The SAJBD’s Zionist Rhetoric is disconnected from Judaism and endangers Jews

On the 29th of February 2024, David Saks of the SAJBD published an opinion piece on News 241 that continues the long tradition of Zionist lies and deception that nationalists use to justify the genocidal project of the Israeli settler colony in occupied Palestine. This rhetoric is not only dehumanising and dangerous to the native Palestinian population, it creates an environment that is dangerous to Jews of both the Zionist and anti-Zionist persuasion the world over. Under the guise of a neutral and “objective” measurement, the SAJBD has attempted to paint the SAJFP, Anti-Zionist Jews and even Zionist Jews with any semblance of criticism of the Israeli regime as some fringe minority to ignore. This narrative invariably works to paint some version of Zionist apologism as a requirement of all South African Jews in our diversity. They have pushed this narrative based on a result from the Kaplan Centre survey on Jews in South Africa. However, the nature of the result is misrepresented, at the same time they fail to consider results from the survey that do not conveniently fit their narrative, ignore methodological flaws in the sampling of the Kaplan Centre survey and disregard the political and social context (the same context they work to maintain) in which the Kaplan Centre collected the results. It is this pattern of lies from far-right nationalists and the atrocities which they work to defend that demonstrates their disconnection from Judaism and endangers our community. It paints us as monsters to be feared while allowing the most radical and war-mongering among us to feel safe in turning their ire towards parts of the Jewish community itself.

To paint itself as the true representation of Judaism in the country, the SAJBD asserts that out of 300 Jewish organisations in SA whom they represent none would disassociate itself from the Jewish state except the SAJFP2, whom they do not represent. That the SAJBD only associates itself with Zionists and Zionist organisations does not make it the representation of Jews in all our diversity. By intentionally conflating Zionism and Judaism, the SAJBD not only aims to silence any criticism of Zionism as antisemitism but also perpetuates the ridiculous notion that anti-Zionists do not belong among the ranks of “real Jews”. While the SAJBD complain about “a minuscule fringe group of Jewish people who are trying to rewrite the history and fundamentals of a proud Jewish Heritage,”3 It is Zionists who are trying to erase the history of proud anti-Zionist Jews by simply categorising us out of existence. They can only conceive of a very narrow stereotype of a Jew as a certain kind of nationalist, and so brush off any Jew that does not fit their wrongheaded stereotype as illegitimate. They thus assert that disagreement between Jews is only legitimate so long as they do not criticise Israel in any way.

Nobody is under the illusion that vocal criticism of the Israeli regime makes up a majority of the vocal Jewish voices. In many cases, this is because we Jews fear the ire of the powerful and rabid Zionists like those in the SAJBD and its underbelly of Zionist institutions. The power these groups hold makes it dangerous for any Jew in our community to make even milquetoast critiques of Israel for fear of ostracisation from the community, or worse, a loss of employment. However, this does not make Anti-Zionist Jews or Jews who do not support the genocide as fringe or undermine our Judaism. We Anti-Zionist Jews are connected deeply to our Jewish heritage and its associated ethics, and we know our scripture well enough to discern the Eretz Yisrael from the Torah from the ethnostate of the same name today, something Zionists themselves greatly struggle with.

That we are a minority does not undermine our legitimacy. Majorities in support of oppression and minorities who oppose it litter history. It was a minority of white South Africans who opposed Apartheid, it was a minority of white Americans who opposed the institution of slavery, and it was a minority of ethnic Germans who opposed the Nazi party. If the minority status of these groups or their opposition to oppression did not undermine their status as white South Africans, White Americans, and ethnic Germans respectively then our minority status and our opposition to oppression do not undermine our status as Jews. We understand that our opposition to oppression derives from the Jewish principle of tikkun olam. This principle tells us to repair the world, that is, to make it a better, safer, and more just place. But Zionists have either lost sight of this central Jewish value or deluded themselves into thinking they can repair the world with bombs. The Torah teaches us not to covet, not to kill and not to steal, and yet Zionists betray God’s commandments by coveting the land of Palestinians and killing them so they can steal it. The Zionists of today, like David Saks and the rest of the SAJBD, have lost their connection to genuine Jewish practice as they seek to weaponise fear and make the world worse than they found it, for Jews and everyone else.

