Sunday 13 September 2015

The Pendulum Swings

It is noticeable how the relationships between Jews and their host countries fluctuate over the years.  Who would believe that the Jewish community in Germany would be increasing in numbers today after all that happened in the Holocaust, or that Jews would return to live in Spain and Portugal after the inquisition?  The wave of anti-Semitism that is currently being seen in Europe and around the world comes as something of a surprise to those who thought that the world has become  more tolerant towards Jews.  The rate of assimilation of Jews around the world shows that Jews continue to wish to be less identifiable in their host countries, partially as a result of the threat that they feel by being identifiably Jewish.  It is also noticeable that the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel goes through its ups and downs.  Israel had the unwavering support of Diaspora Jews at the time of independence, and during the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars.  In more recent times, however, Jews from around the world have been some of Israel's fiercest critics.

The swing of the pendulum has been particularly noticeable in South Africa in recent times.  The Jews of South Africa have traditionally been regarded as loyal South African citizens, while also being considered strong Zionists and supporters of Israel.  This community has not been without its fair share of contradictions and controversies over the years.  The community was split during the apartheid era between those who supported the struggle for democracy, and those who preferred to maintain a lower profile and show loyalty to the regime of the day.  The community has also, at times, shown contradictory behaviour towards Israel over the years.  Despite being regarded as one of the most Zionist communities in the world, it is also true that the majority of Jewish South Africans who decided to leave South Africa over the years, did not choose to make Israel their home.  The highly regarded South African Jewish education system and Zionist youth movements have recently produced graduates who seem more concerned about criticising Israel for the plight of innocent Palestinians, while choosing to ignore the role played by the Palestinian leadership in getting their innocent citizens to this situation, and also ignoring the constant attacks by the same "innocent" Palestinians that Israel is continuously forced to protect herself against.  None of this detracts from the support that the South African community has shown to Israel over the years.

Since the release of Nelson Mandela and the ascendence of the African National Congress (ANC) to government, the existence by Jews in South Africa has been like walking a tightrope.  It is well understood that the ANC is a great friend of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, and not a supporter of Israel.  This goes back to the days of the struggle against apartheid, when the ANC and PLO were "brothers-in-arms" supporting each other in fighting their respective "struggles".  This close relationship has been reinforced over the past 21 years since the ANC has been in government.  And while the ANC has not quite come out in an open revolt against the Jews living under its regime, it has used every possible opportunity to come out in opposition to Israel, its policies and its actions.  Although this opposition is directed against Israel, it is understood as an attack on the local Jewish community by the community, and intended as such by those launching the attack.  This has, in effect, been a slow but sure sign to the Jews in South Africa that its government is pursuing a policy that will ultimately cause them to question where their true allegiance lies.  It has been noticeable how the South African Jewish leadership, with Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein at the helm, has done all in its power to transmit the communication to the government that Jews are loyal to South Africa and its government.  While being careful always to emphasize that they are proud Jews (and supporters of Israel in the most part), the Jewish community has sent a message of "South African first".  The message from the government in return, has been one of tolerance of the Jews rather than one of welcome with open arms.

There are signs that this uneasy status quo may be on the verge of changing.  A recent announcement by an ANC official that the government may seek to review the dual nationality law, could represent the tipping point.  The reason given for the possible review of this law, is the fact that a number of South African Jews have joined the ranks of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) as lone soldiers.  The thinking seems to be that, by revoking the right to dual citizenship, Jews will be forced to choose between being a South African, or enlisting with the IDF.  In effect, the community will need to choose between its allegiance to South Africa and its allegiance to Israel (along with their Jewish identity).  In order to put this into its correct perspective, it is worth noting that the latest information I have for lone soldiers serving in the IDF reflects that there are fewer than 50 South Africans in this number.   While it is true that there are others serving in the IDF who also carry South African citizenship (largely as a result of their parents originating from South Africa), it is clear that we are talking about a tiny number of people who are in reality being targeted by this new provision.  The real, and perhaps hidden, target is the Jewish community in South Africa as a group.  The fact that many thousands of non-Jews of all creeds and cultures may be affected by a review of the dual citizenship laws in South Africa, seems to be completely lost.  It seems as though the action directed against the Jews is more important than the widespread consequences to others.  It is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

