South Africa Jewish community is facing a “flurry of viciously anti-Semitic and threatening attacks”, and have vowed to retaliate.
“We will not be intimidated by these attacks and we call on every single South African who is opposed to any form of racism and who values democracy and freedom of expression to say ‘enough is enough’,” said an outraged Shaun Zagnoev, chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).
“We are going to pursue every avenue, including laying criminal and civil charges and we are also going to the South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC) and Equality Court.”
Two people – blogger Matome Letsoalo and another man, Tameez Seedat – who wrote anti-Semitic posts and who can both be traced will be hearing from the SAJBD lawyers first.
The attacks against the Jewish community, which Zagnoev said yesterday had been made over the past 24 hours, had been made on social media and in face-to-face encounters and had generated “great anxiety and anger in the Jewish community”, he said.
While it was common to see anti-Semitic content online, it was rare for the attacks to take “so virulent and inflammatory a form”.
The spate of anti-Israel sentiment comes in the wake of the furore over comments that model and TV personality Shashi Naidoo made when she expressed her support for Israel and referring to Gaza as a “$*&%hole”. Her comments, which she said had been seen in another post, claimed that Palestinians taught their children to hate Jewish people.
She later publicly apologised and announced that she would be taking an “educational trip” to Palestine with the SA Council of Churches.
But the backlash has resulted in slurs and threats against the Jewish community.
Blogger Letsoalo wrote: “The Holocaust will be like a picnic when we are done with all you.”
A mural of a German flag with a swastika inserted in it appeared in Hamilton Street, Coronationville, in Johannesburg yesterday.
Yesterday morning, passengers awaiting their luggage from an El Al flight into South Africa were verbally abused and called “wicked Jews”.
“Every single one of these incidents is not only an attack on the Jewish community, but an attack on our country, an attack on our very democracy,” Zagnoev said. Racism had no place in the country. Every minority group was protected by the constitution, he added.
Following Naidoo’s expression of support for Israel, it would appear that anyone who supported Israel was now a target for attack, he said.
People needed to condemn politicians who whipped up racism “and we need to condemn extremist groups who intimidate and harass individuals who are vulnerable and express an opinion that doesn’t agree with theirs”, he said.
“There is simply no place for hate in our country.”
The Daily News has sent questions to the SAHRC about the issue. A spokesperson said they would have to contact all the commission’s offices to see if complaints had been laid.
Constitutional law expert and one of the crafters of the SA Constitution, Professor George Devenish, said the Jewish community had a right – just like the Indian community had a right to take Julius Malema to court for his recent anti-Indian comments – to protect their dignity.
He said there were very real limits to freedom of expression in South Africa. “We don’t have the American set-up where the First Amendment virtually gives complete freedom of expression. There are limits set out in our constitution, and rightly so. We come from a fractured set-up under apartheid where people’s rights were infringed. So people must accept that they cannot simply impose on the dignity of individuals and communities. There are limits, not just in the press but on social media too.”
Devenish said most South African want to get on with each other. “There are those people on the fringes who disregard this and have anti-views. But I don’t believe that South Africa is anti-Jewish or anti-Indian. The vast majority of our people respect each other and we must deal with those who are abhorrent and cross the line. South Africa is not a country of racists or anti-Semites. Whether Jews, Indians, Muslim, we are entitled to human dignity and that’s what this is all about, human dignity.” – Additional reporting by Latoya Newman.