To paint the false image of themselves as the true representation of Jews in South Africa, the SAJBD claimed, without even a shred of irony, to be a “democratic” organisation on the basis that the Zionist organisations they work with4 (which themselves do not hold public elections) elect members from their ranks to serve on the board. Firstly, this is not even true, the SAJFP, who they falsely imply are represented by the SAJBD5, gets no democratic say in picking board members from our ranks. More to the point, The SAJBD’s use of the word “democratic” seems to betray a basic misunderstanding of the word, however, its use becomes clear when one realises that the SAJBD have in mind the same kind of ‘democracy’ which exists in occupied Palestine today and in South Africa before 1994. A democracy in which the ‘representatives’ are chosen by a small in-group who rule over everyone, including the masses of people who have no say in who those ‘representatives’ are. In other words: an Apartheid “democracy”.

Further, they paint Zionism as nothing more than the belief that “Israel has the right to exist”6 while claiming that the Jewish link to Israel has been around for our entire 5784-year history. This ruse is painfully ahistorical and falsely represents the desires of Zionists. Israel, which is distinct from the ancient Eretz Yisrael, has existed for a little under 75 years, not 5784 years. Theodore Herzl and other early Zionists considered many locations besides Palestine for their ethnostate, including Argentina7 and British East Africa8. Despite this reality, Zionists today would not be happy if a Jewish ethnostate named ‘Israel’ merely existed in these locations, even if doing so could end a near century of bloodshed and allow for the just restitution of Palestinian land to its rightful owners. Zionists today want more than just an ethnostate in their name. What they want is an ethnostate in their name on the Palestinian land specifically, and they want it at any cost. Even if that cost is the existence of a people they deem inferior. All Abrahamic faiths have some historical claim to that land, and before the arrival of Zionist settler colonialists in Palestine, Jews, Christians and Muslims co-existed there in relative harmony9. It was the colonial violence of the Zionists up to and including the Nakba which eradicated this peace and replaced it with an endless cycle of violent repression of the native population and the violent resistance of groups fighting to reclaim their stolen land.

Zionists have never hidden the fact that their project requires the dispossession of and violence against the Native Palestinian population. The King-Crane Commission, sent out in 1919, had been told by Zionists in the area that they “looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine”10 It additionally reported that practically none of the Zionist military experts “believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms.”11 Similarly, in 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky (an influential Zionist leader and author) wrote in his essay The Iron Wall: “It is utterly impossible to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestine Arabs for converting “Palestine” from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish Majority. My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries. I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.”12 The violence of the Zionist colonial project was never an accident. It was always intended and greatly anticipated by Zionists. Zionists do not merely want an ‘Israel’ to exist. They want it to exist at the expense of the Palestinian people and anyone else who would oppose them in their efforts. This violence has always been a part of their explicitly stated goal.

While Biblically, the journey of the Jewish people to the land of the children of Israel is a central narrative, the biblical Eretz Yisrael is distinct from the state of Israel established in 1948. The creation of the state of Israel was and remains very controversial in Orthodox Jewish thought. At the start of the Zionist movement, religious Orthodox Jewry was almost entirely against settling in Palestine. Their objections derived from the view that Judaism has always advocated living an ethical life rather than a life of nationalism.13 Opposition is also based on a well-known Talmudic passage, citing a vow made by the Jewish people not to conquer Israel before the time of the Messiah14, coupled with the fact that neither Theodore Herzl – nor any other Zionist – was our messiah. This equivocation between the Eretz Yisrael mentioned in the Torah and the ethnostate established in 1948 is central to the Zionist propaganda machine. That this ancient text mentions a place with the same name and similar geographic borders as the particular state established millennia later is no reason to think that this state is the one we, as Jews, seek to return to. The SAJBD, in its disregard for the tenets of Judaism, would rather have you ignore the meaning of our holy texts and deceive you into concluding that our source of ethics supported the crude nationalism for a state that wouldn’t come to exist for millennia.

