The South African Jewish community is becoming increasingly concerned about the strong vocal opposition to the South African government by American Jewish groups, which it fears could endanger that community, a leader of South African Jewry warned here.
“We appeal to them (American Jewish organizations) to exercise restraint and to realize that their actions and expressions must in no way jeopardize the integrity or safety of our community,” Dr. Israel Abramowitz, former chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said in an address to the B’nai B’rith public affairs forum Friday. “Our local community interests must be taken into account.”
Abramowitz, president of B’nai B’rith in South Africa, stressed he neither supported nor spoke for the South African government. But he said he was reflecting the views of the South African Jewish community.
CLAIMS ‘OBSESSIONAL PREOCCUPATION’
He charged that South African Jews believed there was an “obsessional preoccupation” with South Africa in the U.S. and much of the anti-South African manifestations here were made for purely American political reasons.
While no one denied the “inalienable right” of American Jewish organizations to speak out on any issues, Abramowitz said, South African Jews questioned “why are they literally falling and stumbling over themselves in their zeal and enthusiasm to get on the bandwagon of condemnation and protestation.”
He also questioned why American Jewish organizations believed it was speaking for world Jewry and why Jewish groups felt that they had to lobby Congress on this issue. He implied that many of the groups demonstrating against South Africa wanted a violent change rather then the peaceful change supported by the South African Jewish community.
While Abramowitz had no prescribed course for American Jewish groups to follow, he strongly urged them to maintain contact and consultations with South African Jewish organizations, which, he stressed, valued their ties to world Jewry. He said he was very pleased that B’nai B’rith president Gerald Kraft would be visiting South Africa this week.
OBLIGED TO MAINTAIN CAUTIOUS STAND
As for the position of South African Jewry, “we are obliged to maintain a cautious stance,” Abramowitz said. He said there was always the danger of an anti-Semitic backlash.
At the same time, he pointed out many individual Jews have been in the forefront of the human rights struggle in South Africa. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has also increasingly spoken out on these issues, most recently adopting a resolution opposing apartheid.
The resolution was adopted not “in search of any accolades, nor to please certain quarters of the community, nor to meet the requirement and pressures of overseas and international Jewish bodies,” Abramowitz said. “We have done so because we believe it is the correct thing for a Jewish community to do in line with Jewish ethical and moral principles.”
Abramowitz added that the resolution will also help meet the charge that “Zionism is racism.” He said that the Black community in South Africa has, been influenced by Arab propaganda and frequently criticizes the Jewish community for its strong ties to Israel.
OPTIMISTIC ABOUT PEACEFUL CHANGE
Abramowitz said that while there is a “tremendous amount of concern and anxiety” in the Jewish community about the future, most are optimistic that change will come peacefully. He complained that he has seen little from the critics in the U.S. about the reforms being made by the South African government.
However, Abramowitz stressed that the Jewish community’s future is tied to that of the white community in South Africa and what is happening in Zimbabwe leaves it uneasy. There, a Jewish community of 7,500 has shrunk to a few hundred, he said.
The 119,220 Jews in South Africa make up 2.6 percent of the white population and .04 percent of the overall population, Abramowitz said. He said the Jewish community is a “declining community” and the population would have decreased since 1970 because of emigration to Israel, the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, if it were not for an influx of Jews from Zimbabwe and Israel. There are an estimated 15,000 Israelis in South Africa. By the end of the century the Jewish population is expected to shrink to 64,000, Abramowitz said.
At the conclusion of Abramowitz’s talk, Warren Eizenberg, director of the B’nai B’rith International Council, appeared to be responding to Abramowitz’s charge that American Jewish organizations may be “naive,” when he noted that Americans have always spoken out for what they believed were moral issues. He noted the Soviet Jewry issue was primarily a moral issue and it is one of many that American Jews have supported on this ground and not mainly for political reasons.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.