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August 31, 2020 4:08 pm

Despite Political Adversity, Vast Majority of South African Jews Strongly Attached to Zionism and Israel, New Survey Finds

avatar by Ben Cohen

Jewish and Christian South African leaders. Photo: South African Friends of Israel.

South Africa’s Jewish community remains deeply tied to Israel in the face of a wider political environment marked by hostility toward the Jewish state, a new survey revealed on Monday.

Sixty-six percent of South Africa’s estimated Jewish community of 53,000 felt “strongly attached” to Israel, while another 24 percent said they were “moderately attached,” according to the survey jointly conducted by the Kaplan Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based think tank.

The survey noted as well that 69 percent of South African Jews “self-identify” as Zionists, while 18 percent do not, and 11 percent were unsure.

The vast majority — 92 percent — agreed with the statement that “Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.” A similarly overwhelming majority — 89 percent — said they had visited Israel at least once, with nearly one in five Jews having made the trip more than 10 times.

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Meanwhile, extreme anti-Zionist views were largely frowned upon, with 83 percent of respondents agreeing that it was “never acceptable for Jews to publicly support a boycott of Israel.”

South Africa’s main pro-Israel group said it was cheered by the survey’s publication.

“The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) welcomes the findings of the survey which show categorically that the South African Jewish community remains deeply connected to Israel and explicitly Zionist in orientation,” Benji Shulman — director of public policy for the group — told The Algemeiner in an email. “This is thanks to the tremendous  efforts of a vibrant array of institutions catering to a variety of  touch points of the Jewish homeland across the spectrum.”

The extensive survey titled “The Jews in South Africa in 2019” covered key points of Jewish life in South Africa, including Jewish schools, intermarriage with non-Jews and communal welfare.

Currently, 75 percent of Jewish children in the country attend private Jewish schools — necessitating a significant financial sacrifice for their parents, the survey found.

Fifty-five percent of respondents with children in Jewish schools said the “cost entails significant or major financial sacrifices,” while 39 percent said the cost of Jewish education had impacted their decision on whether to have more children.

The average annual Jewish household income in South Africa is approximately $48,000, according to the survey.

Antisemitism remained a major concern for the community, the survey showed. Nearly one in ten respondents said they had personally witnessed an antisemitic incident during the last year, with 8.8 percent having experienced one personally, usually involving harassment and verbal abuse.

The majority of Jews continued to feel comfortable in South Africa, the survey showed, with 74 percent of respondents saying they had a strong attachment to their country and 61 percent expressing satisfaction with their lives there — though that sentiment may be fading among younger Jews.

“Feelings of belonging [in South Africa] are weakest among the youngest respondents aged under 25,” the survey observed.

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