The matter of South African nationals serving in the IDF has been a bone of contention for some time.  The South African government has previously threatened to arrest South Africans who have served in conflicts fought by the IDF, with the intention of extraditing them to The Hague to answer accusations of war crimes.  There has been much discussion about the fact that it is illegal for South Africans to serve in the IDF at all.  Former Minister of Home Affairs, and serving member of parliament and leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Prince Mangusuthu Buthelezi MP, helped to clarify this point.  In response to the announcement by the ANC of the possible review of dual citizenship, Buthelezi put out a statement during a visit that he was making to Israel.  He said that the law makes it illegal for South Africans to serve in the army of a foreign country, only if this country is at war with South Africa.  With the countries having formal diplomatic relations, including the exchange of ambassadors, there can be no possible interpretation that Israel and South Africa are at war.  As such, there is nothing illegal about South Africans serving in the IDF,

Chief Rabbi Goldstein's forceful response to the announcement of a possible review, recognises the change that this announcement represents for the Jews of South Africa.  While his video still reinforces his traditional message of the loyalty of the Jews to South Africa, he emphasizes the deep insult and hurt that the announcement of this review is causing to the Jews of South Africa.  He also makes abundantly clear the close link that the Jews in South Africa have to the State of Israel.  Rather than attempting to play down the dual loyalty that Jews in South Africa feel, both to their host country and to the Jewish homeland, he plays this up.  The purpose of him reinforcing the dual loyalty seems to issue a warning to the ANC and the South African government that the Jews may ultimately choose to prefer their links to Israel over their loyalty to South Africa, if pressed to make a selection.  The underlying message being sent seems to be for the ANC not to test this loyalty.  Despite all of this, the writing appears to be on the wall.

South Africa is commonly held up as a shining example of a country that has succeeded in achieving a peaceful revolution, to transform a discriminatory society into a democracy.  Much credit must be given to those on all sides of society for the creation of the "rainbow nation".  It seems, however, that despite 21 years having passed since this landmark transformation, the revolution is not yet over.  It seems as though affirmative action is giving way to more open discrimination against Whites, with Jews at the front of the line.  While a review of the dual nationality laws may require the Jews to make their choices about which side of the fence that they prefer to choose, it is also likely to require a similar choice for many other South African citizens with dual nationality.  Even though a government official has attempted to calm the stormy waters by stating that the government has no current intention to change the dual nationality laws, it gives clear indication of some of the thoughts circulating within the ruling party.

Historically, Jews have been forced to pander to their host countries, even in the wake of extreme discrimination, for fear that they would have nowhere else to go.  This is no longer the case, thanks to the existence of the State of Israel.  And while Diaspora Jews don't necessarily always agree with the Israeli government, and frequently publicly criticise its actions, Israel will always be there to accept Jews.  This gives the Jews in South Africa a power and a strength to make their choice, when called upon to do so.  There can be no doubt that the pendulum continues to swing.

Shana tova.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Another Refugee Crisis

The latest refugee crisis has succeeded in stirring the emotions of many around the world.  The same is true for those  in Israel and Jews around the world.   The sight of the men, women and children moving across land and sea in unrelenting conditions to escape the disaster that has fallen upon them as a result of a civil war of human making, can only bring out the most heartfelt sympathies in anybody who has seen the pictures on TV and social media.  Some are calling this the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The emotions of the Jewish community are particularly affected, because it was precisely this type of disaster that befell our ancestors 75 short years ago.  It will never be forgotten that, as a result of the world failing to mobilise to accept refugees who were running from the disaster of war and genocide in Europe, and failing to act to stop those who were carrying out the genocide, 6 million of our people were systematically annihilated.  Jewish sympathy is no less than that of others around the world, despite the fact that many of the refugees come from countries that seek the destruction of the State of Israel, and the death of the Jews.

Israel has already provided a great deal of assistance to victims of the Syrian war over the past few years, despite the fact that Syria has no diplomatic relations with Israel and despite the fact that Syria has formally been at war with Israel for the past 67 years with the intention of wiping Israel off the map.  Thousands of victims of the Syrian civil war have streamed across the border from Syria into Israel seeking medical and humanitarian assistance.  The IDF has provided first aid assistance to many of these victims via mobile medical units along the Syrian border, and supplied them with humanitarian aid.  Irrespective of which side of the conflict they have come from.  Hundreds of others have been admitted to Israeli hospitals for medical treatment, some undergoing complex life-saving surgery to nurse them back to health.  All of these services have been provided courtesy of the Israeli tax-payer, and nobody has been denied humanitarian assistance on the grounds of opposing political or religious views, or any other grounds.  This humanitarian work has been undertaken without fanfare, desire for recognition or international headlines.

