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Battling the bilge

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The past week has provided yet more evidence of how overtly antisemitic modes of thought and the heavily conspiratorial worldview that invariably goes with it has come to permeate the outlook of certain extreme political and civic movements in our country. Even when ostensibly concerning issues of a general nature – be they illegal immigration, gang violence, drug trafficking, upholding traditional family norms and values, or water management – it’s becoming routine for Jews to be gratuitously dragged in and maligned. This is a defining characteristic of Protocols of the Elders of Zion-type thinking, the circuitous logic which as a matter of course lays the ultimate blame for society’s ills, regardless of what they might be, at the door of “global Jewry”.

Thus we saw the Al Jama-ah Party include a wholly irrelevant side-swipe against “Zionists” in its statement opposing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex (LGBTQI+) participation in discussions around the revised government white paper on family life. Other anti-LGBTQI+ voices were even more explicit. In a flurry of bigoted and offensive tweets, one Mehmet Vefa Dag, the self-styled founder and president of a new political movement called the Truth and Solidarity Movement Party, asserted that “Zionist Jews” were “using their banks, corporations, media, and politicians to divide, conquer, and destabilise the world and inculcate hatred towards heterosexual white men”. Prior to this, the PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs) movement in Cape Town combined the usual diatribes against Israel with attributing responsibility for bringing drugs to Cape Town’s streets and creating havoc in the communities in which it operates to “the vices of the Zionist world order, one being gangsterism and drugs”.

Thankfully, we have also witnessed, at least on mainstream online forums, a fair amount of angry push-back from the public at large. It would seem that the average fair-minded, thinking South African has little difficulty in recognising such rhetoric for the unhinged and hate-driven bilge that it is. That this is so is certainly in large part attributable to the kind of democratic, non-racial values that South Africans as a whole committed themselves to adhering to and upholding just less than 30 years ago, values which continue, however imperfectly, to underpin and inform our culture to this day.

To ensure that these values remain respected and adequately protected, it goes without saying that ongoing education along with due sensitivity training is vital, whether in schools, homes, workplaces, or indeed in the wider intellectual-cultural sphere. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ own core work therefore includes helping to lead and be the public face of the Jewish community in fostering such a society. As often featured in this column over the years, they include such initiatives as our regular #MakeUsCount election year campaigns; participation in commemorative events on public holidays; and in more recent times, in humanitarian relief efforts outside our community. The Board has also brought out a number of noteworthy books and scholarly articles on Jewish participation in the struggle for democracy in South Africa, with many of those who feature in them having since been recognised and honoured for their contribution at our biennial and sometimes regional conferences. Through this, we have hopefully helped to instil a sense of pride in this and upcoming generations in how much our small community was ultimately able to be part of bringing about the advent of democracy, and to inspire others from our ranks to further this legacy.

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

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