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EFF and Zapiro take extremism to new heights

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“Sadistic, cruel, genocidal, evil, sick, fascist, and inhumane,” was how the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) described Israel in a press release on Friday, 13 May. The political party was commenting on the recent death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, whom it said Israel had “assassinated”. It was also commenting on the actions of Israeli police at her funeral.

It labelled Israel as “Zionist maniacs”, and called for South Africa to expel the Israeli ambassador and permanently close the Israeli embassy. “Israel is an evil state which must be destroyed as a matter of urgency,” the EFF concluded.

In addition, local cartoonist Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) drew a cartoon published in Daily Maverick on 13 May depicting Abu Akleh as Hector Pieterson alongside the words, “From Soweto to Jenin”. An Israeli soldier with a smoking gun is drawn in the background, even though the cause of Akleh’s death is still in dispute.

“Zapiro’s cartoon and the recent EFF statement are expressions of an antisemitic demonisation of Israel,” says Dr Günther Jikeli, the Erna B Rosenfeld associate professor at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University. “Both operate with false and one-sided accusations against Israel in a complex conflict. Such sweeping accusations aren’t helpful in any efforts for peaceful conflict resolution. Quite the contrary, they embolden those who call for violence against Israel and against anyone who has more nuanced views and doesn’t join in the demonisation of Israel.”

“This is predictable vitriol from the EFF,” says local antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town, Milton Shain. “The scenes at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh were awful, and her death in the line of duty (whoever was responsible) unacceptable, but to move from that tragedy to describing Israel as an ‘evil state’ betrays a mindset and madness long associated with the commander in chief. When [Julius] Malema starts to issue statements about other violations in other parts of the world, his voice will be taken more seriously.

“Zapiro is understandably angered. But to leap from Hector Pieterson to Jenin is a stretch too far,” he says. “Perhaps there’s poetic license in the world of cartoons, but Zapiro could have done better. Other than building on emotions, the links are crude and the events  dissimilar.”

David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, says, “The cartoon comes across as little more than a cynical misappropriation of history in order to push a predetermined ideological position, and is a cheap and opportunistic point-scoring stunt. It’s surely thoroughly dishonest to compare the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenage protestor with the death, however tragic, of a journalist caught in an exchange of fire in a conflict zone, particular when it remains unclear who was responsible and when in all likelihood, the shooting was accidental.”

The SA Jewish Report approached Jonathan Shapiro for comment. “I produced this cartoon a few days after Shireen Abu Akleh was shot,” he says. “By then even the Israeli authorities had pulled back from their earlier allegation that she was shot by Palestinians. With no official inquiry taking place, most credible news outlets and rights groups were saying (with no absolute certainty but with plenty of evidence) that she was shot by an Israeli sniper. This fits a narrative of ongoing persecution of Palestinians by Israeli authorities, and makes the Soweto metaphor appropriate. The attack by Israeli police on Abu Akleh’s mourners had already happened when this cartoon was published, and was also reminiscent of the behaviour of South Africa’s apartheid police.”

The Israeli embassy rarely responds to anti-Israel rhetoric, but it put out a very clear response to the EFF’s extremism. “This deplorable statement aims to score points with extreme radical fringes of society that, under the pretext of supporting Palestinians, are only interested in the destruction of Israel,” it said.

“Rabble-rousers that put Israel’s right to exist into question represent extremists and are interested only in war mongering. The voices that call for the eradication of the state of Israel are dangerous, serving only to incite violence and hate as opposed to the decorum of peace with which Israel pursues its international relations.

“Israel fosters warm relations with all progressive governments, and continues to strengthen its ties with Arab states, African countries, and the rest of the world.

“As a fellow democratic nation, Israel considers South Africa an important partner. As such, Israel values the opinion of those South African people that strive for peace and are open to dialogue. Israel looks forward to continuing co-operation with South Africa across all fields, and is confident that any demagoguing attempts to influence public opinion toward hatred and violence are going to fail,” it said.

“The hypocrisy that the EFF shows publicly is breathtaking,” says Benji Shulman, the director of public policy at the South African Zionist Federation. “A party that supports authoritarian and tyrannical regimes, such as Iran and Venezuela, and at the same time calls for the world’s only Jewish and democratic state to be destroyed, is perverse and exposes its targeted hate by singling out Israel. It’s a blatant call for the annihilation of Israel, and an obvious example of antisemitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition.”

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