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Before we start packing for Perth…

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South African Jewry is concerned that anti-Semitism is not just rising, but spiking. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies this week laid criminal charges against three people for hate speech.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jul 05, 2018

In our lead article last week, we quoted David Saks of the SAJBD as saying that on average, six incidents are reported a month, compared to six incidents in just a couple of days in one week.

It seems quite frightening, but can I suggest that before we start packing for Perth, we look at the reality.

I am not convinced that anti-Semitism is in fact growing at a speed. I believe it has far more to do with social media, and how easy it is to press buttons without our heads connecting to our fingers.

If anti-Semitism is growing so fast, so too is racism, so too is bullying, stupidity, even ignorance. And, as it happens, so too is regret… after the fact.

You see, too many people don’t stop and think of the consequences of their actions, and simply Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat and then, they may well be sorry. However, once it is out there in cyberspace, the damage is done, and there is very little anyone can do to erase it.

Picture this, someone is angry about the way they perceive they were treated in a business deal, so they lash out where they know it will hurt. When you are dealing with Jews, everyone knows which button to press. Does it mean that person is anti-Semitic? Yes, in all likelihood they are. However, if it wasn’t so easy to put it on social media, would their racism be so public and so damaging? Probably not!

If they were to confront that person about it, it would be invariably more difficult to be so abusive if there was a human being in front of them. They would also have time to prepare what they were going to say or do before going one-on-one with their “enemy”.

That’s not to say they wouldn’t say the same thing, and it would probably end up being a personal battle, but not a full-scale anti-Semitic incident that affects all of us.

The same goes for WhatsApp groups, when someone in the group angers others, and it builds up into an anti-Semitic incident. Again, the underlying anti-Semitism is there, but the anger escalates so quickly when your fingers are attached to your emotions (and not your head). It is too easy to type out a message that you will regret, especially when you are being spurred on by someone else in the group who is saying equally ugly things.

Then the damage is done, and the incident is reported. The SAJBD has to take it up because it is, indeed, an anti-Semitic incident. And so it goes on…

You need to know that I am not undermining these incidents, and I am not saying they are not anti-Semitic. They are, and they have to be dealt with using the most serious legal means.

What I am saying is, let’s put this in perspective.

Social media is dangerous in that across the world, the rise of social media has turbocharged abuse, to quote the Huffington Post. It’s not just about anti-Semitism, it’s much more general than that.

As former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs pointed out at the South African Human Right’s Commission’s national hearing on racism and social media last year: “… Social media is capable of destroying the values we want to achieve as a society…”

Stuff magazine Editor Toby Shapshak, speaking at a panel discussion on the subject, said, “On social media people say things they would otherwise never say to someone in person. Technology shows human nature in all its characteristics.”

In the article on page 3, we address Velaphi Khumalo, who made the most revolting statements on his Facebook status in January 2016: “I want to cleanse this country of all white people. We must act as Hitler did to the Jews. I don’t believe any more that there is a large number of not-so-racist white people. I’m starting to be sceptical even of those within our movement of the ANC.”

To date, the man is still defending himself in court, and it is not nearly over. Would he think twice if he knew then what he knows now? Who knows! But if people did think twice, we might not have this social media racism epidemic that is hurting our community and making it look like anti-Semitism is spiking.

My belief is that anti-Semitism exists, and many people don’t like us for their own reasons, be it jealousy, ignorance, or just the need to feel they are better than others. I don’t believe anti-Semitism is increasing on a large scale.

What is increasing is anti-Israel sentiment, which is spilling over into anti-Semitism because the two are so intrinsically linked. The South African government and ruling party’s rabid anti-Israel sentiment is fuelling this.

You don’t get to demand publicly that South African Jews condemn the country they are indelibly linked to without masses of people thinking there is something wrong with the Jews. This statement was made by Minister of International Affairs and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu a few months ago, but the wound still smarts… She made no apology, and she should have.

Having said that, the ANC did the right thing in condemning the recent spate of anti-Semitism. “Our disagreement and abhorrence of the violence and human rights meted against the Palestinian people by the State of Israel, at no stage should be used as an excuse for hate speech against Jewish or any other people,” read the statement put out on 22 June by ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe.

While I appreciate the ruling party doing this, it needs to realise that – much like everyone on social media – once a statement is out there, it can’t be removed. It needs to be cautious about how it deals with its anti-Israel sentiments so that it doesn’t have a negative impact on us as Jews.

On that note, I still believe we are a long way from needing to pack for Perth. We live in an amazing country where there is never a dull moment, but it is a democracy, and life here is good.

Shabbat Shalom!

2 Comments

  1. 2 Rafi Plotkin - Thornhill,Toronto 05 Jul
    In Pirkei Avoth it says that " you should remove yourself from an evil neighbour"

    Food for thought ??
  2. 1 Dr C D Goldberg 05 Jul
    In South Africa. we have a brilliant and progressive Constitution and very good hate speech laws. If an estate agent can get 2 years in prison for using the K word, then surely the Jews and the Jewish Leadership and Community can also press charges and report incidents to the Human Rights Commission and perhaps the equity court as well. Plus we have Constitutional Court as well. Please make use of these structures as they are to the benefit of all irrespective of who or what they are in South Africa.

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