JOHANNESBURG – The South African Zionist Federation, one of the leading representatives of South African Jewry, has recommended that the country's Jewish community vote for a fundamentalist Christian party with minimal public support in next week's general election.
South Africans go to the polls on May 7 for the fifth election since the end of White rule in 1994. But it is the first time that the ruling African National Congress finds itself under serious pressure from an increasingly angry and restive population.
The country is bedeviled by a lame economy, massive unemployment (the official figure is 25 percent, but is understood to be some 15 percent higher in reality), and inflation. South Africans are increasing blaming ANC corruption for failures in the delivery of housing, education, medical treatment, clean water, sewage and electricity.
In an email titled “Are you voting for a friend of Israel?” the Zionist Federation recommended that voters choose the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP,) which is given 10 out of 10 points by the federation's researchers for its attitude to Israel.
The ACDP is a tiny party, consisting, according to Wikipedia, of “mainly conservative Christians and its doctrine concentrates mostly on social issues, such as abortion, homosexuality and pornography.”
Led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, the ACDP garnered 0.81 percent of the national vote in the 2009 general election (down by some 50 percent on its 1, 6 percent in the previous election) and thus holds three seats in the 400-seat national assembly.
If the ACDP is a little much for South Africa's Jews, the federation's second choice is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which receives 9 out of 10 points for its attitude to Israel. Both the ACDP and the IFP are classed as “good friends” of Israel in the email.
The IFP is a Zulu nationalist party, headed from inception by the aging Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 85. In 2004 it won just under 7 percent of the vote and held 28 seats in parliament, slumping to 4, 6 percent of the vote and 18 seats out of 400 in 2009.
The ruling ANC received just two points from the federation and was classed “not a friend” of Israel. The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa's official opposition with 67 seats and just under 17 percent of the vote in 2009, received a lukewarm seven points.
Traditionally, the DA has been “the Jewish party” – given that its forerunner was led by the iconic Helen Suzman and its previous leader, Tony Leon, was Jewish. Its present leader, Helen Zille, a former journalist, notes very proudly that her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother were Jewish.
But the DA has apparently irritated the established Jewish community with certain criticisms of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians. It has also become apparent that members of the DA’s parliamentary caucus, especially young black ones, are not prepared to rubberstamp Israeli policy.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a new party which is tipped to surprise everyone with widespread support from the dispossessed, was apparently not considered “kosher” enough as an option for Jewish voters. Nor was the Dagga (marijuana) Party.
The federation's allocation of points was based on three criteria: Policy and Approach to Israel (accepts Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, etc.); Public Support for Israel (senior party members attend Yom Haatzmaut celebrations [sic], etc.); and Combating anti-Israel Activities (youth groups have opposed anti-Israel actions at universities, etc.)
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said last night: “You know, I am a friend of the established Jewish community, so I don’t want to embarrass anyone. But I really think this sort of shallow research is the kind of thing that bedevils our politics." Maharaj was the keynote speaker at the recent public Pesach seder held by the Jewish Board of Deputies.
“I’ll tell you why," Maharaj continued. "Because it raises the question: where does the first loyalty of South African Jews lie? I would say that Jews should be patriotic, especially if they live in a democracy. And therefore their concern should be, in terms of their vote, what’s good for the country – not what’s good for Israel. You have to vote in the country in which you live – it has nothing to do with Israel.”
Asked whether the research did not run contrary to the board of deputies’ 20-year policy of establishing close ties with the ANC, board president Zev Krengel said: “Well, a lot of work went into that research. And we don’t have to kowtow to the ANC – or the DA. Fact is, they have not been such good friends to Israel."
Asked whether it was not a little farcical to recommend to Jewish South Africans that they vote for a minor, fundamentalist Christian party, Krengel said: “Well, the obvious ‘absurdity’ of this whole thing is maybe something of a saving grace…”
Irwin Manoim, co-founder and former co-editor of the famous anti-apartheid Mail & Guardian newspaper, said: “This e-mail is surrealist and astounding. But then again, maybe it’s not. This community just seems to have gone off the rails – it’s turned frighteningly fundamentalist in all senses. If this wasn’t May, I’d say it was an April Fool’s Day joke.
“Anyway, none of this is going to make the slightest difference to the ANC who are far more interested in the much larger and more strategic Muslim vote. The other irony is that the ACDP and IFP probably don't have a single Jewish official between them. The purpose must be to slap down the DA which has historically had many Jews in leadership positions and been the default choice for most of the community. But the DA can’t be too outspokenly pro-Israel because it too needs the Muslim vote to hold the Cape …”
Jack Bloom, caucus leader of the DA in the Gauteng provincial legislature and long-time DA Gauteng health spokesperson, said: “If it’s of use to someone, somewhere, what the hell. But it is condescending – I think most people can make up their own minds without this sort of peripheral ‘research.’”