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Op-eds

Just how serious is this anti-Semitic spike in SA?

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
As reported elsewhere in this week's issue, there were a spate of widely publicised anti-Semitic incidents in South Africa last week.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jun 28, 2018

Understandably, these have generated much alarm and anger in the Jewish community. None of the incidents involved physical violence, but several of the social media posts reported to us were so virulent and threatening as to necessitate a strong response.

Our press statement on the incidents was widely covered in the local and international media, and led to the ANC issuing a statement condemning them. Merely denouncing such unacceptable behaviour is obviously not enough, however. The Board, with the assistance of its legal representatives, is therefore in the process of laying criminal and civil charges against three of the perpetrators, and we will ensure that these are followed through to a satisfactory conclusion.

When demeaning, defamatory, and threatening attacks on Jewish people are published in the public domain, it constitutes a clear-cut infringement of our community’s constitutionally protected right to dignity and equality. In bringing to book those guilty of such acts, we also send a clear message that there is a price to be paid for propagating hatred against Jews, and that there are effective structures in place to make sure that those responsible pay that price.

While the Board is taking the latest attacks seriously, I would nevertheless caution our community not to overreact. It is unusual in South Africa for multiple anti-Semitic incidents to take place in close proximity to one another, as occurred last week, but we should not conclude from this that our community is now “under attack”.

In reality, even with the unexpected spike in incidents we have just experienced, levels of anti-Semitism in the first six months of 2018 were no higher than those recorded for the same period over the past two decades. Moreover, and as we have consistently pointed out in this column and on other forums, levels of anti-Semitism in South Africa are actually strikingly low when compared with those of other Diaspora countries of similar size. It is also noteworthy that serious cases of violence or damage and desecration of Jewish property occur very rarely.

While we should take seriously the prevalence of anti-Semitic sentiment in public discourse, particularly on social media, and take whatever steps we can to counter it, we also need to keep everything in perspective and not conclude that our community is somehow under siege.

On the whole, the Jewish community members who responded to the above online attacks showed commendable restraint. Unfortunately, there were one or two exceptions, where respondents allowed themselves to be goaded into posting overtly racist comments in turn. There is no excuse for this, regardless of how much provocation there might be. It seriously undermines the morality of our cause, offends and alienates many who would otherwise support it and, it is worth pointing out, lays the perpetrator open to hate-speech charges in turn. I urge all members of our community to think before they tweet, and avoid posting emotional, knee-jerk responses to what they read.

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

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