South Africa’s chief rabbi tells AIPAC African countries could be key allies to U.S., Israel

‘One’s got to distinguish between the South African government and the South African people. And actually, within the South African people, there’s a lot of potential allies,’ Rabbi Warren Goldstein said


Chief Rabbi of South Africa Rabbi Warren Goldstein

Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, addressed an AIPAC leadership summit in Washington, D.C., this week with a forward-looking message, casting South Africa and other African nations as potential key partners for Israel and the U.S. going forward, in spite of the current South African government’s hostility toward Israel and alignment with authoritarian powers. 

In his speech, Goldstein compared South Africa’s government to Hamas, describing it as a “diplomatic proxy” of Iran carrying out “the diplomatic equivalent of the Oct. 7 attacks” in its pursuit of a genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

He argued that this “diplomatic war of delegitimization” is “ultimately the most serious national security threat facing Israel,” because it could “turn Western opinion against the Jewish state, forcing it into self-destructive negotiations with its enemies through which it might be slowly dismembered or, left without the means or support to defend itself, simply overrun.”

Speaking to Jewish Insider, Goldstein described the case and South Africa’s alignment with Iran and other dictatorships as a betrayal of South Africa’s values and the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Nevertheless, the South African rabbi told the AIPAC crowd that diplomatic alliances among African nations, Israel and the U.S., are the best way to counter delegitimization efforts.

“The way to counter the diplomatic war against Israel is to build alliances,” Goldstein told the AIPAC activists. “And Africa, a continent with more than 50 votes on global fora, with a young and growing population, with huge potential economic growth, where 600 million Christians, the largest such community in the world on one continent, who understand firsthand what it means to be attacked by Jihadi terror groups — can, in the long run, become a more reliable ally for Israel and America, than even Europe.”

Such relationships, he said, can begin with “much stronger institutional ties” among faith communities in Africa, Israel and pro-Israel Americans.

He told JI he addressed AIPAC because it’s “all of our responsibility” to push to include South Africa and other African nations in relationships with Israel and the U.S., “because that is going to make the world a much safer and better place.”

Goldstein was careful to emphasize that antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment are not widespread among the South African public — rather, he argued, they’re driven by the ruling African National Congress. 

“It was really a message to say that now’s not the time to disengage from South Africa,” Goldstein told JI. “One’s got to distinguish between the South African government and the South African people. And actually, within the South African people, there’s a lot of potential allies.”

South Africa, the rabbi emphasized, has low rates of antisemitic incidents in its society at large — “hostile government, welcoming people,” he explained. And he said that Israel is not an electoral or political issue in South Africa. On the contrary, he cited polling suggesting that the ICJ case might be politically damaging to the South African government and it has “no mandate” from the public for pursuing the prosecution.

As some U.S. lawmakers push to diplomatically rebuke South Africa for its attacks against Israel, Goldstein told JI the U.S. should “think about a broader question, and that is how does it build deep alliances in South Africa and in Africa” as jihadi groups, Russia and China make efforts to grow across the continent.

“We need the forces of democracy to be strengthened, and the continent and the United States needs to lead that,” Goldstein said. “And it will be very warmly received by South Africans and Africans.”

Goldstein said he also sought to draw attention to the growth of Islamist terrorist activity across Africa, which he described in his AIPAC speech as “one of the most unnoticed stories in the world today,” and linking that threat to Iran and Hamas. He said that this shared enemy should serve as a connecting thread between Israel and its allies in Africa. 

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.