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Holidays of hate, but antisemitism still comparatively scarce

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Though antisemitism in South Africa has undoubtedly intensified since 7 October, its extent is lower than that recorded in many countries around the world.

The number of antisemitic incidents in the country is higher than in previous years, but there were only a “handful” of reported cases over the December holiday period, says the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

The SAJBD recorded 182 antisemitic incidents in the first 11 months of 2023, with 63% (114) of these occurring after 7 October. The figure for the first 11 months of 2022 was 67. To put this in perspective, in the United States, the Anti-Defamation League said that antisemitic incidents had increased a record 360% in the three months after 7 October compared to the same period in 2022.

This translates to an average of nearly 34 antisemitic incidents every day following the 7 October massacre and includes more than 40 incidents of physical violence, 750 of hate speech, and 400 incidents on college campuses. In figures reported in December, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said that Australia had experienced a 591% increase in reported antisemitic incidents since 7 October.

“We had more incidents than we usually get in December, which in normal years is very quiet, but that’s to be expected in these times,” says David Saks, the associate director of the SAJBD, reflecting on the small number of incidents in South Africa over the holiday season. Reported cases over this period included online insults, occasional verbal abuse, and some graffiti.

A Jewish family was subjected to hate speech and threats in the entertainment centre at a popular South African holiday resort in December, and is unsatisfied with the way the matter has been handled by the establishment.

“A Middle Eastern looking gentleman bumped into my father-in-law, after which he claimed to have apologised,” says Dean Fine*, recalling the incident. “My father-in-law – who wears a kippah – didn’t hear him and unbothered, continued with what he was doing knowing that it was crowded and that people would bump into each other.

“The gentleman then turned around and started shouting at him saying, ‘I said I was sorry, you f***ing c*nt.’ My mother-in-law asked this man why he was swearing like that at them, and the man proceeded to threaten her and tell her that he was going to come for her.”

When Fine and his wife arrived at the centre, they were told what had happened. “Then this same man walked past me and said, ‘F***ing Jews’,” Fine recalls. “I heard clearly what he said, but asked him to repeat it as I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He then walked quite aggressively up to me and started shouting at me and at my in-laws who were standing behind me. This man had a few friends who also came and stood very close to us in an effort to intimidate us. My wife eventually managed to advise this man that my father-in-law didn’t hear him, which he seemed to accept, shook his hand, and walked away. The rest of his acquaintances followed him.”

Shortly afterwards, Fine’s sister-in-law was called a “F***ing Jew” by another man involved in the initial confrontation. The family has since lodged a formal complaint with the resort, which completed an investigation but said there was nothing it could do and that the family should report the matter to the police.

The Miller* family, who stayed at a resort in Knysna over the holidays, cut their getaway short due to their discomfort in the face of ongoing anti-Israel rhetoric. When a group of Muslim families arrived at the resort, the Miller’s children initially happily played with the kids in the group. Yet the next day, when the Miller children declined non-kosher treats, things took a turn.

“One of the Muslim kids asked why, and my eight-year-old daughter said that she was kosher and kept Shabbos, and started telling them about being Jewish,” says mother Leanne Miller*. “They now knew who my kids were, and they saw me wearing a scarf a bit later and my husband wearing a kippah, so it was quite clear that we were a religious Jewish family. During the day, my kids were subject to comments like: ‘Do your parents have bombs? Why are you Jewish? Pick one – Israel or Palestine.’”

Later on, a group of Muslim teenagers and younger kids in the pool started directing the comments at Miller herself. “They were running around the pool, jumping and splashing and chanting ‘From the river to the sea’, and they were kicking the ball towards me and saying, ‘Palestine, Palestine!’ I felt like I was getting bullied by a bunch of teenagers, which sounds ridiculous, but I can’t explain how uncomfortable it was.”

Though the parents of the Muslim kids didn’t get involved and weren’t around much, the Millers, who felt increasingly uncomfortable, decided to leave the hotel a few days early. “If this is what we were experiencing from the kids, obviously they were getting it from their parents,” says Miller. “It was an eye-opening experience to see how indoctrinated these kids were and how they were behaving. They’d obviously been to protests as they knew all of these chants and songs. To experience that switch from the kids all playing nicely together until they discovered my children were Jewish and everything changed, was unsettling.”

Miller says she feels it’s important to be aware of the reality of the situation Jews are facing in the country, and says she’s also experienced an uncomfortable shift in Cape Town, where she and her family live. “One day, we went to Hout Bay and were asked, ‘Are you from Israel, are you Jewish?’ Thank G-d, there was no violence in our case, but you never know.”

*Names have been changed.

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