Letter from Maurice Ostroff
Published in Haaretz November
25, 2005. About
African ambassador Gqiba deserves great credit for his
achievements in improving relations between Israel and South Africa. However
some of his remarks during a recent address to students deserve comment. ('
S.A. ambassador talks tough with TAU students' Haaretz November 18).
SA Jews and apartheid
The ambassador's statement that the
majority of South African Jews supported the governing National Party is
open to debate. It was because of their very rarity, that those few Jews who
did support the National Party received substantial publicity. They were
considered aberrations and were roundly condemned by mainstream Jews.
In the predominantly Jewish area of
Houghton, Helen Suzman, founder of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party was
supported overwhelmingly and in districts where no Progressive Party was
available, Jews routinely voted against the National Party.
Considering that Jews comprised only
0.6% of the total population, South African Jewry, far from being shy about
its history during the apartheid era, can take pride in the very high
proportion that opposed apartheid in one way or another. In fact, Afrikaans
newspapers frequently referred to the high percentage of Jews detained by
the security police accusing them of subverting the apartheid regime.
Of the 23 whites charged in the famous
1955 Treason Trial more than half were Jews. Advocate Isie Maisels won
acclaim for his leadership of the defense team which achieved acquittal of
all the accused in that trial. As a committed Jew, he had served as
President of the Federation of Synagogues, as well as on the Executives of
the Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation.
Jews were active in providing
humanitarian assistance for Black communities. Typical were "Operation
Hunger", founded by Ina Perlman and reaching two million blacks and the
South African Union of Jewish Women's outreach programs in black townships
focusing on teacher training and pre-school development as well as
sponsoring Black teacher visits to Israel. Jews for Justice, and Jews for
Social Justice were organizations, which worked to build bridges between the
white and black communities. Johannesburg's Oxford Synagogue and Cape Town's
Temple Israel established nurseries, medical clinics and adult education
programs in the townships and provided legal aid for victims of apartheid
laws. There was a heavy Jewish membership in anti-apartheid student
movements, the Black Sash and anti-apartheid ex-service organizations such
as the Springbok Legion and the Torch Commando.
Prominent industrialists like Tony Bloom
and Mendel Kaplan, as well as many, smaller Jewish owned industries made
important contributions in enlightened employment practices. There were also
many who, while not adopting high profile stances, opposed apartheid in a
variety of ways.
Ambassador Gqiba was also quoted as stating
that the military establishments of Israel and the apartheid regime had
worked "hand in glove". While resentment of Israel's
supplying arms to the apartheid government is fully justified, it is
puzzling that the resentment continues only against Israel, while the main
suppliers of weaponry, France, Britain, Canada, West Germany, Italy,
Belgium, Taiwan and the United States are forgiven. The apartheid regime
could have been brought to its knees much earlier, had its $2 billion annual
oil import from Arab states been cut off.
In 1986, South Africa's main trading
partners were, USA - $3.4 billion, Japan - $2.9 billion, Germany- $2.8
billion, U.K. - $2.6 billion. Compare, Israels puny $0.2 billion total
trade with South Africa, with for example, the support given by Fluor
Corporation's $4.2 billion oil from coal project and ARMSCOR's multi-million
dollar contracts with IBM, Shell, Daimler-Benz and many others.
Despite the Security Council's embargo,
Germany supplied vehicles and other equipment to the South African police
and army, including approximately 6,000 multi-tasking Mercedes Benz Unimog
vehicles and Mercedes Benz undertook responsibility for repairing military
vehicles used for control of black townships.
Essential computers for storing
fingerprints and personal details for the government's system of controlling
the Black population were supplied by Fujitsu and IBM.
So too, the apartheid regime could have
been crippled by withdrawal of major banking facilities. While John Voster
was prime minister, he said 'each bank loan is another brick in the wall of
our continued existence' and in 1979 the Deutsche Bank was awarded the Order
of Good Hope, the highest civilian award for promoting the interests of the
country. Even after the dreadful Sharpeville massacre, Chase Manhattan led a
consortium of 10 banks providing $40 million in loans to South Africa.
According to a UN report, UBS participated in more loans to South Africa
than any other bank between 1979 and 1982. UBS, Commerzbank, Swiss
Bank Corporation and Credit Suisse were among the most active lead managers
of syndicated loans to the apartheid government. All in all, the loans
totaled several billion US dollars.
Is it not inequitable that no other
countries are judged by the yardstick applied to Israel and that Israel
receives no recognition of its ongoing program of training Black South
Africans in leadership, agriculture and organization, which continued during
the apartheid era?
more articles by Maurice Ostroff