To paint the picture that the Zionist beliefs they hold truly represent the beliefs of South African Jews, they cite the Kaplan Centre’s 2019 survey of Jewish South Africans as evidence that it can be “objectively measured” that the Jewish population of South Africa is attached to the modern state of Israel. They conveniently leave out that all of the respondents to the survey reside in one of three suburbs in Cape Town.15 In fact, 56.90% of the respondents resided in the Atlantic seaboard, and so to suggest that the collected results allow them to speak on behalf of much more than the Jews of Sea Point is facile. Additionally, this 5-year-old survey notes that, at the time of taking place, 83% of respondents were older than 30, so this data says very little about South African Jews under 35 today. This omission skews results towards the opinions of older and, by extension, more conservative Jews. 

Despite these unaccounted-for and unmentioned methodological failings, the SAJBD claims that “90% of respondents felt either strongly (66%) or moderately attached (24%) to Israel with only 3% saying they had no attachment at all.”16 They fail to mention a few things here. The question asked in the survey, which this result comes from, sought to enquire about the respondents’ emotional attachment to Israel.17 The results of this question do not represent the proportion of Jews in South Africa who think Israel is central to Jewish practice. It does not represent the proportion of South African Jews who think Jews have the most legitimate or sole claim to that land nor the proportion which supports the current Israeli regime. Most problematically, the same equivocation mentioned earlier is baked into the question, as it does not specify to the respondents whether it is enquiring about the biblical Eretz Yisrael or the modern ethnostate of the same name. This subtle deception of the SAJBD should be obvious. They want to take an ambiguous result about the emotions of Jews and convince you that the only reading of the result is as “objective” evidence for the Jewish identity requiring a commitment to the Israeli state and its violence.

While the SAJBD cherry-picks this result to make their “objective measurement” of themselves as the gatekeepers of the legitimate diversity amongst the South African Jewish population, they conveniently leave out several important results which don’t suit their narrative. Concerning criticism of Israeli government policy, 84% of respondents agreed that it is acceptable to be critical in Jewish communal spaces, and a not insignificant 43% of respondents considered it acceptable to be critical of Israeli policy in public.18 They ignore this result as they do not want to allow you to think that a person can be legitimately Jewish and yet criticise Israel in any way. 

Very interestingly, they also refuse to make any reference to the results related directly to Palestinian-Israeli relations. If they were to talk about these results they would be forced to admit that a little more than a fringe 10% of respondents believe that Israel is in the right in all its actions.19 Indeed, the vast majority of respondents accept that Israel bears at least some degree of fault in its ongoing regime (even those sympathetic and generally in favour of Israel’s actions). If they wanted to really “objectively measure” what the Kaplan Centre survey suggests about the sentiments of Jewish South Africans, they’d have to admit that over 67% of respondents who opined on the question think that we need to stop or limit our settlements beyond the green line and that over 26% of respondents who opined on the question think that the settlements are an outright barrier to peace in the region.20 

Again, the deception here has an obvious goal. They seek to paint any ‘legitimate’ South African Jew as an advocate of genocide despite the reality of the matter. Yet ironically, the SAJBD have the chutzpah to claim that the results of the Kaplan Centre survey show “that Jews who endorse the views of SAJFP are little more than a fringe element and that it would be highly misleading, not to say frankly dishonest, to suggest that they represent anything more than a handful of disgruntled community members.”21 The full results of their sole source show that those who have no criticism of Israel are, in fact, the fringe minority. The SAJBD intentionally ignores the full plethora of results to spin a false narrative that these fringe and rabid Zionists in support of genocide are the true representation of Jewish people in all our diversity. The other side of this is the painting of any criticism of Israel as inconsistent with Judaism despite the actual ethics that Judaism preaches.

