The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Global Survey which recently identified South Africa as second only to Poland in the anti-Jewish stakes has been greeted with disbelief by a range of Jewish voices, including the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. For Professor Karen Milner, Vice Chair of the Board, “many of the findings concerning South Africa are at best highly questionable and sometimes clearly wrong”. In a powerfully worded statement, the Board disparaged the ADL’s methodology, essentially accusing it of Eurocentrism, while pointing out that there have been very few anti-Jewish incidents in South Africa - something the Board monitors professionally and closely.
Professor Adam Mendelsohn, Director of the Kaplan Centre at UCT, similarly questioned the ADL findings, noting that the Centre’s own recent survey presented quite different results. Issues of methodology were again raised. The editor of the South African Jewish Report, Peta Krost Maunder, believes the survey goes against everything she has experienced and simply “can’t be true.” “Rubbish” was the word used by Jeremy Gordin in Politicsweb.
In point of fact, this is not the first attitudinal survey to reveal disturbing findings. In 1970, Stuart Buxbaum found that both “Coloureds” and “Blacks” in a Soweto matriculation group generally held unfavourable attitudes towards Jews - attributed by Buxbaum to a “carry over of a general attitude of social distance of many groups towards Jews” and the phenomenon of “haves” and “have nots”. Jews were “singled out by the non-Whites as being the visible symbol of White financial wealth, a direct result of the depressed economic position of the non-Whites”. In effect, explained Buxbaum, it was a form of displaced aggression.
A year later, in another survey of (only) Black African matriculants in Soweto, the sociologist Melville Edelstein found that the pupils he interviewed experienced a greater “social distance” in relation to Jews than towards English-speakers in general. Those interviewed told Edelstein that an African who was loathe to part with his money was described as being as “stingy as a Jew”. In Edelstein’s view such prejudice arose from New Testament teaching in school and church.
Saths Cooper, a psychiatrist and one-time President of the Azanian People’s Organisation, confirmed this perception in an interview conducted in the late 1980s. “The common reaction, and this is throughout the black community - is to classify any exploiter as a Jew, even if he happens to have a black skin, he appears to be in the Shylock mould”, said Cooper.
Further attitudinal indications emerged in a survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council in 1994 among urban South African elites. The study showed that black elites harboured substantial antipathy towards Jews.