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Op-eds

Why are our diplomats and ministers repeating the anti-Semitic lie?

  • Milton
Political commentators have been justifiably outraged by Julius Malema’s latest salvo against South African Indians. The Economic Freedom Fighters leader has essentialised a group of people and ascribed to them racially prejudicial attitudes.
by MILTON SHAIN | Jul 19, 2018

Generalising in this way can only be dangerous.

Surprisingly, only one person has, to my knowledge, commented on an equally ugly statement – this time, alluded to in a report in the Sunday Times (“Tensions over downgrading SA’s embassy in Israel,” 17 June) in which it was claimed that South African diplomats have warned against our government downgrading its ties with Israel because “a large part of the global economy was in Jewish hands and the implementation of the [ANC] resolution [to downgrade ties] might not bode well for South Africa’s bid to attract global investment”.

Roshan Dadoo, in a letter to the Sunday Times (1 July), is surely correct to note the anti-Semitic nature of the comments attributed to the diplomats.

It is extremely disturbing to know that this sort of thinking still has currency, especially among educated people trained to build bridges and defend our interests.

Surely, diplomats are not unaware that they are plugging into an old canard that had ugly and murderous consequences?

They should know that Jews number less than one-fifth of 1% of the global population and can hardly be described as controlling “a large part of the global economy”.

This is sheer fantasy and echoes the worst of European anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries: Alphonse Toussenel, editor of the anti-Semitic journal Phalange; Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who called Jews the “enemy of mankind; Edouard Drumont, editor of the Jew-hating La Libre Parole, and Julius Streicher, founder and publisher of the virulently anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer.

South Africa’s radical rightists of the 1930s and ’40s also feared the “cosmopolitan” Jew, who they alleged was pulling the global financial strings. Fascists such as Louis Weichardt, the leader of the Greyshirts, played on the idea of Jewish power rooted in financial control, as did the burgeoning National Party under DF Malan in the late 1930s.

If quoted correctly, our diplomats have bought into this world of fantasy and are voicing ideas found in the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous fabrication concocted by the Tsarist secret police in the 1890s.

Based on a French political satirical pamphlet compiled in the 1860s against Napoleon III and a German anti-Semitic novel, Biarritz, written by Hermann Gödsche, the Protocols claimed that Jews had been plotting the destruction of Christendom and its replacement with a totalitarian utopia controlled by Jews.

Initially, the Protocols was relatively obscure. However, in the wake of the Russian Revolution and fleeing White Russians during Russia’s civil war, its noxious ideas percolated into the West. Notwithstanding their exposure as a crude forgery by the (London) Times in 1921, the Protocols attracted enormous readership. It spread throughout the English-speaking world, including South Africa where, in the famous “Greyshirt Trial”, they were deemed a fabrication by the Eastern Districts Local Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa.

The Protocols publication was translated into many languages. Thirty-three German editions appeared before Hitler came to power. The mythological Protocols rapidly became a standard text in the arsenal of anti-Jewish propaganda. Ultimately, they served, in the words of the historian Norman Cohn, as a “Warrant for Genocide”.

To this day, the Protocols is widely available, particularly in ultra-right wing circles and the Arab world.

Our diplomats, it seems, share this long-standing anti-Semitic fantasy. One wonders if they – and our International Relations and Cooperations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu – recall the dressing-down a former deputy foreign minister, Fatima Hajaig, received from former president Kgalema Motlanthe after she had told a rally in Lenasia in 2009 that “Jewish money” controlled America and most Western European countries.

Her conspiratorial thinking appears to constitute part of the fabric of our foreign service.

If reported correctly, our diplomats and ministers may need to avail themselves of the fantasies driving anti-Semitism, and especially the ideas that drove the Protocols.

  • Milton Shain is emeritus professor in the department of historical studies at UCT.
  • This article was first published on Times Select.

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