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Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to bigotry in all its ugly forms




Such polarisation can easily culminate in all-out war, but even if it does not, its effects are always destructive.

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since South Africa’s transition to non-racial democracy, but ours continues to be a deeply divided society. One of the most divisive factors is undoubtedly the persistence of racism, be it in the workplace, on social media, at schools and universities, in the political arena and, indeed, in all ordinary day-to-day interactions between people of different backgrounds.

Jews, sometimes as individuals and at other times as a collective entity, are frequent targets of such prejudice.

It is normal for people to quarrel with one another from time to time, but unfortunately, race is all too often arbitrarily brought into such disputes, resulting in heightened feelings of offence and anger. A high proportion of anti-Semitic incidents reported to the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) involve a Jewish person being subjected to gratuitous anti-Semitic insults by a non-Jewish party with whom he or she is having a dispute (usually over monetary matters, although squabbles between neighbours and even allegations of inconsiderate driving habits are not uncommon).

There is, nevertheless, another side of the equation that we always need to remember: as much as we are sensitive to the way others relate to us, so should we be just as scrupulous in how we relate to, and speak of, our fellow South Africans. It cannot be denied that racist attitudes continue to persist within our own ranks. How often, for example, do we still hear black people being disdainfully referred to as “shochs” or “schwartzes”?

We need to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to the use of such expressions, which run counter not only to the anti-racist ethos of South Africa but go against the fundamental values of Judaism as well. It sometimes also happens that community members are provoked by anti-Semitic comments into responding in kind.

However, no matter how gross the provocation might be, it is never a licence to be bigoted, racist or hurtful.

We all have to exercise common decency and avoid being provoked into saying or writing things that denigrate entire communities, whether defined by race, ethnicity, religion or other such grounds.

Together with the duty we have to respect the fundamental right to dignity and equality of all those with whom we interact in the wider society, so do we need at all times to show consideration and respect to those within our own community. South African Jewry is not homogenous. Whether involving questions of religious belief and practice, gender relations, politics, issues relating to Israel and Zionism, or other areas, there is – and has always been – a broad range of views and modes of behaviour.

The SAJBD strives to be an all-inclusive organisation, where differences of opinion and religious practices are respected and where the common denominator uniting its members is a shared commitment to promoting the well-being and ensuring the security of the South African Jewish community.

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

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