Anti-Israel group peddles age-old antisemitic conspiracy theory
“It’s clear that the SAJBD [South African Jewish Board of Deputies] is a lobby group for a foreign regime and works closely with the Israeli spy agency Mossad together with the Israeli embassy in Pretoria. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies must decide if they are South African or Israeli agents.”
This is the latest accusation that local extremist group Africa4Palestine (A4P) put out in a public statement on 9 August 2022, which said that the SAJBD had no right to criticise International Relations Minister Dr Naledi Pandor for her anti-Israel comments.
“Their attack is against Jews in South Africa,” says one of the world’s foremost Holocaust experts, Professor Yehuda Bauer. “Attacking South African citizens because they are Jewish, imputing their disloyalty to South Africa, is the way antisemitic regimes acted in the past. Their propaganda shows that they believe that there’s a worldwide international conspiracy led by Israeli Jews. There’s a free press in Israel, and accusations that imply that there’s an international conspiracy are clearly antisemitic.”
“A4P’s discourse seems to be getting more aggressive and menacing,” says Günther Jikeli, the Erna B. Rosenfeld Professor in Jewish Studies at Indiana University. “Anybody who doesn’t share an irrational, demonised picture of Israel is also demonised. Questioning the belonging of Jews to the nation is an old antisemitic trope. The Dreyfus affair in France is the most prominent historical example. It was also a regular theme in Nazi propaganda to accuse Jewish organisations of attacking the government and acting in the interest of foreign countries. Africa4Palestine’s rhetoric comes very close.”
Bauer agrees that “for the Nazis, the Jews ‘controlled’ the foreign powers opposed to Nazi Germany”.
“The accusation of dual loyalty is an old canard, dating back to the ancient world,” says antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town, Milton Shain. “It has flourished among the far-right in modern times. One wonders if Africa4Palestine knows that it’s echoing the writings of SED Brown, the editor of the far-right South African Observer and other conspiracy theorists in apartheid South Africa.
“Its language is that of Edouard Drumont, the editor of La Libre Parol, at the time of the Dreyfus affair,” says Shain. “More than that, Africa4Palestine is demonising a minority and ignoring the South African Constitution and its values. In essence, it’s harping on the old and well-worn trope of Jewish subversion. Again, it echoes the worst of right-wing extremists at the time of the Treason Trial in the 1950s and the Rivonia arrests in the 1960s. This is astonishing.”
SAJBD Associate Director David Saks says, “Depicting Jews as a disloyal fifth column working against the interests of the host society for their own nefarious ends is a classic antisemitic canard. It serves to ‘other’ Jews by holding them up to be an alien, separate, and essentially destructive element that right-thinking, patriotic citizens ought to distrust, shun, and in general exclude from any positions of influence and authority. Given its contemptible track record of inciting hatred against the mainstream Jewish community and its representative leadership, it’s hardly surprising that Africa4Palestine has adopted this tactic.”
A4P’s comments came at the same time that leading South African news outlet News24 published a piece by Dr Oscar van Heerden, the deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Fort Hare. The article described Jews as seeing Palestinians as ‘not human’ and ‘animals’. It equated Israel’s legitimate self-defence with the Holocaust, and equated Jews with Nazis.
“The SAJBD was in direct contact with News24 following the publication of the article,” says the SAJBD’s head of communications, Charisse Zeifert. “We expressed both our and the community’s disgust, and that we regarded it as antisemitic. News24 took our complaint seriously and referred the matter to its internal ombud.
“The ombud found that while a right of reply was in order, the article didn’t contravene the Press Code, and no apology was deemed necessary. David Saks took up the right of reply. While we accepted the ruling, we explained our belief that the article by Van Heerden did, in fact, express malice towards the community and expressed regret that News24 couldn’t apologise for the hurt that the article caused our community.”
A4P’s accusations aren’t new. A4P’s statement was made almost five years to the day since the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the United States on 11 August 2017, in which neo-Nazis called out, “Jews will not replace us!” casting Jews as foreign interlopers who need to be erased.
Both statements by A4P tie into an antisemitic idea that has spanned the ages – that Jews ‘have too much power’. Jews who pursue or occupy leadership roles in elected office or other stations of public life are often deemed by antisemites as conspiratorial rather than commended for their investment in the concerns of the collective, says the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one of the world’s leading authorities on antisemitism.
According to ADL resources, “Antisemites frequently suspect Jews of holding allegiance only to fellow Jews and to a uniquely Jewish agenda. Jews are accordingly seen as untrustworthy neighbours and citizens, as if they are inherently disloyal or have inherently dual loyalties.”
“Africa4Palestine isn’t a human rights but a human ‘wrongs’ organisation that’s wrongly obsessed with Jews and the Jewish state,” says South African Zionist Federation National Chairperson Rowan Polovin. “It’s no surprise that this antisemitic lobby group targets the South African Jewish community as part of its modus operandi with intent to stir hate and division in our country.
“A4P’s vulgar antisemitism has no place in our South African discourse, and should be rigorously challenged. It represents a sad group of Jew-haters in our country who are increasingly desperate to achieve their ends. Their antics and behaviour reflect this. Our answer to A4P is simple: we’ll continue to be proud Jews and Zionists in South Africa.”