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Classic antisemitism in the corridors of court

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“You Jew! You Jews! Go home Jews, you Jews are stealing again,” was the antisemitic abuse hurled at a Jewish entrepreneur in the corridors of the Western Cape High Court in January 2022. This is according to an affidavit he signed with a commissioner of oaths on 26 May 2022. He asks not to be named because he fears for his safety after receiving death threats.

On 20 January 2022, he attended the hearing of the interdict application brought by the Observatory Civic Association (OCA) and the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council. The entrepreneur is leading a controversial property development in which Amazon would be the anchor tenant. Opposition to the development is based on ecological concerns as well as demands by some Khoi and San that it’s sacred land. Other “first nations” people support the development.

“During a lunch interval at these proceedings and in the corridors of the Western Cape High Court, Chief Aùtshumao Mackie, a member of the Western Cape Khoisan legislative council, directed a tirade of abuse at me when he exclaimed loudly and in the presence of representatives of the applicants as well as Western Cape High Court security: ‘You Jew! You Jews! Go home Jews, you Jews are stealing again,’” said the entrepreneur in his affidavit.

In a separate text message that was shared widely on WhatsApp, Mackie criticised the First Nation Collective (FNC), which supports the development. He said that “selfishness, self-enrichment, and greed are the basis of establishing the FNC. The person at the centre of this distasteful saga is the Jew [the Jewish entrepreneur], whose parents are originally from Lithuania.”

But the encounter at court didn’t end there. “I was shocked and deeply offended by this unprovoked antisemitic outburst by Chief Mackie. I immediately approached the chairperson of the OCA [who the SA Jewish Report has chosen not to name here], who was present during the altercation, and asked him to intervene to stop Chief Mackie from abusing me this way. The chairperson of the OCA was unperturbed, and without hesitation and loudly informed me, ‘You deserve it’,” according to the affidavit.

Some of the applicants were present during the altercation, including the entrepreneur’s personal security attendant, who confirmed the incident in his own affidavit.

However, responding to questions from the SA Jewish Report, the chairperson if the OCA said, “The allegations about me and the OCA are entirely without foundation. The OCA and our campaign have never subscribed to nor tolerated any form of racial discrimination or bigotry.

“As for the claim that I responded to the incident that he ‘deserved it’, I have no idea why he makes such a claim since I certainly didn’t say that. I can recall the incident, but since I wasn’t present until the very tail end of the incident, I couldn’t or wouldn’t have made the statement he claims as I didn’t know what it was about. I can remember that I didn’t respond at all, contrary to what he claimed.

“As a public health professional, a university academic who teaches human rights, an expert who has served on national and international ethics committees, and as a former religious objector to military conscription during apartheid based on my Jewish beliefs, I think my record demonstrates that I would never tolerate antisemitic comments.

“As for Chief Mackie, he was at court to support the case. He isn’t a member of the OCA. I have no idea what Chief Mackie actually said or why he said what he said. I don’t speak for Khoi leaders, nor do they speak for me.”

Concluding his affidavit, the entrepreneur said, “Whatever these individuals felt about these issues, they had no right whatsoever to make antisemitic slurs about me or my ethnic/religious group. This was especially so in circumstances where the representatives of the legal parties and certain members of the public were already inflamed emotionally and where there was a risk of matters getting out of control.

“The type of prejudicial trope that Chief Mackie employed has been used discriminatorily against my community, without any justification whatsoever, for hundreds of years, and is deeply offensive to me and my community. It amounts to hate speech, and offends both my and my community’s constitutional rights.”

He has taken the affidavit to the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). The body told the SA Jewish Report, “We’re aware of the matter and are investigating. We have no comment at this stage.”

The entrepreneur told the SA Jewish Report that he welcomed debate and objections to a development, which he saw as healthy. “The plans for this development have been redrawn 274 times,” he said. However he couldn’t accept antisemitism. “I want to stay in South Africa and continue to build this country, but how can I allow my kids a future like that?”

The entrepreneur’s lawyer, Michael Bagraim, said the affidavit had been taken to the SAJBD, but he was also considering approaching the Equality Court. “I have had several other complaints arising out of the labour sphere where unions have turned antisemitic when they couldn’t get their way,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate trend in South Africa today. In no less than six wage negotiations over the past three months, the unions have referred to the employers as ‘stingy Jews’, ‘trying to Jew us’ etc. It’s not unprecedented in South Africa, but seems to be more virulent.”

The SA Jewish Report used every avenue to get comment from Chief Mackie, including asking his close colleagues to assist multiple times, but the request was ignored.

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