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Is there a culture of anti-Semitism in the Western Cape ANC?

  • TaliAntiSemitisminANC
When ANC Member of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) Sharon Davids stood up in a State of the Province debate some weeks ago and said Premier Helen Zille was “in love with the Jewish mafia” and that Jews were to blame for the Cape’s water crisis, she was following in a tradition of previously anti-Semitic statements made by the ANC in the Western Cape over the past decade.
by TALI FEINBERG | Mar 29, 2018

“In general, our experience with our government, and also with the ANC, has been that all forms of hate, including anti-Semitism, have been condemned,” writes Wendy Kahn, national director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

“However, the Achilles heel of the ANC when it comes to anti-Semitism is its Western Cape provincial leadership. It appears that the ANC unequivocally condemns anti-Semitism except if it emerges in the Western Cape.”

For example, she writes: “In 2012, then provincial chairperson Marius Fransman issued a spate of anti-Semitic comments which were reported to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) by the SAJBD. It is now six years later and no one in the ANC has in any way condemned the statements by their provincial chairperson at the time. Even the department of international relations and co-operation, where Fransman was deputy minister at the time, also declined to in any way distance themselves from the remarks.

“When Tony Ehrenreich, the then ANC Cape Town city councillor, made the following threat to South African Jewry: “An eye for an eye – the time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish Board of Deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the people of South Africa with the age-old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye”, no ANC nor government person condemned this clear incitement to violence. The case is still with the SAHRC.

“As yet, the ANC has not formally condemned and distanced itself from the latest anti-Semitic comments emanating from its Western Cape branch, namely those of MPL Sharon Davids, further aggravated by its provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs’ attempt to justify the hate speech,” says Kahn.

In addition, just days after Davids’ outrageous statements, ANC backbenchers cheered when Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam, a member of the National Freedom Party (NFP), said in Parliament that the water situation in the Cape was manufactured by the DA so that they could, in turn, engage the Israelis to give them quotes for desalination. This was followed by a comment by the Economic Freedom Fighters about “the Zionist DA”.

“The ANC backbenchers applauded loudly in agreement with the comments about the ‘Zionist DA’ and the fact that the drought was manufactured in order to engage the Israelis,” says MP Michael Bagraim, who was there at the time.

“It does appear that there is a strong move afoot within the backbenchers of the ANC to try to somehow blame Israel for the drought.”

Political analyst Daniel Silke says that this “trend” is not new, and that it “usually rears its head as we move towards elections. There is definitely an underlying tendency in the leadership of the ANC in the Western Cape to express themselves when it comes to Israel, and to also put out a broader message that is critical of Jews. It is part of galvanising votes and upping the ante and rhetoric on Israel.

“Polarising political debates that have become the norm over the last few months provide a window of opportunity for those who are anti-Semitic. They also open up a chance to vilify minorities. All minority groups should be on guard and call out hate speech every step of the way,” says Silke.

“There will always be attempts to link the DA with Israel, and any tenuous connection between the two will be jumped upon. This is nothing new, but the Jewish community has a right to feel uncomfortable and should stay vigilant in watching out for anti-Semitism.”

Emeritus Professor Milton Shain, an expert in anti-Semitism, says: “The Jew as a figure of fantasy has for millennia penetrated Western consciousness, and we should not be surprised that it lurks beneath the surface and emerges from time to time. Anti-Zionism has, of course, been a significant challenge. It manipulates old tropes and betrays – at least in some cases – a simple hatred of Jews. Israel, in that sense, replaces ‘the Jew’.

“It seems to me that recent statements by politicians in the Western Cape have not been coincidental. The failure on the part of political leaders to condemn such statements suggests a political benefit for the ruling party, or at least a perceived benefit.

“With elections approaching we can anticipate the ‘Zionist question’ rather than the ‘Jewish question’ gaining traction. Having said that, one should not be too alarmist. Far greater attention will be paid to ‘white monopoly capitalism’ – equally as dangerous as anti-Jewish invective, but much broader. Jewish leaders must persist on calling out all bigots.”

Indeed, SAJBD’s vice president Zev Krengel said that when he and the board’s leadership met with the ANC’s new secretary-general, Ace Magashule, last week, “he didn’t know about Sharon Davids’ anti-Semitic comments, and he was shocked”.

While this, in turn, may seem shocking, Krengel explains that with so many big issues for the new ANC leadership to deal with, comments by politicians may not be at the top of their list.

However, he adds: “Magashule gave us a commitment to bring it up at the next ANC national executive committee meeting and to follow up with us in a few weeks. He also said that the ANC leadership is committed to making South African Jewry feel welcome and part of South Africa, and that it has zero tolerance for bigotry, racism or anti-Semitism.”

From the board’s side, Krengel said that they explained that while criticism of Israel was legitimate, it always made room for anti-Semitism to arise. “We emphasised this link – that one doesn’t happen without the other, and I think he understood.”

Krengel agreed with Silke that in the lead-up to elections, the Jewish community can become “a political punching bag and with anti-Semitism and ‘hatred of the other’ rising worldwide, it needs to be watched”.

The board is certainly in it for the long haul, with the complaints against Fransman and Ehrenreich going on for years. Said Krengel: “We are long-term players and will carry on fighting. We told Magashule that we’re very proud that South Africa has one of the lowest levels of anti-Semitism in the world, and we don’t want that to change. He agreed.”

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