Monash University
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Anatomy of South African antisemitism: Afrikaner nationalism, the Radical Right and South African Jewry between the world wars

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posted on 2017-02-27, 03:56 authored by Cohen, Michael
Prejudice against Jews was part of the political, cultural, economic and social landscape in the Union of South Africa long before Nazism made inroads into the country during the 1930s, at which stage Jews constituted approximately 4.5% of the country’s white or European population. Racial discrimination in a country with diversified racial elements and intense political complexities was synonymous with life in the Union long before Apartheid, with its strictly enforced legal, political and economic segregation, became the country’s official policy with the accession to power of the National Party under Prime Minister Dr Daniel François Malan in May 1948. Although the Jews, while maintaining their own sub-cultural identity, were classified within the country’s racial hierarchy as part of the privileged white minority, the emergence of recurrent anti-Jewish stereotypes and themes became manifest in a country permeated by the ideology of race and white superiority. This was exacerbated by the growth of a powerful Afrikaner nationalist movement, underpinned by conservative Calvinist theology. Fear of Communism in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the First World War; disquiet over the arrival of what was seen as disproportionately large numbers of Jewish immigrants during the 1920s; and the effects of the severe world-wide economic depression after the Wall Street stock market crash in October 1929, set the scene for an unprecedented period of antisemitic activity. This was reflected, in part, in legislation aimed at curbing Jewish immigration and the emergence of several antisemitic movements. This dissertation, which covers the period between the First and Second World Wars, explores the perception that South African antisemitism was a foreign import. Based on an examination of archival sources and contemporary publications, the study concludes that prejudice against the Jews was evident in the weltanschauung of right-wing and extremist Afrikaner nationalists long before the influence of Nazism became apparent and was not dependent on the influence of Nazi propagandists in the country. Aggressive Afrikaner nationalism along with economic antisemitism characterised the years between the end of the Great Depression and the outbreak of the Second World War. Antisemitism became a significant issue in elections and towards the end of the 1930s opposition to Jewish immigration was included as an official plank in the political platform of the opposition Purified National Party. Jews were also banned from party membership in the Transvaal, where most Jews resided. Attempts by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and its affiliates together with several non-Jewish organisations to counter the increasing influence of antisemitism, principally among the Right and Radical Right in the ranks of the Afrikaner nationalists, also marked the inter bellum period on which this study focuses.


Principal supervisor

Andrew Markus

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School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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