Most importantly, while they report these few cherry-picked results, they fail to mention the social or political context in which they were gathered. The same institutions which the SAJBD claims to derive its authority from, the schools, shuls and other Zionist institutions, are the ones guilty of aiding in the indoctrination of young Jews in South Africa into the Zionist cause. From Zionist schools which push the Zionist narrative onto children, forbid conscientious objectors from speaking, and only teach similarly cherry-picked information in the same dishonest way that the SAJBD has done with the results of the Kaplan Centre survey, to the Zionist youth movements that continue the work outside of the classroom – these institutions are all structurally Zionist and so breeds a Zionism into their victims. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Zionist tendencies manufactured by these institutions find themselves overrepresented in the Kaplan Centre survey – despite all its flaws. That some of us Jews have been lucky enough to break away from the programming of these Zionist spaces is not – as they would have you believe – a departure from Judaism, but a reconnection with Judaism and its ethics that the SAJBD has long forgotten.

This pattern of lies is nothing new for Zionists and their ilk. Most are all too aware of the fabricated lie of 40 beheaded babies which sparked Israel’s current onslaught against Palestinian babies, men, women and children22, but this is far from where their lies end. On November 13th 2023 a video was shared on Twitter of IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari purporting to show that Hamas was operating out of the basement of a children’s hospital in Gaza by showing off a “terrorist sign-in sheet” with the names of terrorists that turned out to be nothing more than a calendar listing only the days of the week. In that same month, Israel’s official Arabic Twitter account shared a video of a woman claiming to be a nurse inside Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza who is accusing Hamas of stealing fuel and medical supplies while encouraging residents of the area to flee. This video, which features an Israeli actress and hastily edited-in explosion sound effects23, was fabricated by Zionists to manufacture consent for the bombing of a hospital. 

On November 9th Ofir Gendelman, the Arab media spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister posted a behind-the-scenes clip from a Lebanese short film in which children are having bloody make-up applied to them in preparation for a scene. He does this while claiming that this is a video from within Palestine of Gazans faking their injuries to fool the world into thinking that Israel is harming civilians24 (as if they would even need to fool the world into believing an easily verifiable truth). The last of these lies is particularly despicable. This hateful maniac went out of his way to find actors acting on a movie set and lied about its origin to imply that the countless images and videos we see every day of Palestinians injured by Israeli bombs and ammunition are fabrications. They fabricate propaganda in which they paint the people they are killing as the ones fabricating propaganda. This lie cannot even be excused as someone falling for a ruse, as nobody would find such a clip if not looking for some behind-the-scenes footage from a movie, and so it must be a case of someone knowingly lying to justify genocide. This pattern makes it clear that, with Zionists, every accusation is a confession.

These lies are dangerous for the people of Palestine as they manufacture consent for their genocide, but it is additionally dangerous for Jews the world over. The SAJBD claims to be concerned about the rise in antisemitism in South Africa25 (which was mostly a dog-whistle to continuing their campaign of equivocating between antisemitism and anti-Zionism), yet the stereotype of a Jew that the SAJBD paints as a calculating, nationalist thief and murderer feeds into the preexisting stereotypes about us which and put us in greater danger. Of course, antisemitism does not exist in a vacuum and has multiple historical and political causes but right now in South Africa, nothing is exacerbating any preexisting antisemitic sentiment nor creating new antisemitic sentiment more than the rhetoric of Zionists. It would be no surprise that people would fear and hate Jews if we were the monsters that the SAJBD paints us as. Unsurprisingly, people find war-mongering, dangerous monsters to be something worthy of fear, and with good reason. Zionists weaponise our Jewish fear to make us put up walls and isolate ourselves from the world, preventing any kind of harmonious unity or integration within our broader communities. The distance these exacerbated fears create prevents non-Jews from seeing what peace-loving good people we can truly be when we aren’t doing the work of Zionists.

This facade is not an image we as Jews should be aiming to project of ourselves, nor one we should want. You would think that the SAJBD, with their supposed worries of antisemitism, would refrain from creating such an environment, but apparently, they don’t love Jews as much as they hate Palestinians. While there is a worrying rise of cases of antisemitism in countries like Canada and the USA it is interesting to note the way that the existence of Israel emboldens the white nationalist perpetrators of antisemitism in those countries. Beyond the Zionist rhetoric which fuels the fire of negative Jewish stereotypes, these actual white nationalist antisemites see Israel getting away with establishing itself in the violent way it has as a shining beacon of an ethnostate they seek to establish for themselves. Additionally, they see Israel as a place to send away the Jews of their own country when they get the chance to establish their ethnostate.26

