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Op-eds

Threat to Indian community is a threat to Jews

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
No-one can say for sure who coined the aphorism “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”, but its fundamental message remains as relevant as ever. This is especially true of countries like our own, where democracy is of comparatively recent origin. Events on the local front this week underscored once more how the freedoms we all enjoy can never be taken for granted.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jun 21, 2018

Further slurs have been levelled against the Indian community by the Economic Freedom Fighters, this time by party Leader Julius Malema.

The nature of the rhetoric against South Africans of Indian origin is disturbingly similar to that routinely levelled against our own community. One finds the same themes of alleged economic exploitation, underhanded business practices, undeserved privilege, and suggestions that Indians do not really belong in South Africa.

While the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ core mandate is to protect Jewish civil liberties, including combating anti-Semitism, we cannot afford to remain silent when other communities are threatened in this way.

Alana Baranov, the Board’s representative on the Hate Crimes Working Group steering committee, was our spokesperson on the issue. In media interviews, she described singling out any minority for abuse as “irresponsible, counter-productive, insensitive, and a threat to fostering mutual respect and understanding”. Racially divisive rhetoric was dangerous because it fostered an environment in which hate and discrimination was able to flourish and become socially acceptable, she said. Political leaders needed to be particularly careful not to inflame tensions in this way.

The lynching-by-social-media of any public figure that comes out in support of Israel also continues apace, with TV personality and model Shashi Naidoo this week becoming the latest victim of that distasteful phenomenon.

For hard-core haters of Israel, it would appear that merely defaming and demonising the Jewish state is no longer enough. Now, anyone who dares to challenge their bigoted narrative must be punished and silenced, thereby, of course, causing other potential “heretics” to think twice before sticking their heads over the parapet.

In Naidoo’s case, the abuse and intimidation to which she was subjected included multiple death threats. It was, we observed in our statement in support of her, just another indication of how flagrantly the right to freedom of expression was being abused when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian question. So far as Israel was concerned, it was a case of “anything goes”. Those who hated it had carte blanche to express themselves in the most virulent, over-the-top terms imaginable, without fear of harassment. Those who expressed a contrary view, particularly when they had a public profile, received very different treatment.

One does not have to be a supporter of Israel to deplore the fact that extremists are hijacking the conversation with a view to ensuring that only their side is heard. It is something that South Africans across the board need to condemn, not only as a threat to fundamental democratic freedom, but as an affront to common decency.

Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00 to 13:00.

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