But now, the the floodgates to Europe have finally opened.  Instead of seeking medical attention across the Israeli border, the eyes of the war victims have stretched further afield.  Thousands of refugees are swarming across the Mediterranean to seek shelter in the calmer waters of Europe.  European leaders have been caught somewhat off guard at the suddenness of the developing situation.  Some leaders mumble phrases about the Shengen Agreement and the Dublin Regulation, which are designed to secure and protect the borders of European countries.  Despite their mumblings, they seem to have no real clue as to how the provisions of these agreements can possibly be applied under the current circumstances.  Some countries seem resigned to accept the refugees that turn up on their borders, while others are doing all that they can to re-route their flood of humanity or pass them on to other neighbouring countries to get rid of their problem.  The humanitarian nature of the citizens of many European countries is demanding that their leaders relax provisions in order to accept a share of responsibility for rehousing the refugees, while others are concerned about what this may mean in the longer term for the makeup, nature and culture of their country.

Without detracting from the immediate humanitarian disaster that needs a short-term solution, European and world leaders can be justified in asking a few searching questions as longer-term solutions will need to be considered once the refugees have been clothed, fed, treated and housed in the near-term.  Some of the questions, to which I have not found answers yet, are the following:
  1. What happened that the refugee problem has suddenly arisen at this time?  The Syrian civil war and the conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan have been ongoing for some time already.  Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands have been killed, and many more injured and displaced.  Why did these refugees not run and seek shelter in Europe some time ago?  What was the real trigger to the sudden flight that we see now?  Is this related in any way to the more public involvement of ISIS, and the realisation of what an ISIS caliphate will mean to them?
  2. How many of the refugees are really economic migrants?  In recent years, there has been a distinction drawn between those who seek asylum as refugees, and those who do so in order to improve their economic situation.  Many countries try to do their best to make this distinction clearer, in order to provide required assistance to refugees while rejecting economic migrants who do not qualify for naturalisation.  The migrants naturally do all that they can to confuse those trying to separate the refugees from the economic migrants, in order to secure themselves the best possible chance of being accepted to a new country and a new life.  It is clear that many of the current wave of refugees are escaping war-torn countries and situations in which it is impossible to survive.  Amongst them, however, are more than a few who are truly economic migrants and who are merely jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of a situation.
  3. Where are their Arab brethren in assisting the refugees?  All of the refugees in the current crisis are Arabs.  Some are Christian Arabs, but the vast majority are Moslem Arabs.  Most of them are Sunni Moslems, who made up some 74% of the Syrian population prior to the civil war.  With countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates being majority Sunni Moslem, there is surely enough money and space to accommodate the  refugees within the Sunni Arab world quite easily?  And yet, there seems to be a thundering silence from the Arab world at a time when their brethren are desperate for help.
  4. Is this a ploy to gain a greater Muslim foothold in Europe?  The words of Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orb├ín, cannot be ignored entirely.  He said that Europeans risk becoming a minority on their own continent.  This is an interesting concept, particularly when there is no such thing as a "European" nationality.  The European continent has historically been split, divided and conflicted by many different interests, nationalities and religious strains.  In the face of a threat to the continued existence of these nationalities in their current form, however, a European nation has suddenly and unexpectedly arisen.  There are those who contend that this refugee crisis is a conspiracy on the part of Muslim leaders to allow Muslims to infiltrate in Europe in a manner greater than has been the case until now.   There is much evidence of the effects of the Islamisation of Europe.  Muslims have made attempts to set up enclaves of Sharia law in the UK and France (in addition to what they achieved in some African countries).  The sight of British and French-born Muslims leaving their homes to join the ranks of ISIS has shocked many.
  5. What is the role of ISIS in the crisis?  An ISIS announcement in the midst of the building refugee crisis in Europe said that hundreds of ISIS activists are scattered amongst the refugees claiming asylum in Europe.  It is difficult not to notice the disproportionate number of young men among the refugees.  While the announcement by ISIS may simply be opportunistic rather than an action that was pre-planned, it is something that cannot be completely ignored.
The question arises as to whether Europe has learned the lesson of wars and refugees to extend a helping hand (in some cases) to the current refugees?  Or has the Internet and social media forced their hand due to public demand, such that they have no choice but to help the refugees?  Never before has a refugee crisis of this magnitude been such a social media sensation.  It is reported that many of the Syrian refugees are buying SIM cards in their new European host countries even before buying food, to ensure that their predicament can be on Facebook as soon as possible.  This has certainly proven itself to be a powerful tool in their hands.  Previous crises of this magnitude have not enjoyed the same level of European and western response before.  We can only think back to the crises during the Holocaust and those in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, to name but a few, where the response was much less enthusiastic and resulted in the deaths of millions of victims.

War is never a pleasant event, and our generation seems to experience more than its fair share of conflict.  It is pleasing that there are countries who are prepared to come to the short-term aid of the refugees.  But does this present a longer-term problem for these countries?  These are questions that only time can answer.