This toxic rhetoric of the Zionists in the SAJBD and the institutions in their underbelly emboldens the fringe and most radical in our community to violence. It emboldens them in their genocide of the Palestinian people, but additionally, it emboldens Zionist violence in general. It was in January that Paul Jacobson’s (a homeless-hating and ‘alleged’ arson-inciting27 city councillor from the VF+) brother Martin threatened to rape and kill the entire family of someone for an anti-Zionist comment on Facebook28. Jews are also not safe from this Zionist violence. On November 1st the Israeli police in Jerusalem pushed to the ground and beat several Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem for defending the flying of a Palestinian flag29. For a country that prides itself on being a bastion of democracy and tolerance in the Middle East, they are surprisingly intolerant of free speech. Even the Jewish hostages in Gaza whom Israel pretends to care for to further manufacture consent for genocide are not safe from Zionists. Israel has denied a deal with Hamas that would have returned all hostages on both sides in exchange for a ceasefire.30 At the time of writing, more Jewish hostages have been killed by Israel’s indiscriminate bombings than by Hamas themselves. Even the Jewish pawns of Zionist propaganda are not protected from Zionist violence31, truly nobody is safe.

To speak to my own experience, I have been doxxed by Zionists, which resulted in threats to my family. I have had the police appear at my home after being called on me for displaying a Palestinian flag on my property. I have faced death threats and received scorn in my community for not being blindingly in support of the Israeli regime. Perhaps most surprisingly, one of the most common insults I’ve received for being opposed to the genocide is ‘Kapo’ (a derogatory term for a Jew that sold out other Jews to the Nazis to avoid their persecution) when ironically, it is the Zionists calling me Kapo who would like to send people to die in a genocide. I know all too many cases of even moderate Jews sympathetic to Israel who nonetheless are deeply afraid to voice their mild disagreement with the actions of Israel because of the fear of what the fringe Zionists will do to them. Many who work in the community risk losing friends, their job and their social standing for not just outright supporting Israel. For their safety, these would-be critics choose not to speak up in the environment of fear and hatred created by the likes of the SAJBD and their ilk. I have even spoken to people working within the Herzlia school system itself who want to voice their support for Palestine but who cannot even risk being seen at an SAJFP event for fear of losing their employment.

There may be some Liberal Zionists in the SAJBD or the Zionist institutions which prop the SAJBD up who find these accusations unfair. They might insist that since they believe that a Jewish ethnostate can be achieved peacefully if only the Palestinian people would hand over their land to the Israeli occupation, they are not guilty of spreading the same rhetoric that endangers Jews and Palestinians alike. Regardless of the absurdity of their presupposition here, their rhetoric is much the same, especially in the violence it perpetuates. Liberal Zionists are susceptible to the nationalist propaganda that their conservative counterparts spread. Like useful pawns, they share all the same lies on Twitter about beheaded babies, terrorist sign-in sheets and fake nurses. Their support for the Israeli settler colony, even if theoretically unsupportive of the violence it requires to establish and maintain it, is still support for the state that is committing genocide. They still desire and vocally advocate for a state that can’t exist without violence and lies, so when they paint the land of Palestine as the land where they deserve an ethnostate they do the same work as Conservative Zionists of making us Jews come across as nationalistic monsters hell-bent on genocide, even when this is not their goal.

That Liberal Zionists have confused themselves into thinking that any colonised people would roll over for them does not change the reality that no human being works or thinks like this. In this way, conservative Zionists at least have a more honest picture of how the world works, as they admit that no such concession from a colonised people is possible. People of good conscience will not take comfort in the Liberal Zionist’s ideological message that they don’t want genocide but that they merely want a state that can’t exist without it. The effect of the message pushed by Liberal Zionists is thus, whether they realise it or not, that genocide is a necessary evil. This does little to reform our image as Jews over the more conservative message that genocide is a necessary good. In their bed fellowship, Liberal and Conservative Zionists both end up arguing that genocide is necessary, whether Liberal Zionists like to admit it or not.

