Human Rights Commission resolves antisemitic incident
A Cape Town landlord who told his Jewish tenant that “Hitler should have roasted you mother-f**kers” has apologised to his victim, and agreed to a tour of the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre (CTHGC). His apology follows mediation conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) between the victim, the perpetrator, and the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape SAJBD).
“More than a year ago, a member of our community was the victim of vile and antisemitic verbal abuse,” says Cape SAJBD Executive Director Daniel Bloch. “The outcome was as we had hoped. The aggressor apologised after understanding why his words were hurtful and offensive to Jewish people. Furthermore, he has agreed to attend a tour of the CTHGC to gain a better understanding of why we can never allow such atrocities to happen again.”
“In spite of this, I will continue to be proud of my Judaism, my identity, my heritage, and my community,” says the victim, age 30, speaking on condition of anonymity. “No amount of insults, no amount of threats, no amount of hate can ever change that. And I hope the same for the greater community, that we can all grow to be exceptionally strong, proud, and may we all flourish despite the growing trend, if I may call it, of antisemitism.”
The incident was filmed on the victim’s cell phone. “It was brought to our attention in 2021,” says Bloch. “We analysed the video recording, which wasn’t clear. Therefore, we were unable to take things forward. In 2022, we engaged with the victim again and were able to listen to a clearer version of the recording. Initially, we contacted the aggressor, seeking to understand the reasons for the comments and ultimately retrieve an apology as this was the request of the victim. Unfortunately, the aggressor wouldn’t speak to us. Our next step was to lodge a complaint with the SAHRC, which we did.”
Initially, they submitted a complaint in the name of the Cape SAJBD. “The SAHRC declined to investigate the matter further, citing the fact that we had already attempted to contact the aggressor without success. The SAHRC offers only mediation, and felt there was nothing more it could do.”
But after several emails to the SAHRC and continuous refusal from it to investigate the matter further, “we requested a meeting with its Western Cape regional manager”, says Bloch. “With the support from our national office, we had a constructive meeting with the SAHRC, presented our case again, and resubmitted a letter of complaint, which resulted in the SAHRC investigating the incident properly.”
The mediation was a short meeting. “The perpetrator acknowledged that he had made offensive statements, and he noted that there was a recording,” says Bloch. “He apologised for offending the victim and couldn’t believe he could have said such hurtful words. He didn’t understand what antisemitism was, and how certain words could be offensive to Jewish people. He has already sent a written apology, and we’re in the process of confirming a date for a tour of the Holocaust & Genocide Centre.”
Bloch feels it’s the best outcome in this particular case. “This seems to be an isolated incident, and we believe the aggressor is ignorant rather than antisemitic. We believe in restorative justice where appropriate, which would include an apology and a tour of the relevant museum or centre. One of the best ways to overcome hate is to forgive and educate. Sometimes, however, where the situation demands it, we need to take the matter further and use all legal processes at our disposal, such as the Equality Court.”
The victim said the incident “was a dispute between myself and my landlord whereby he illegally deprived me of property that belonged to me and refused to give it back. I got the police involved who escorted me to the property to see that he was still in possession of it. When he realised that I was there with police officers, he began a tirade of abuse and insults, and then started with the antisemitic insults. So I started recording it on my phone. I maintained my composure, especially because there were police officers there who unfortunately didn’t intervene despite hearing this.”
He eventually left and tried to lay charges of criminal injury “because it did fit the description of such a crime, but the state prosecutor didn’t want to entertain the charges”.
He then approached the Cape SAJBD. “I believe the Board of Deputies acted within its mandate,” says the victim.
“I would have preferred that the matter would have been treated with the contempt that it deserved. When a black person is called the ‘K-word’ by a white person, the white person is treated as a criminal and you will see the criminal justice system act. This should have faced the same kind of wrath because any kind of racism, any kind of hate speech, should be treated equally. In the Constitution, it says we’re all equal before the law. But, unfortunately, in some cases, it seems as if we’re not.
“This is definitely not the fault of the Cape SAJBD. It acted excellently and empathetically, it gave me a lot of its time and resources to try and assist me in getting this matter resolved. I’m happy with the outcome in that the perpetrator has sent a letter of apology and has agreed to a tour of the CTHGC, which I feel is very important, but I feel more could have been done by the justice system.”
To others who may experience antisemitic abuse, he says, “Stand your ground. Don’t be ashamed, and don’t be afraid of displaying that you are a Jew. It’s not a shameful thing. We shouldn’t be afraid to wear a kippah. We shouldn’t be afraid to wear a Magen David. Let people think twice before hurling antisemitic speech. We shouldn’t be the ones backing down, they should be. As the Cape SAJBD says, there’s no place for hate. We shouldn’t give hate the place to manifest.
“So seek every remedy,” he says. “Be it through the police, lawyers, the criminal justice system, or the Board, but don’t give hate place to grow.”
“Every case is different,” Bloch says. “We can take appropriate action based only on the merit of the incident as well as the information available. The Cape SAJBD will continue to protect the civil rights of the Jewish community and fight antisemitism. “There’s no place for hate in our society, and words do matter. If you experience antisemitism or if you know anyone who has experienced antisemitism, please contact us via the WhatsApp hotline on +27 79 994 5573 or email us email@example.com.”