Business Maverick


O’Riordan’s attempt to draw linkages between Israeli settler terrorism and SA Jewish community is baffling


David Saks is Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

The Community Security Organisation of the South African Jewish community is a legitimate, above-board organisation. It’s not unlike neighbourhood watches and the many other community-based anti-crime bodies that have been established over the years.

As the saying goes, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Too easily it can lead to people presuming to make authoritative pronouncements on issues they barely understand, and getting things dead wrong.

When the issue concerns a particular religious and ethnic community, moreover, making sweeping statements that seriously misrepresent the nature, beliefs and activities of that community is not only presumptuous, but often defamatory and sometimes even dangerous.

Such is Alexander O’Riordan’s baffling and frequently incoherent attempt to draw linkages between what he refers to as “Settler terrorism” in the West Bank and the actions and ideology of certain Jewish organisations in South Africa, specifically the Jewish youth movements (“Terrorism in Israel has a new face, and it’s not what it used to be”, Daily Maverick, 11 September 2023).

Also bizarre is his portrayal of the Community Security Organisation (CSO), a body comprising professionals and volunteers who work to enhance security at Jewish installations and events, but which O’Riordan portrays as being both emblematic of and a vehicle for a new culture of violence that the Jewish youth in South Africa is supposedly embracing.

This ridiculous caricature, aside from being palpably untrue, is demeaning to Jewish South Africans in general, and is at least borderline inflammatory.     

Far from subversive

One can only wonder at how someone with O’Riordan’s academic credentials could have placed so sinister a spin on the CSO. Far from being somehow subversive and dangerous, the CSO is a legitimate, above-board organisation not unlike neighbourhood watches and the many other community-based anti-crime bodies that have been established over the years.

As the security arm of the Jewish community, it ensures that children are safe at school, that prayer services are uninterrupted by violence, crime or terrorism, and that communal events and installations are properly protected. Indeed, the model of community responsibility and volunteerism it embodies is an example to our society and is being copied by many other communities.

The ANC itself has on many occasions called for just such volunteerism to assist in addressing some of the more pressing problems in our land.

Radical anti-Israel fringe groups have often sought to smear the organisation by levelling all kinds of lurid and defamatory accusations against it, but O’Riordan at least ostensibly writes from an independent scholarly perspective. That makes his peculiar notions about the organisation and what it represents all the more perplexing.

What exactly is the basis for his referring to the emergence of “a new Jewish identity… shaped by being armed and willing to use violence to defend one’s interests” or that “to be a Jew means to carry arms and defend the community interests”?

The community 

It is an egregious insult, indicative both of how little the writer knows about the community he presumes to comment on and a mindset on his own part that comes dangerously close to being outright conspiratorial.

Conspiratorialist thinking also features in O’Riordan’s take on the Jewish youth movements. These, as anyone familiar with the Jewish community knows, engage in a wide range of activities for the benefit of the Jewish youth, from educating on Jewish culture, religion, history and identity to promoting leadership development, creating social spaces and ensuring that the youth are active members of the broader community (such as through involvement in social upliftment initiatives on behalf of underprivileged sectors of society).

They have traditionally been one of the pillars of Jewish communal life in South Africa and one of the reasons why that community has long been regarded as being among the most well-organised and vibrant in the diaspora. 

O’Riordan however, sees them as tools of “Israel and its political elites” which use them as recruitment vehicles for “settler terrorists”. In this regard, he writes about largely secular Zionist youth movements being able to “infiltrate synagogues and temples and use them as recruiting grounds for youth activists in support of Israel”. It is impossible to ignore the sinister spin he puts on all of this.

Most of the article relates to what O’Riordan believes is happening in Israeli society, and much of it appears to be as confused and arbitrary as what he writes about South African Jewry.

However, engaging with those aspects of his piece is beyond the scope of this response. Taken as a whole, O’Riordan’s reasoning is so hopelessly muddled and his understanding of the dynamics of Jewish communal life so limited that it is often hard to conclude exactly what he means to say. 

The writer is in fact achieving little beyond spreading poorly researched, incoherently argued and factually incorrect drivel about the Jewish community in South Africa, its communal organisations and its youth. DM

David Saks is the Associate Director, SA Jewish Board of Deputies.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    The trouble with many so-called academics is that they have absolutely no grip with reality and, more often than not, proclaim as fact whatever their paymasters tell them to.

  • Alexander O'Riordan says:

    Hi David, it is a pretty desparate approach to try attack me, the author, rather than the argument – especially when you make up allegations: I never said CSO is a bad thing nor the Jewish youth movements – to the contrary they are incredibly important and productive political institutions.

    My reading of Zionism in the Jewish youth movements is nor conspiracy as you allege; it is just history. Here is a great piece on Habo’s history for your consideration: (google ninety years of habonim dror SA on habo’s 2020 international website).

    More importantly though it is foolhardy to ignore the rise of the CSO in Jewish life and identity in South Africa. It permeates the community and it has changed how young and older Jews see themeselves.

    I would encourage you to take a trip to Hebron next time you are in Israel – visit the settlers there and understand how they look at people like you. To them, Jews who bother to defend Israel’s actions are traitors and weak; this is a new social phenomenon and it is responsible for 591 Jewish terrorist attacks in the first 6 months of 2023 alone.

    Israel is changing fast. This new settler identity is literally conducting pogroms according to I. Defense Force (see CNN report on the Huwara attacks) is creating an Israel that I imagine you and the rest of the Jewish board of deputies would not actually be welcome in.

    Ironic since this is produced at the intersection of Jewish board of deputies funding allocations and political movements

    • Gosh, your comment is detached from reality. Firstly, David dismantled your argument because it was not based on fact or reality. The fact that the author had no grasp of the facts which in turn reflects on the author is not an attack on the author, it is an attack on the facts which reflects on the author’s grasp of the facts. Secondly, Yes your “reading of Zionism in Jewish youth movements” is absurd as it is not grounded in fact or reality but rather your personal jaded reality and complete lack of understanding of the movements, their history, and what they do. The extreme minority of what we call “hilltop youth” are abhorrent and detached from 99% of Israeli society. The acts of violence and terrorism committed by them are condemned by Israeli society and not at all supported. The perpetrators are jailed and sentenced. Lastly, your comments about “the rest of the Jewish board of deputies would not actually be welcome in” is really just ignorant as best.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Academic qualifications are the result of knowing certain things; never conflate knowing with understanding.

    As the original article made abundantly clear, education, even in large doses, does not necessarily ever amount to understanding – as Einstein was often want to say…

  • That you actually replied to him is beyond me. Since when do legitimate organisations have to apologise for being? In his bio he claims to be an academic. In other words a shmegegge who has inserted himself into a now and again Palestinian culture. Probably has to keep a fire burning in order to claim legitimacy. A graduate of Royal Rhodes University. How did he graduate, when his research is so slovenly? Well we all know what he can do with said research.

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    Hi O’Riordan: ‘I would encourage you to take a trip’ to Tel Aviv, to book yourself in at beachfront hotel for a night, and then, during its opening hours, spend as much time as possible at the Centre for Peace and Innovation, not far from the Jaffa beaches. This is a “now memorial” to the centre’s founder the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shimon Peres. A new life might well await!
    This Associate Director of the SA JBD is a good man. Leave your dissemblance elsewhere please.

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