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Magen David tie unlocks antisemitism in Joburg Council

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“If they have a problem with Jewish religious symbols, let them say it outright,” Ward 72 Councillor Daniel Schay said in the first Johannesburg council meeting this year on 31 January.

For Schay, putting on a South African-made tie with the design of the Israeli flag that he had asked his aunt to send from Israel was an obvious decision.

“The whole point of [wearing the tie] was to tell Jews around the country and around the world to be proud of who they are, to be proud Zionists, and never be ashamed of their beliefs. I put it on knowing that it was going to cause a stir. But the point is there should be no room for anyone to tell us what we can and cannot believe,” Schay told the SA Jewish Report this week.

Schay said that since 7 October 2023, Johannesburg council meetings have felt like Hamas rallies. “The Economic Freedom Fighters, African National Congress (ANC), and Al Jama-ah were dressed in full Palestinian regalia, while regularly singing ‘Free, Free Palestine’.”

Schay knew he was scheduled to address the council on 31 January on the development of Orange Farm, but even before he began, he was met with chants by the ANC, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and Al Jama-ah.

In his speech, Schay brought up the quote by Nelson Mandela, “A nation shouldn’t be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” This is what set the ANC and EFF off on a crusade against him.

Schay’s fellow Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor, Belinda Kayser-Echeozonjoku, says, “[Schay] was told by one of the ANC councillors that he mustn’t use Nelson Mandela’s name, he must rather use Jan van Riebeeck’s name.

“I felt that it was racist even to tell Schay that he shouldn’t mention Nelson Mandela. Tata Madiba was a bridge builder. He brought everybody together. So, it’s unacceptable to tell a councillor representing a diverse group of residents and who is also the shadow MMC [member of the mayoral committee] for development planning that deals with the city’s spatial planning that he can’t mention Mandela, especially when he’s dealing with an issue that is actually building bridges,” she says.

After that, another councillor questioned the religious symbols he was wearing, saying they were unacceptable, Kayser-Echeozonjoku says.

Schay continued his speech after the “Mandela-issue” interruption, but an EFF member stopped him, asking the speaker if the tie, which “had an emblem on it” was allowed in the chamber. The emblem was a Magen David.

Kayser-Echeozonjoku immediately responded, saying, “Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution. This is the first time that somebody’s religion and expression of religion has been questioned in this chamber. This is unacceptable”.

Schay told the SA Jewish Report, “He wanted to be right for his trouble, and so he asked, ‘Are we allowed to have these emblems?’ That’s an implication that we shouldn’t be proud of who we are as well.”

Kayser-Echeozonjoku says she felt the need to address the speaker about this because “none of us will be immune if it’s not addressed now. And the issue at hand, if I were to come in with a cross tomorrow, could also then be questioned at a later stage. I’m of the view that if Schay wasn’t white and was wearing the Star of David, it would have elicited a different reaction.

“The comment was racist because if it were someone who wasn’t white, they wouldn’t have been treated with such disdain in chambers. For me, it was a matter of principle that needed to be addressed,” she says.

“We know these people are antisemitic,” Schay says. “They’ve got prejudices. They’ve expressed them before in council to me. It’s not the first time that an incident has occurred in the council. This one just happened to be with marks on it. It’s not a surprise. I’m used to it.

“But as a community, we shouldn’t accept these things,” Schay says. “We should be stand up [against] them. Which is why we need to publicise the amounts of hate going on in government circles.”

Founding DA leader and the former leader of the Progressive Federal Party, Tony Leon says, “I was profoundly disturbed by the video clip I saw of the incident. It was naked racism, religious intolerance, attack on freedom of expression – a toxic cocktail stirred by the most hate-filled racists around in an overcrowded field here – the EFF.

“The Johannesburg City Council event also gives the lie to the fatuous interview by Justice Minister Raymond Lamola on BBC Hardtalk recently in which he said that there’s no antisemitism in South Africa. Sure, we can argue on the merits and demerits of the Israel Defense Forces’ actions in Gaza, but to claim, as the minister did, that South Africa’s recent stances, it’s exemplary calling out [and worse] of Israel here and before the International Court of Justice, and implicit support for Hamas and Iran hasn’t poisoned the well of communal relations and inflamed sentiments towards the Jewish community is another lie.”

Wendy Kahn, the national director of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies says, “Religious intolerance in a city council has no place in our country. We’ve always prided ourselves in upholding our diversity. Underlying this is the respect for different views and appreciation of symbols of significance for different people. Though members of the city council arrive in a vast array of dress, wearing varying scarves and other accessories, this has never presented a problem before.

“Only now, when the symbol was of a Jewish nature, was there a problem,” she says. “We congratulate Daniel Schay and Belinda Kayser-Echeozonjoku, the chief whip of the DA, for standing up not only for Jewish rights, but also for the basic constitutional rights of freedom of religion and expression in our country.”

Michael Bagraim, the national shadow minister for employment and labour, told the SA Jewish Report, “Should an individual wish to wear a Christian cross, I will respect their beliefs and their wishes. Likewise, should a Jewish person wish to wear a Magen David either on their attire or on a lapel or around their neck, that must be rightfully recognised and respected. There seems to be an accepted practice in the South African Parliament for members of the ANC to show their allegiance to Palestine by wearing a specific type of scarf. This has nothing to do with the ANC members of Parliament and their religion.”

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  1. Jessica

    Feb 8, 2024 at 12:26 pm

    Islamic hijabs and scarfs are religious symbols; let’s see them also questioned in council by the same fanatics with the same fanaticism.

  2. Alfreda Frantzen

    Feb 8, 2024 at 5:26 pm

    Wow, unbelievable. Bravo Mr Schay. I have a small Star of David on a chain around my neck, and am very proud to wear it all the time.

  3. Nikki

    Feb 11, 2024 at 11:02 am

    Well done. How dare they comment on that when people wear Palestinian scarves and wave flags everywhere. Plain and simple Anti semitism revealed by these double standards. People can say they support a terror group and we can’t wear our religious symbols. It’s unacceptable.

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