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Verdicts bring closure to long saga of hate

  • Tony-Erenreich
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has made it clear that anti-Semitism – even from political leaders – will not be tolerated in South Africa.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Sep 20, 2018

This message emanates from two overdue verdicts on cases relating to leaders in the Western Cape who made anti-Semitic statements.

Two political has-beens, Tony Ehrenreich, the former Provincial Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu); and disgraced and suspended ANC Western Cape Provincial Chairperson, Marius Fransman, have been ordered to apologise to the Jewish community.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) laid complaints with the SAHRC against both men, and after many years’ delay and a protracted legal process, the commission finalised both verdicts in the past week.

The verdicts are separate and unrelated, going as far back as 2013.

Both men have one month to say sorry in writing. So far, no sign of an apology has been forthcoming. Both men have yet to respond to calls for comment from the SA Jewish Report.

There has been a deafening silence regarding the recent verdicts from both the ANC and Cosatu, which have steadfastly insisted in the past that racism and bigotry of any kind will not be tolerated in South Africa.

Both verdicts come in the same week that President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South African Jewry at Gardens Shul in Cape Town, in the same province where the ANC leadership has consistently brushed off recurrent instances of inflammatory language and anti-Semitic utterances.

Ramaphosa said, “We must be vigilant against all forms of intolerance including anti-Semitism.” (See page 4).

In the case against Fransman, the SAHRC recognised that although his inflammatory and offensive comments did not constitute hate speech, they were hurtful to and impugned the dignity of members of the Jewish community.

In 2013, Fransman, then ANC Western Cape leader and Deputy Minister of International Relations, made a series of offensive and inflammatory public statements about the South African Jewish community. These included alleging that Jewish businessmen were unfairly benefiting at the expense of the black population in general, and the Cape Town Muslim community in particular. He accused the elected Jewish leadership of being disloyal to South Africa, and of trying to undermine economic transformation.

The SAJBD laid a complaint of hate speech against him in view of the fact that he was a public figure holding high political office.

In the Ehrenreich matter, the SAHRC found him guilty of prohibited hate speech, harassment, and of violating the Jewish community’s right to dignity and equality. Ehrenreich made his inflammatory comments during the 2014 Gaza war.

On 13 August 2014, Ehrenreich posted a comment on Facebook calling for revenge attacks against the SAJBD, and other “Zionist supporters” in retaliation for the deaths of Palestinian civilians.

He wrote, “It’s time for an eye for an eye against Zionist aggression… The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish Board of Deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the people of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”

Ehrenreich accused the SAJBD of being “complicit in the murder of the people in Gaza”. He incited the South African population as a whole to carry out revenge attacks against the board because of this. In using the expression “an eye for an eye”, Ehrenreich further indicated that in his view, such attacks should take the form of violence, even of a lethal nature.

Wendy Kahn, the National Director of the SAJBD, said, “This is one of our most important cases, as Ehrenreich displayed pure incitement to violence.” She said his comments were “incredibly irresponsible and dangerous, given the context in which they were said during a time of heightened emotions because of the conflict in Gaza. He made direct threats against the board, and he was in a position of authority inciting violence.”

She said that although he was an ANC city councillor in Cape Town at the time, “the ANC Western Cape never sanctioned or reprimanded him”.

Ehrenreich has steadfastly stood by his Facebook comment about the board, saying, “Let me state it clearly that I am not anti-Semitic, and am not calling for violence against the Jews. My focus is against the Jewish Board of Deputies specifically for condoning violence against the Palestinians.”

In reference to “an eye for an eye”, he said, “This is to ensure that we take actions that are commensurate with the atrocities. The polite statements that have been made in South Africa thus far have not seen an end to the murders in Gaza. This, however, is not a call for violence, but is a call for more decisive actions in South Africa that would force the SAJBD to promote justice.”

In its lengthy ruling, the SAHRC observed that even if a clear distinction had been made between the SAJBD and South African Jews in general, the statement would still have constituted a clear violation of the boards’ rights.

The language of Ehrenreich’s Facebook post in essence called for war against members of the targeted group, and openly stated that they should “be murdered by their fellow South Africans in retaliation for acts taking place in another country”. This was “deeply psychologically and emotionally hurtful in terms of Section 10(a) of the Promotion of Equality and Prohibition of Unfair Discrimination Act”, and further constituted incitement to cause harm, which was prohibited by the Bill of Rights.

Milton Shain, the Emeritus Professor of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town and an expert in anti-Semitism, said this week that the verdicts come at an important time in our political journey.

“It is appropriate that Marius Fransman and Tony Ehrenreich have been ordered to apologise. Far too often, we have seen senior politicians overstep the bounds of free speech, and move in the direction of hate speech. Both Fransman and Ehrenreich have done so.

“Language is important, and in a society steeped in a long history of racism, no one in our new democratic South Africa should be let off the hook for using inflammatory language. Sadly, we know of other instances where the ANC itself has turned a blind eye to hostile anti-Jewish speech. It seems Jews are an easy target.

“This ruling is timely, especially as the electoral season approaches. Political temperatures will rise, and the prospects for scapegoating will increase.”

Responding to the verdicts, the board said: “We are pleased that the bodies that have been constituted to uphold South Africans’ constitutional rights are delivering their mandate.”

The SAHRC said that both men had a responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner which is consistent with constitutional values.

Kahn told the SA Jewish Report that a substantial majority of anti-Semitic sentiment and/or behaviour was related in some way to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. “Consequently, in our representations to government and statutory bodies such as the SAHRC, the SAJBD has focused on demonstrating when and how anti-Israel activity, which falls within the ambit of freedom of expression, often overlaps into racist attacks on Jews, which does not.”

David Hirsh who wrote the book, Contemporary Left Antisemitism, said, “The first hurdle here, which is considerable, is agreeing that some kinds of criticism of Israel are legitimate, while others may feed into, or draw upon, anti-Semitic cultures or ways of thinking.

The anti-Zionist movement may agree to this proposition in words, but in practice, it defines everything as criticism, and it finds nothing to be related to anti-Semitism.”

SAJBD National Chairman Shaun Zagnoev believes that the Ehrenreich ruling has provided a useful addition to existing case law that helps to clarify where the boundaries lie between freedom of expression and constitutionally prohibited hate speech.

“This sends an unequivocal message that there is no justification for propagating hatred and making threats against fellow South Africans, irrespective of one’s political views [including on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict],” he said.

Zagnoev said the SAJBD would continue to pursue cases like this to their conclusion, regardless of how long it took.

Closure in both these cases might finally put an end to growing concern that a culture of anti-Semitism in the Western Cape has been allowed to fester and grow.

Pictured: Tony Ehrenreich

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