Jewish politics explored in master's thesis

17 November 2008

In 2001, Minister Ronnie Kasrils, the highest-ranking Jew in South Africa's post-apartheid government, launched a declaration calling on South Africans of Jewish descent to protest Israel's policies towards Palestinians.

The furious debate he launched within the Jewish community is examined in Joel Pollak's The Kasrils Affair: Jews and minority politics in post-apartheid South Africa, published by UCT Press. The book is a contemporary analysis, based largely on published commentary and interviews conducted with the members and staff of the Jewish Board of Deputies, which investigates broader patterns of Jewish political behaviour. The experience of the South African Jewish community in the Kasrils affair is compared with the recent experiences of Jewish communities in the UK, France and the United States.

The book also draws heavily on Pollak's personal insights and experiences. As a speechwriter for Tony Leon at the time, he was directly involved in the debates and discussions surrounding the issue.

The Kasrils Affair is the result of Pollak's work for his master's in Jewish Studies at UCT's Kaplan Centre in 2004. "The book is essentially an update of my thesis to include unprecedented recent events, such as the rise of Zuma," he says. Although South African-born, Pollak grew up in the US, returning as a Rotary Scholar in 2000. He is currently studying law at Harvard College.

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