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Antisemites salute Simone Kriel on social media

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TALI FEINBERG

On the SA Jewish Report Facebook page, Nomlanga Zuma wrote, “Simone Kriel, I salute you woman. Let’s expose the real truth. Dankie. Nkosi.”

John Slimmert wrote, “Everyone is being taken down for revealing the truth about Hitler. Hail him.” When community members criticised him, he wrote, “Do proper research and you’ll find out. History is told by the …” (unclear), “Wicked you are,” and “Oh Jew, what have you done, you know what you’ve done,” with a devil emoji. These comments have since been deleted by the SA Jewish Report.

They were responding to Kriel’s social-media posts on 16 May, in which, in among a torrent of classic antisemitic accusations, she wrote, “The f***n Jews are greedy as f**k and they will wage war against countries and races based on lies and deception to get what they want. There is a special place in hell for them, and not even that is good enough for what they are doing to this world! It was the Jews that bombed, raped, sodomised, and burned all people in Germany alive. Hitler is innocent. Our history has been twisted to favour the Jews without question.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has laid criminal charges against her.

Asked if Kriel’s supporters represented the views of a substantial number of South Africans, local antisemitism expert Professor Milton Shain said, “It seems to me this is a fringe group living in the world of social media. To what extent these voices reflect wider sentiment is difficult to know. What it does show is that the insidious world of the dark net is influencing a new generation in ways inconceivable only 10 years ago. It should also not be forgotten that Holocaust denial has a long history in South Africa on the far white right, as well among sections of the Muslim community.” Shain is also emeritus professor of History at the University of Cape Town.

“We can take it that only a small minority [support Kriel],” said SAJBD Associate Director David Saks. “Most of those who have commented or responded have been genuinely appalled. Nevertheless, there does appear to be a greater readiness by certain people to come out baldly and unapologetically with views they might have kept to themselves, say 10 years ago. It may be part of the general breakdown of civility in terms of how people in South Africa engage with one another, especially online.

“Then there is the current dire state of the economy and troubled state of the country in general, which is engendering increased fear, frustration, and often paranoia, and with it a related need to find someone to blame,” he says.

“People with a far-right white-supremacist orientation in particular may be reaching the point where they feel they have nothing to lose, and hence are becoming progressively more reckless and in-your-face in the way they express themselves.”

Tali Nates, the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, said, “I believe it’s a minority. However, the worry these days is the rise in racism, gender-based violence, antisemitism, xenophobia, homophobia, and ‘othering’ in many countries, including ours. This makes Holocaust and genocide education even more important now, as this history can help one to make connections to ethical situations today such as the issue of refugees, persecution, and mass atrocities.

“The South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation, through its three centres, is fully committed to confronting hate through education and the promotion of respect for human dignity. It’s important to learn lessons from the Holocaust and genocide, and to encourage all of us to become upstanders in our communities.”

It’s in this context that 98-year-old Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal wrote an open letter to Kriel, which has since gone viral. In the letter, she shares how, “I was about your age in 1945 when I was liberated from that pit of hell they called Bergen Belsen,” and that her whole family perished in the Holocaust.

“I would love to meet you when circumstances permit. Maybe I will tell you my story, and you will tell me yours. I know we will learn that far more unites us than divides us. And maybe together, Simone, we will find a way to shine light into our fractured world,” she wrote, among other things.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, Blumenthal said, “At first, I was shocked to read her comments. Then I felt sad to think just how misguided she is. It occurred to me that it must be so awful to carry this hatred in her heart, that hate breeds hate, and that she is trapped in a web of deceitful lies. My first reaction was that I would like to meet her when it becomes possible to do so. After spending time with me, I’m hoping she will realise how poisoned she is and how deeply disturbing her comments are, not only to me, but to everyone of every race and religion.”

She agrees with the SAJBD’s approach of laying criminal charges. “The law has to take its course. My approach is to communicate openly with her to try and make her understand how wrong she is, but the two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive.”

While some may question Blumenthal’s forgiving approach, she said, “I realised early in my life that you can’t heal hatred with hatred. I came to this country after getting married – not speaking the language, with no family, and deeply traumatised. When I started my own family, I knew that I had to live for them, and that I now had an extension of the family that I lost. I had no hatred in my heart at all, and that enabled me to live the rest of my life filled with love, positivity, and joie de vivre. So I wanted to show her compassion. In that way, she could learn from me that hatred will imprison her for the rest of her life.”

Blumenthal is happy that her message has been widely circulated, “because it’s a message that cannot be repeated enough. In the twilight of my days, I would like to spread a feeling of goodwill in order to try and combat racism, prejudice, and hate. If I can contribute to this in some small way, then I would have achieved something meaningful in my life.”

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