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The Jewish Report Editorial

Justice is served – hate speech is not okay

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It took 13 years to get the highest court in the land to demand that former Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) leader Bongani Masuku apologise to the South African Jewish community for his antisemitic hate speech.

Thirteen years is a long time to fight any case and, all along, there was an unrepentant man who refused to accept that what he said was hate speech.

I won’t go over the things he said because putting it to paper again makes me quite sick. Suffice to say, it was ugly and you can read it in the story on page 1.

Whether he abides by the Constitutional Court judges or not is still to be seen, however the fact that he has been ordered to do so has, indeed, inspired much faith in our legal system.

In a number of recent cases, there seems to be a slight bias in favour of those who are unashamedly Israel haters. The most recent example is that of former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who was ordered to apologise for something he said that was construed to be pro-Israel and political when it was really so much more about calling for peace and love for all. But then, that’s how I read it. Others clearly differed, and he was forced to make an apology.

In an interview that was aired on eNCA after his apology, Mogoeng said he still believed that he said nothing contrary to government policy on Israel (which is what was raised in his appeal). But as a judge, he complied with the court order.

With regard to Masuku, whose statements represent the other extreme – ugly, hatemongering speech – his case has been taken through a number of courts. The appeals court dismissed his guilty verdict, but this has now been overturned by the Constitutional Court.

It’s a relief, and I can only imagine the sighs of satisfaction in the offices of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as it took on this mammoth task, seeing it through to what I hope is now the end.

I also hope that it sets a precedent that will ensure those who want to mouth off about Jews and spew hatred towards us think twice before doing so. Hopefully, if they aren’t discouraged, we now have a legal path to ensure they don’t get away with it.

This “othering”, in other words separating people and making out that they are less than you are, is unacceptable on every level. Whether it’s directed against Jews, black people, Muslims, Chinese, women, or any LGBTQ+ folk, it’s never okay. It’s unnecessary, and speaks volumes about the people who insist on spewing hatred, not the people being spoken about.

I remember many years back, someone asked me if Italians come from Italy, and Greeks come from Greece, where do Jews come from?

I battled to answer, because although Israel is a Jewish State, most of my family is from Lithuania and I have two grandparents who were born here. So, I’m fourth-generation South African, which makes me as much a part of this country as anyone else.

However, this same person then went on to suggest that us Jews should go back where we belong.

I can assure you this person didn’t get away with their comments, but it did leave me taking stock of the Jewish community’s contribution to South Africa. At the time, it was immense. It’s even bigger now.

And though it’s true that Jews’ contribution to the economy is great because of our natural entrepreneurial and business acumen, that’s just scratching the surface.

This isn’t a brag session, I’m just trying to set the record straight on our priorities and our dedication to this country and its people.

While most of us have a genuine love and support of Israel, this is our home, and we’re committed to doing what we can to develop and improve it. This includes helping to uplift all South Africans.

This week, we found out about the contribution that individuals in the community and Jewish leaders have made to ensure that young students are able to continue studying, with their university registration paid. Nobody called on our community to do this. It’s something individuals and leaders have chosen to do off their own bat.

Could it genuinely have resulted in the cessation of protest marches, which have led to violence and vandalism in the past? I cannot say for sure, however, there haven’t been the almost annual protests at universities this year.

Those being helped aren’t Jewish. They aren’t necessarily close to our community either. They’re just students, who may or may not like the Jewish community. They may or may not get involved in Israel Apartheid Week. They may have strong opinions about Israel. Who knows?

The point is that nobody was asked what they felt, they were just helped. Such is the strength of commitment to this country and its people.

Such is our commitment to educating our South African nation. Such is our commitment to uplifting those in need. Such is our commitment to South Africa as a whole.

In this week’s newspaper, we introduce you to another inspiring South African. Adam Levy is passionate about bringing people back to the city. He and many others are improving the Johannesburg city centre, doing their best to make it trendy and enticing to the young and fabulous. This is an amazing contribution.

Then, we look across this page at the op-ed by Lisa Klein, who makes it so clear what we can do to help create jobs. We can do it, and in so doing, we will once again be improving our country.

As we do that, we’ll be inspired to do more. That’s what happens when you help others.

Having said all that, when the Masukus of this world feel they can demean us and inspire hatred towards us, they really should remember that we are as much a part of this country as they are.

Shabbat shalom!

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