South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party is slipping into anti-Semitism, tarnishing the legacy of iconic leader Nelson Mandela, James Kirchick writes.
Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright-turned-president, was a vocal enemy of anti-Semitism and stood up for Israel in a region emerging from totalitarianism.
When the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street was founded over a year ago, many in the Jewish community predicted that it would have little to no influence in the shaping of American foreign policy. While American Jews are indeed overwhelmingly left-of-center in their political orientation, they also happen to hold rather hawkish views on Israel. A 2007 American Jewish Committee survey found that the overwhelming majority of American Jews believes that Israel “cannot achieve peace with a Hamas-led, Palestinian government” and that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel” — views sharply at odds with J Street’s support for engagement with Hamas and its tendency to accuse Israel of hindering the peace process.
A recent news item in The New York Times highlighted the matter of collective indifference. Time-lapse pictures from a security camera showed a woman collapse onto the floor of a Brooklyn hospital waiting room. Though there were a number of people around, no one tried to resuscitate her or to ask for help. For more than an hour, the woman’s body lay on the ground. People passed by, unaware or unconcerned that a human being was expiring before their eyes. Eventually, the 49-year-old mother of six died of blood clots that traveled to her lungs.
Last August, I visited an elderly Jewish couple at their spacious apartment in an affluent neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa. A distant family friend had referred to them as people who would welcome the opportunity to take me out for dinner during a long journalistic assignment in a country in which I had few acquaintances. Ronnie and Avner were not South African, however, but Zimbabwean, two of the very few Jews left in that troubled country. They lived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, where Avner owned a clothing factory, but they frequently traveled to South Africa to escape their country’s awful state of affairs. Avner had fought in the Israeli War of Independence; he and Ronnie visited Israel frequently. I was shocked that an elderly couple with the means to move would continue to live in a country that, since the seizure of white-owned commercial farmland ordered by President Robert Mugabe in 2000, has been steeped in lawlessness, violence and poverty.
As Yale Daily News columnist Eli Muller put it last Friday, “It has been an unpleasant week to be Jewish at Yale.”The trouble started when the university’s Afro-American Cultural Center decided to host controversial poet Amiri Baraka for a reading and discussion of his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America.” In that now infamous work, the poet