In the end, the rhetoric of Liberal Zionists still contributes to the manufactured consent for genocide, paints us Jews as something that needs to be feared, and emboldens the most fringe elements of their movement to violence, even against other Jews. I would ask them to think about their purported Liberalism and how it could ever be consistent with the concrete steps needed to create and maintain an ethnostate on occupied land. What will the colonised people do when they do not want to leave their nation of birth for you? What will be done to establish and maintain that ethnostate when they stay? How will you get them out and keep them out while remaining ‘peaceful’?

If you are a Liberal Zionist and you find that these comparisons to your conservative counterparts make you uncomfortable then I insist that you do not brush this discomfort away but sit with it and try to learn from it. The best lessons are usually difficult to learn. While thinking through it I implore you to reflect on the ethics of Judaism, with its prohibition on killing and theft and its commandment to make the world a better place for all and see if your ‘peaceful’ Zionism can concretely fit in with your Judaism or your politics. The concrete action which must occur for an ethnostate to exist on occupied land is incompatible with the ethics of Judaism or any form of Liberalism not based on a racial hierarchy. If you can push past the cognitive dissonance you should see that at some point something has got to give, either you must give up on your Liberalism and your Jewish ethics, give up on your Zionism or invent a racial hierarchy to hold them all together. I ask you to consider what is more important to you. Your religion? Your ethics? Your politics? Or your nationalism?

Despite what Zionists would have you believe, Zionism is not interchangeable with Judaism, and Judaism is not merely a connection to Israel. We Jews did not pop into existence in 1948 with the state of Israel, nor will we disappear after its inevitable downfall. We, as Jews, have a rich and deep history that is independent of Israel. It’s time we stop letting the SAJBD and other Zionist institutions get away with peddling this conflation. I echo the sentiments of the martyr Aaron Bushnell. While even the little we do may seem radical to some, it is nowhere near as radical as what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers. Any person of conscience knows that there is nothing more antisemitic than Zionism. We anti-Zionist Jews will continue to stand for justice as instructed by our Jewish ethics. For this reason, we will continue to oppose the fascistic genocide perpetrated by Israel and the antisemitism that the SAJBD promotes. Not just for the sake of the Palestinian people as they suffer through genocide but for the sake of Jews who face the perils of living in a world made unsafe for us by Zionists. 

Joshua Michelson is a member of SAJFP


  1. OPINION | David Saks: SAJFP cannot recreate Judaism to suit political beliefs | News24 
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. Theodor Herzl and the trajectory of Zionism | openDemocracy 
  8. Uganda Scheme – Wikipedia 
  9. Before Zionism: The shared life of Jews and Palestinians – +972 Magazine 
  10. King-Crane Commission Report – Text – English (1919) page 36
  11. ibid
  12. Iron Wall page 2
  13. The Forgotten History of the Jewish, Anti-Zionist Left 
  14. Anti-Zionism Among Jews 
  15. 2019 survey of the affiliated cape town jewish community november 2019 page 7
  16. OPINION | David Saks: SAJFP cannot recreate Judaism to suit political beliefs | News24 
  17. 2019 survey of the affiliated cape town jewish community november 2019 page 35
  18. Ibid page 36
  19. Ibid page 37
  20. Ibid
  21. OPINION | David Saks: SAJFP cannot recreate Judaism to suit political beliefs | News24 
  22. Despite refutations from Israeli military, headlines that Hamas ‘beheaded babies’ persist 
  23. Video of ‘nurse’ denouncing Hamas occupation of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital is staged – Truth or Fake 
  24. Film set clip falsely claimed to show staged scenarios in Gaza | Fact Check 
  25. ‘There is no sense that this is home’: Some SA Jews claim they face increasing antisemitism | News24 
  27. Update and Apology: No friend of the homeless – The FF Plus candidate accused of online bullying and harassment 
  28. Brother of FF Plus councillor threatens woman with rape and murder on Facebook 
  29. Israeli police attack anti-Zionist Jews amid Gaza war 
  30. Netanyahu rejected ceasefire-for-hostages deal in Gaza, sources say | Israel-Gaza war | The Guardian