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Culture of anti-Semitism in the Western Cape is concerning

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Suspended ANC Western Cape provincial chairperson Marius Fransman will soon learn his fate with the imminent release of a report into allegations of anti-Semitism arising from comments he made more than five years ago.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jul 19, 2018

SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national chairperson Wendy Kahn said the outcome of the Fransman case would establish a principle that political leaders should be held to account for making inflammatory comments against faith and ethnic communities.

Kahn explained that there was “growing concern” that a culture of anti-Semitism in the Western Cape was being allowed to fester and grow. She felt strongly that closure in the Fransman matter would go a long way to address these concerns.

 “Generally, the ANC and the government condemn all forms of hate, including anti-Semitism. The problem arises when it emerges in the Western Cape,” Said Kahn.

Fransman was the ANC Western Cape chairperson and deputy minister of international relations and co-operation when the SAJBD made its complaint against him to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in March 2013.

The Board’s complaint was over numerous “offensive” comments, made by Fransman in various public appearances, which had violated Jews’ rights to equity and human dignity.

The SAJBD approached the commission only after several requests to Fransman’s office to meet to discuss his statements received no response.

In a radio interview broadcast by Voice of the Cape on 26 February 2013, Fransman condemned the DA for allegedly giving building contracts – which he said had previously been held by Muslims – to Jewish businessmen. The SAJBD said Fransman’s remarks “clearly intimated” that in his view, the Cape Town Jewish community was unfairly benefiting economically at the expense of the Muslim community.

The Board said his statements amounted to “inciting mistrust and resentment between sections of the South African population”.

Mary Kluk, president of the SAJBD, said at the time that pitting one religious community against another for vote-catching purposes was deplorable under any circumstances. She added that it was particularly unacceptable when coming from a high-ranking member of government.

According to the Board, instead of apologising for his remarks and retracting them, Fransman compounded his original offence by accusing the SAJBD of being “disloyal to South Africa”. In one newspaper report he is quoted as saying: “The Board should be more patriotic and should ask itself whether it represented South African Jews or the Israeli government.”

The SAJBD questioned why he was bringing Israel into the fray. According to the Board, despite numerous conciliatory meetings between the two parties, Fransman continued making derogatory statements about the Jewish community. He also denied he was trying to garner votes from the Muslim community and accused the Board of “nose-picking” instead of concentrating on more important issues.

Fransman, who is openly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, told the Cape Town Press Club on 10 October 2013 that ethnic division in Cape Town was a reality if one looked at property and land ownership. He claimed that the reality was that 98% of the land and property owners were white and, in particular, Jewish.

In December 2015, the SAHRC found in its preliminary investigative report that Fransman had indeed infringed the Jewish community’s right to dignity and said that he should apologise.

However, the final SAHRC report “mysteriously” changed, according to the Board. The final one found that Fransman’s utterances did not constitute a violation of the Jewish community’s right to equality and dignity. It did not order him to make any apology, nor did it find him guilty of hate speech.

The Board suspected “political interference” by the SAHRC’s chairperson, Lawrence Mushwana, who has since been replaced. This about-turn was against the backdrop of several allegations by numerous affected parties of report tampering and high levels of senior staff turnover at the SAHRC at the time.

In court papers filed in December 2016, the SAJBD said it was “clear that the SAHRC acted unlawfully and irrationally in altering its findings and recommendations in the preliminary report. The SAHRC’s findings and recommendations on human dignity were completely altered and no explanation was provided.”

The SAJBD’s associate director, David Saks, said this week: “It was against this that the Board launched a review application, which the SAHRC did not oppose, and which led to the current preparations for a revised finding by the SAHRC now being awaited.”

At the time of Fransman’s utterances, Kahn said there was a “deafening silence” from both the ANC and the government. She told the SA Jewish Report this week that there seemed to be a “culture” of anti-Semitism in the Western Cape which she felt “very strongly about”.

She made reference to several instances of alleged anti-Semitic comments emanating from political leaders in the province. These included comments made by ANC Member of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) Sharon Davids some months ago that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was “in love with the Jewish mafia” and that Jews were to blame for the Cape’s water crisis. Davids’ comments were further aggravated by ANC provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs, who attempted to justify the hate speech, said Kahn.

To date, Kahn insists, the ANC has not publicly or formally condemned and distanced itself from Davids’ and Jacobs’ comments. Neither had it distanced itself from inflammatory comments made by Tony Ehrenreich, the then ANC Cape Town city councillor who made a threat to SA Jewry. He said: “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 member or government official condemned this clear incitement to violence, said Kahn. The case is still with the SAHRC.

On 9 November 2016 the ANC found Fransman guilty of two counts of misconduct. His ANC membership was suspended for five years.

While Fransman has been sitting in the political wilderness ever since his suspension, he may find himself making headlines again with the imminent findings of the SAHRC report.

Meanwhile, the SAJBD calls on the ANC nationally and in the Western Cape to show that it is genuinely committed to fighting racism in whatever form it arises.

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