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Anti-Israel lobby reveals antisemitic undertones

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The anti-Israel lobby in South Africa bends over backwards to say that it’s not antisemitic, but it let the facade slip on four occasions in April 2022.

The first was when local anti-Israel extremist Iqbal Jassat wrote in response to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD’s) recent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa, “Will the presidency of the Republic of South Africa provide details about this cosy meeting with South African Jewish Board of Deputies at his residence?”

The second instance was when local anti-Israel extremist lobby group, Africa4Palestine (A4P), shared a post on its Instagram feed depicting a woman holding a Palestinian flag, with the words, “Stop doing what Hitler did to you” on the flag. It was posted along with the caption: “Dear Israelis, it’s not too late to change.” According to the widely-adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is antisemitic.

The third instance was when A4P posted an image on Facebook with the words, “Dear Zionists, G-d has a nice piece of land waiting for you in hell!” accompanied by the caption, “a message for all Zionists!” It was shared 56 times. Responding to the post, Shameel Gabriels wrote, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and Auschwitz is the capital of homeless Israel. As long as these colonial Zionist settlers advocate anti-Arab narratives, I’m 110% proud of being antisemitic.”

The fourth instance was when A4P shared a cartoon of a man saying, “Ew, I stepped in sh*t.” The second frame shows that he stepped on an Israeli flag. Comparing Jews to dirt or being “dirty Jews” is a classic antisemitic trope. The cartoon was shared 42 times.

Jassat’s statement about the SAJBD’s meeting with the president fits right into the antisemitic trope of “Jews having too much power”. According to leading anti-hate organisation the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “Jews who pursue or occupy leadership roles in elected office or other stations of public life too often are deemed conspiratorial rather than commended for their investment in concerns of the collective. The myth of excessive Jewish power also relies on historical claims of Jews controlling global affairs. Jews are cast as manipulative and conniving schemers who work in the shadows to advance an evil agenda.”

They note that “language and conspiracy theories from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion still creep into the modern lexicon — in tweets, social-media posts, newspapers, and out of the mouths of public figures and elected officials.”

In addition, according to the ADL, “antisemites frequently suspect Jews of having 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.”

Jassat also shared the SAJBD’s post about meeting the president on the Facebook page of his organisation, The Media Review Network (MRN), which has been described by experts as antisemitic. The MRN recently called leading South African Jewish organisations “Zio-Nazis”. The term “Zio” is a pejorative for “Jew” and was brought into prominence by former Ku Klux Klan “Grand Wizard” David Duke. It’s often deployed by white supremacists.

“Like all organisations riddled with conspiratorial thinking, the MRN sees something sinister in a legitimate non-governmental organisation meeting with the South African president,” says Milton Shain, a local antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town. “Such meetings take place on a regular basis as they do with many other non-governmental organisations. Only Jassat’s warped mind can find this problematic.”

World-renowned antisemitism expert, Professor Yehuda Bauer, told the SA Jewish Report, “The post actually attacks South Africa, and its authors are a danger to South African society. The question is, why does anyone concentrate on a meeting of a group of citizens with governmental authority? You could perhaps ask whether they will pay similar attention to a group of Zulus or Afrikaners? Groups of citizens have the right to discuss matters of their concern with whoever is in charge, whether they are black, white, blue, or green.”

“Jassat implies that there’s something suspicious in a meeting between the president and the representative body of the Jewish community,” says SAJBD chairperson, Professor Karen Milner. “The SAJBD rejects this inane and ludicrous implication with the contempt it deserves. To suggest that Jews aren’t entitled to meet their president to discuss issues of concern as are all other South African citizens simply reveals Jassat’s extreme prejudice and unhealthy obsession with Jews.”

Responding to the post comparing Israel to Nazism, the SAJBD wrote on Thursday, 28 April, “Today is Yom Hashoah. A painful day for global Jewry as we remember the six million Jewish people who were brutally murdered by Hitler’s Nazi regime during Holocaust. It’s at this time that A4P chooses to post a deeply offensive meme, which once again exposes its real intent. It’s not interested in seeking peace for Palestinians and Israelis. It’s interested only in hurting Jews. Choosing the most painful and horrifying event in Jewish history, from which the global population of Jews still hasn’t recovered [numbers are still below pre-Holocaust levels] to taunt Jews is pointless and vicious.”

“Both Jassat and A4P’s posts show the real face of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement,” says Milner. “They are keyboard warriors with no greater mission than to find ways to offend Jews and create divisions in South African society. Jassat’s anger at the meeting between the president and South Africa’s Jewish community shows his contempt for South Africa’s democracy and its Constitution. The A4P post about standing on the Israeli flag shows, again, that they aren’t serious in their activism. Rather, they rely on childish toilet ‘jokes’ to offend rather than create change.

“A4P’s Nazi comparisons and threats that ‘Zionists’ will go to hell shows its hateful disrespect for the 90% of Jewish South Africans with cultural, religious, and familial ties to Israel. It’s also highly reminiscent of old antisemitic tropes of hellfire and damnation for Jews who refuse to give up their beliefs,” she says.

“This literal demonisation of an entire group on account of their beliefs exemplifies the extreme religious-based bigotry and intolerance that has led to violence, persecution, division, and hatred throughout history,” says Milner. “There can be no place in our society for such extreme incitement, which shamelessly flouts our country’s proud culture of respect for religious diversity and recognition of the intrinsic value and dignity of all humankind, regardless of faith or creed.”

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