The Roots of Anti-Semitism in South Africa

Although South Africa is universally regarded as a metaphor for racism and bigotry, there has been surprisingly little scholarly focus on anti-Semitism in that society. Historians of South African Jewry have depicted anti-Semitism in the 1930s and early 1940s as essentially an alien phenomenon, a product of Nazi propaganda at a time of great social and economic trauma. This work argues that anti-Semitism was an important element in South African society long before 1930. Using previously unmined sources, such as novels, plays, caricatures and even jokes, he demonstrates that the roots of the anti-Jewish outbursts of the 1930s and early 1940s are to be found in a widely-shared negative sterotype of the Jew that had evolved from the late 19th century. The anti-Jewish rhetoric of the 1930s, Shain argues, resonated precisely because a negative Jewish stereotype had been elaborated and diffused for decades. He demonstrates the importance of stereotyping and the potential consequences of latent or informal anti-Semitism.

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