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Heartfelt apologies for anti-Semitic comments accepted

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“So guys please don’t hate on them, they are sorry so let’s open them with big arms and let them say sorry [sic].” These are the words of King David Linksfield teenager Jordan Landsman, 16. Just last week, he came face to face with two Muslim teenagers who had made threatening and anti-Semitic comments on a WhatsApp group he administers.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jul 26, 2018

After removing Muhammad Hattia, 19, and Tameez Seedat, 19, from his Sneakerheads WhatsApp group for writing hate-filled posts, he asked members of the group to re-invite them and accept their apologies.

This followed a meeting, held last Wednesday, where the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) withdrew criminal charges against the two teenagers, following a settlement agreement between the parties.

“I felt they were genuine,” Landsman told the SA Jewish Report.

The attorney representing the Board, Ian Levitt, told the SA Jewish Report that the “settlement was necessary and important”.

He said: “I had to prevent a tit-for-tat laying of criminal charges and the potential outbreak of what could have been a very dangerous situation and a further flare-up of tensions in the Jewish and Muslim communities because of what was posted by various sides of the dispute on social media platforms other than Sneakerheads.”

The anti-Semitic posts were the culmination of numerous racial slurs on various social media platforms. These followed racial tension in the wake of the recent Gaza violence and the incident of TV personality and model Shashi Naidoo, who was forced to apologise after calling Gaza a “shithole”.

As soon as Hattia was re-introduced to the Sneakerheads group, he posted: “Hey guys my names [sic] Muhammad Hattia. I said some really disgusting and disgraceful things a while back and I really regret. I just wanted to formally apologise for all the fear and hurt I may have caused to all of you.”

Seedat posted: “Hi to everyone here, I’d just like to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone that had to see the comments I made about a month ago, was really insensitive of me to do so and I honestly mean no harm to anyone, I hope you all have it in you to forgive me for my mistakes. And to Jordan @Jordan Landsman, it was nice to finally sit down and meet you and your family, was a great experience bro.”

Their posts were followed by several others on the group accepting their apologies, and thereafter moving on with their usual takkie talk.

But while charges have been dropped and apologies have been made and accepted, all three teenagers have walked away completely changed young men.

They spoke to the SA Jewish Report this week.

Seedat, of Bedfordview, said he is “filled with regret and shame” for what he had done. “What happened was so uncalled for, so unnecessary… out of emotion. I interact with Jewish people every day at work and I had to explain to them. I have no hate. My parents were so disappointed in me, but I was more disappointed in myself.”

He said the meeting last week was “very inspiring, everyone was so nice and polite and we all expressed ourselves and told our sides”.

Hattia, who is studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand, told the SA Jewish Report that he couldn’t sleep at night, he felt so bad. “It was a very big mistake on my part and one that is going to stick with me forever. I realise it is completely unacceptable and I am very ashamed. My parents have never put into my mind any form of hate; our religion doesn’t teach us to be hateful.”

He said going forward, he wanted to help others become aware of the dangers of social media. “Social media can be very dangerous. It is easy to be misled. One has to be careful about what you read. Certain writers speak with so much passion, it is important to see both sides and hear from multiple people’s perspectives.”

He said he wished he could go back in time and “stop myself from saying those awful things out of raw emotion. I feel really, really ashamed.”

The national director of the SAJBD, Wendy Kahn, described the encounter last week as a “career highlight”.

“The young men were genuinely remorseful for what happened and wanted to make amends. Their family members showed a sincere desire to address whatever harm had been done and move forward in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.”

After meeting Seedat and Hattia, Landsman told the SA Jewish Report: “I believe they were genuine. Their fathers were very sad; one even cried.

“I’ve learned a lot from this. I was expecting horrible people who didn’t care. But when we came face to face I could see they did care.”

He said he was particularly moved by one of the fathers, who told those at the meeting that he had previously worked for a Jewish family for many years. “He was even a pallbearer at his employer’s funeral and would start his working day by having tea and breakfast with his boss’s wife every day.”

He added that the man cried at the meeting and said he was disgusted by what had happened and didn’t know why his son would do such a thing.

“People say such terrible things behind a screen, but when you see them they are completely different,” said Landsman. He also admitted to expecting to meet “horrible, nasty people”, but in reality they were teenagers just like him.

“I have no regrets for accepting their apologies.”

Members of the community were quick to criticise the SAJBD for what they believed was a weak response to the hate-filled attacks. Heavily criticising the Board on its Facebook page, some said it had failed the community by not making an example of the two men and not following through with legal action. Some described the Board’s response as a “pitiful, shameful, weak response”, using words like “disappointing, cowardly and insulting”.

Said one: “This was one time the Board should have prosecuted to the full to send a clear message that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.”

The Board countered by saying the community was “better served with actions that bring about change”.

The Board maintained: “There was nothing flippant about the engagement. There was nothing but sincerity and genuine contrition in that room. Those boys followed the official apologies with heartfelt words. We are not a community that rejects genuine remorse.”

In the letters of apology, both men acknowledged that the comments they posted constituted racist defamation and incitement to cause harm against Jewish people. They apologised unequivocally to the South African Jewish community and, in particular, to the members of the Sneakerheads WhatsApp group. They agreed that “nothing justified what was said”.

Kahn, who has spent many years fighting hardened, unrepentant anti-Semites, said she honestly believed that the young men were “sincere and genuine and remorseful”.

In response to complaints on Facebook, she said that while many people had welcomed the resolution, some had reacted with “cynicism and anger”.

“They were not in the room where the humiliation and anguish was visceral and present. It was a difficult thing to witness, people having to own up to awful acts.

“An apology is not an easy action. It should never be underestimated how hard it is to take responsibility for your actions and to face those you have harmed. It is even harder in that the situation is so public.”

Kahn said the animosity that sadly exists between sections of the Muslim and Jewish communities “complicates the situation further”.

Yet despite this, she said, they went ahead with their apologies, with their fathers both supporting and adding to the sincerity of the engagement.

The young men will soon be spending time at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Selwyn Levin 27 Jul
    I don't know what these boys wrote. However, going by the way this report is written, I would err on the side of acceptance. People and and kids do and say  things from time to time that they DO regret. In St 6, many years ago, when I saw how a fellow pupil spelt his surname, I said to him: 'I did'nt know you had a Nazi surname'. Well, a moment later I thought death and damnation would strike me down. Long story short, I wrote him an appology (coward at the time???) which he responded to favourably about a week later. I died 1000 deaths in that week.  Now, go back a few short years to Free State Uni. Prof Jansen had the 4 youngsters face him after getting lady cleaners to dring their urine as a varsity initiation. Big scandal, with all sort of demands from expulsion to G-d knows what. He said "NO! We will work through this race and rude incident". Which he did. I think 3 of the 4 students went on to good and great things at FS uni. Dialogue wins every time!!!
  2. 1 Eli Goldstein 31 Jul
    It is shameful that a student of this institution can be so  racist.What sort of lawyer will this callow youth turn into ?
    They should be sent on Jewish history courses with special reference to the Shoah.

    I am embarrassed to be a graduate of this once proud bastion of tolerance.I am mortified that it's students are such trooglodytees and lacking in objectivity !!!!

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