‘Hear no antisemitism, see no antisemitism’
The last person in government one would expect to declare publicly that there’s “no antisemitism in South Africa” and that claims of antisemitic incidents in the country having risen sharply in recent months weren’t “based on any facts” would be the minister of justice. That, however, was precisely what Ronald Lamola stated during an interview on BBC HARDtalk last week. Had he chosen to do so, Lamola could easily have acquainted himself with the facts he mentions. Indeed, only the previous month, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) met President Cyril Ramaphosa and gave him a thorough briefing on the issue. Lamola’s neglect to do so is arguably already to his discredit given the kind of position he holds, but it was presuming to make definitive pronouncements on the matter in spite of his obvious ignorance that was so objectionable. Worst of all, though, was how the minister casually disregarded the voices of the very people directly impacted by the issue – this country’s Jewish citizens.
Following Lamola’s comments, the Board was again deluged with enquiries from the media seeking to ascertain the true position. It was an opportunity for us to educate the public at large about what can be considered antisemitism, the different ways it can manifest, and what the SAJBD does to monitor, investigate, and where necessary, respond to incidents of that nature. From the kind of online comments that predominated, there’s obviously a general lack of awareness of anti-Jewish prejudice in our society. What was more surprising and disquieting was the aggressive scepticism expressed by a great many of those weighing in on the subject, including even certain seasoned journalists. We’ve become accustomed, unfortunately, to claims that Jews purposefully fabricate antisemitism charges to further their own immoral agenda, and of course, we saw a great deal of that on this occasion. Beyond those discredited voices, however, was the flat refusal of many others even to countenance the notion that levels of antisemitism in South Africa had indeed increased, to the point of those claiming otherwise being charged with disloyalty.
In our media statement, interviews, and published articles, we made sure to set the record straight, showing with reference to meticulously compiled records and statistics how antisemitic incidents in South Africa had spiked over the past three months. This, I emphasised, shouldn’t have been dismissed by either Lamola, under whose ministry these incidents will be prosecuted where appropriate, nor by the journalists, who mocked the very possibility. At the same time, we made sure to stress that in relative terms, these antisemitism statistics remain significantly lower than other countries, largely due, in our view, to the lack of anti-Jewish sentiment among the majority of peace loving South Africans, who reject intolerance and hatred.
Election season returns
With the imminent announcement of the date of the 2024 national and provincial elections, the Board has, as in previous years, been conducting a voter-registration drive encouraging locals and expatriates to check that they are on the voters roll and that their details are correct. One of the slogans we’ve adopted is, “Vote for a South Africa you can believe in.” Another is, “You can’t kvetch until you check.” The message is that the future is in our own hands and if we citizens of this country want change, it’s up to us to use our democratic rights to bring this about. We urge everyone – particularly first-time voters – to go to registertovote.elections.org.za.
- Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.