Last week the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced the results of a survey it had conducted on attitudes toward Jews in 18 countries, including South Africa. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has analysed the report, considering its finding against its own research data, as well as that of other organisations such as the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town.
The SAJBD has an excellent working relationship with the ADL, one of the world's oldest human rights organisations renowned for its work in combating antisemitism, racism and other such forms of bigotry. With regard to the above survey, however, we are strongly of the view that many of the findings concerning South Africa are at best highly questionable and sometimes clearly wrong. The findings are replete with contradictions, anomalies and inconsistencies, all of which ultimately greatly misrepresent the nature of South African society in general and the position regarding its Jewish citizens in particular.
According to the survey South Africa has, after Poland, the highest level of negative perceptions of Jews out of all the countries surveyed, with nearly one in two South Africans apparently viewing Jews in an unfavourable light. This is simply not true. South Africa has consistently recorded amongst the lowest rate of antisemitism in terms of actual attacks on Jews in the world. Moreover, local attitudinal surveys reveal that the great majority of South Africans either have no knowledge at all about Jews or hold no particular opinion of them one way or another. It is hence highly implausible that, as the survey results suggest, 44% of South Africans agree with the view that Jews were responsible for the repression of Eastern Europe under Communism during the 20th Century, or that Jews “want to weaken our national culture by supporting more immigrants coming to our country”. Such beliefs primarily resonate amongst right-wing white supremacists, who in South Africa constitute a tiny fringe group even within the white minority community.
Another example of a finding that is clearly incorrect is that indicating that a high proportion of South Africans believe that the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith communities are experiencing ‘high levels of hatred and violence’ based on religious grounds, and that they are equally vulnerable in this regard. This is very obviously not the case; indeed, South Africa is deservedly regarded as a world leader in terms of promoting respect for and tolerance of diverse religious beliefs and practices.
Professor Karen Milner, National Vice-Chair of the SAJBD said that from a strictly academic, methodological point of view, the manner in which the survey was framed and conducted appears to have been gravely flawed.
“The most likely explanation for the discrepancies between the findings and the realities on the ground is that the questions and general methodology followed by those conducting the survey were essentially developed for a specific cultural context, namely Europe and North America, and then applied uncritically in another cultural context, namely South Africa” she said.
The SAJBD by no means dismisses the latest ADL survey in toto and indeed will be further studying and assessing its conclusions and implications. However, it is necessary for the public to be aware of what we consider to be serious flaws in terms of how it was applied to South Africa and that accordingly its findings must necessarily be treated with a great deal of caution.
Issued by SA Jewish Board of Deputies, 27 November 2019
Professor Karen Milner 083 376 0047
David Saks 072 294 4056