Some South African Jews played key roles in the struggle to end apartheid. But Jewish leaders worked with the regime and Israel had wide-ranging ties with Pretoria.
When Richard Goldstone returned home to South Africa last May for his grandson’s bar mitzvah — an event that he was almost unable to paticipate in because of protests planned against him — he also attended a separate meeting whose details were kept secret until now. In the wake of Goldstone’s bombshell retraction of a key finding in the famous report that bears his name, those present at that meeting, individuals who have known him through the years, felt moved to disclose what happened. They joined many others in puzzling over what had prompted the famous jurist to change his mind — and, they hoped, Israel’s fate.
Ask Richard Goldstone what possessed him, a Jew and self-described supporter of Israel, to accept the job of chief United Nations investigator of alleged war crimes committed in Gaza last winter, and the legendary South African judge invokes his past.
When Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s new president, appeared before the country’s premier Jewish umbrella group in late August, the audience before him was concerned about the tack his government might be taking not just toward Israel, but also toward South African Jews who support it.
Helen Suzman, who died January 1 at 91, has been praised worldwide for her long career and courage as an opposition politician in South Africa’s apartheid-era parliament. A daughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, she was lionized by Jewish organizations in the United States and elsewhere as an exemplar of Jewish principles of equality in the face of the racism that oppressed the nonwhite majority of her country.
In early March, a South African rabbi traveled to Zimbabwe’s capital city on one of the many trips he has made in recent years to give material and spiritual sustenance to a Jewish community suffering from one of the world’s worst economic crises.