one person to be a hostage, or that regards loss of life anywhere as acceptable. We will not accept a world where Jews have to hide their identity in order to feel safe. 

We were asked the question, “What gives us hope in our country?” 

Our biggest hope in South Africa has been that the hostility has not come from ordinary citizens but from the ANC government’s foreign policy, which has not brought it the domestic support it was trying to get. That we as a community have not been alone, but have had tremendous support from many allies, political parties, religious groups and friends of our community. That the concept of Ubuntu (I am a person because you are a person) still underpins our society. There can be no stronger message against hate between human beings than recognising the person within all of us. 

We have a proudly Jewish and South African way of life and a warm, vibrant community. As we landed back at the airport, the fresh Cape sea-tinged air filling my lungs, and I breathed it in gratefully. 

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