Government ‘Pandoring’ to antisemitism, Jewish MPs tell taskforce
Four Jewish South African members of parliament have laid the blame for an uptick in online antisemitism on the national government, particularly Foreign Minister Dr Naledi Pandor of the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco).
The only four Jewish MPs in Parliament – Madeleine Hicklin; Glynnis Breytenbach; Michael Bagraim; and Darren Bergman – all members of the Democratic Alliance – have been invited to participate in a global inter-parliamentary task force to combat online antisemitism which is taking place in Washington DC this week. They are there in their private capacity.
“The greatest problem we have in South Africa is primarily a confusion between antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment,” said Hicklin, “That’s aggressively fuelled by our national government and in particular the minister of Dirco, Naledi Pandor, because of her pro-Palestinian leanings,” she said.
Launched in 2020, the task force focuses on increasing awareness of and developing responses and solutions to growing online antisemitism. It’s comprised of a multi-partisan group of parliamentarians and legislators from Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
This is the first time that South Africa is participating. The task force will be questioning top global social media leaders such as Meta, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok in their efforts to confront hate during this week’s in-person hearings on Friday, 16 September.
The group works closely with the European Commission’s Working Group on Combating Antisemitism, which is also participating in the hearings.
“After a great degree of research and collaboration with existing structures already doing phenomenal work in this space, my colleagues and I will be the first South African parliamentary representatives to attend the task force congress,” said Hicklin.
In preparation for the congress, Hicklin last week addressed Jewish counterparts from around the world to help contextualise the rise in antisemitism in South Africa.
“Regrettably, incidents of antisemitism or anti-Israel protests are on an upward trajectory in South Africa,” she said, “primarily because there’s ample encouragement from the ANC [African National Congress] government itself. At every opportunity, this anti-Israel rhetoric and sentiment is widely reported locally from a very biased and many would say captured local media – in keeping with the sentiment of a state captured by corruption and maladministration – as well as in the international media.”
She described Pandor as “a virulent and vitriolic critic of ‘apartheid Israel’” and said she and her colleagues in Parliament “drive this racist agenda openly and without censure”.
“She recently called on the international community to take action to put an end to the ongoing ‘grievances the Palestinians are experiencing’ and to ‘hold Israel accountable for the inhumane conditions that the Palestinian people have been subjected to for 73 years’,” Hicklin said, pointing out that calls like this would do little to defuse the situation.
“To fuel the flames of hatred and continue to refer to Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ will only serve to make our work as a global taskforce even more difficult,” she told delegates.
“Minister Pandor is aided and abetted by many others within the ANC who are confused about how they see Jews on the one hand and Zionists on the other,” she said.
She said it was clear “the ANC doesn’t understand the difference between being Jewish and being a Zionist”.
“The attacks by Minister Pandor and her colleagues mean that many of the incidences of antisemitism in South Africa aren’t confined to online attacks and have increased to face-to-face encounters and considerable harassment of religious members of our community,” she said. The government did much to fuel the fire and nothing to defuse tensions, Hicklin said.
“It’s left to the community and members of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to act in defence of the Jewish community – or the South African Human Rights Commission.”
The four-person South African delegation said it was excited to meet Jewish parliamentarians from around the world.
“It is an important conference, a first for South African [Jewish] politicians,” said Breytenbach this week.
“It’s important to stand together, presenting a united front against antisemitism. Sadly, it’s on the rise globally, we see it every day. It’s enough, no more being bullied or pushed around. The Jewish community represents a significant segment of the global population. We need to demonstrate, by word and deed, that we won’t be pushed around, attacked, insulted, and remain quiet. Never Again!” she said.
Bergman said Jewish MPs didn’t seem to have a forum to caucus, share experiences, and work together.
“Here, we have a seat at the table and can network directly on political and social issues affecting Jewish people in their parliaments and constituents,” he said.
Bagraim, a labour lawyer, said it was important to connect South African Jewry to Jewish legislators around the world. “Although we’re small players in international Jewry, we’re enormously important as the term ‘apartheid Israel’ comes from South Africa, and we’re the people who can explain what apartheid really was. The BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement uses this analogy as the cornerstone of its attack on Israel and Judaism. Sadly, Pandor is gaining popularity by using Israel as the whipping boy of the world, and it’s upsetting because she holds such a key position,” he said.
It’s understood, the hearings will frame the rise of online antisemitism within the broader global context, focusing on recommendations to decrease antisemitic rhetoric and violence online and tackle issues such as algorithm transparency and potential international regulations to deal with illegal and hate-driven social media.
“We’re humbled to be taking the message about South Africa’s efforts and successes in dealing with this scourge onto the global stage,” said Hicklin.