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Mngxitama will have to explain his anti-Semitism in court

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SHAUN ZAGNOEV

In addition to our activities in the media, we are preparing to lodge a formal charge of hate speech in the Equality Court. Our general approach in hate speech cases has in the first instance been to follow the conciliation route, through which the offending party agrees to issue an apology and retraction for what was said.

However, in this case, the offending comments were of so extreme and demeaning a nature, added to which Mngxitama, far from expressing any kind of contrition, responded to criticism by making further grossly anti-Semitic remarks, that it was decided to approach the court directly. It is in that forum, where he will be required to justify his conduct under cross-examination before a High Court judge that Mngxitama will have to be called to account, just as Cosatu’s Bongani Masuku earlier this year had to answer for the various threats he had made against our community.

We can be thankful that we live in a country where the Constitution enshrines the protection of the dignity of all its citizens and where the courts have consistently censured any form of hate speech.

Furthermore, as a tolerant society, predicated on the values of dignity and equality for all its members, we cannot allow any person or institution to use any form of anti-Semitism to galvanise support for their cause.

In our press statement, which formed the basis of most of the many media reports on the incident, the Board observed that Mngxitama’s scoffing references to the Holocaust displayed “outright contempt for basic humanitarian, non-racial values”.

They constituted “a flagrant attack on the fundamental rights to dignity and equality of Jewish South Africans” and as such should be strongly condemned by all right-thinking people.

By and large, the comments were indeed greeted by widespread revulsion. However, at least some of the outrage was qualified by echoing to some extent Mngxitama’s charge that because of its alleged silence when it came to hate crimes against other sectors of society, the Board had somehow forfeited the right to be taken seriously when denouncing anti-Semitism.

The logic is doubly flawed. Firstly, as stressed by our National President Mary Kluk in a radio debate earlier this week, the right of Jews – or any other South African citizens – to dignity and equality, is not conditional on their first taking a stand on behalf of others whose rights have been infringed.

Secondly, the Board has in fact a commendable track record of speaking out in such instances. Indeed, on the very day that our statement on the Mngxitama tweets was issued, we issued another statement condemning the placing of a pig’s head on the site for a new mosque in Scottburgh. Combined with this is our work on the steering committee of the Hate Crimes Working Group, of which we are founder members, and the regular submissions we make to Parliament regarding human rights-related legislation.

So far as playing our part in upholding democratic, non-racial values in our society, we will continue to involve ourselves in this area, not because it is required of us in order to ensure that our own rights are protected, but because it is the right thing to do.

* Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00-13:00

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