Ehrenreich accused of ‘fauxpologising’ for hate-speech

  • Tony Ehrenreich
Former Western Cape provincial secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Tony Ehrenreich last week ‘apologised’ for hate speech committed five years ago, but the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has hit back, criticising his apology as fake and saying it reinforces the original intent. This led to a further tirade of hatred from Ehrenreich.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jul 25, 2019

Ehrenreich was found guilty of hate speech against the SAJBD and members of the community last year.

The matter goes back five years, when Ehrenreich called for revenge attacks on the SAJBD and “other Zionists” in response to Palestinian deaths during violence in Gaza in 2014. He made many offensive, inflammatory statements around that time.

The SAJBD laid complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which found Ehrenreich guilty of prohibited hate speech, harassment, and violating the Jewish community’s right to dignity and equality. He was ordered to apologise, which he did.

However, his apology has only exacerbated the issue, and created more antagonism.

According to the SAJBD, his apology reveals a “lack of any sincerity or any semblance of contrition”. The board says the “fake apology” has compounded Ehrenreich’s initial attack on South African Jewry. It says it can’t accept an apology “which only serves to reinforce the original intent of the hate speech”.

Going back to 13 August 2014, Ehrenreich posted a comment on Facebook, writing, “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 to carry out revenge attacks against the board because of this. The SAHRC found that by 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.

This was “deeply psychologically and emotionally hurtful in terms of Section 10(a) of the Promotion of Equality and Prohibition of Unfair Discrimination Act”, according to the SAHRC. It went to say that his statements further constituted incitement to cause harm, which was prohibited by the Bill of Rights.

In Ehrenreich’s letter of apology, which he voluntarily shared with the SA Jewish Report, he accuses the board of not condemning the killings, and further accuses the Israeli Defense Forces of the “senseless killing” of women and children.

Some would call this a “fauxpology” or a “nonpology”, terms commonly used by politicians and those in public relations.

In his letter, full of spelling and grammatical errors, he admits that the SAHRC found him guilty of promoting hatred with his “eye for an eye” comments.

“Whilst this statement was directed at the Jewish Board of Deputies, who have not to date condemned the violent and vicious attacks against Palestinian people. The statement is regrettable and i apologise for it, as i do not want to see violent aggression confronted with more violence. I concede that i was caught up in the anger of the senseless killing of woman and children by the Israeli defence Forces, for a cause that was condemned by the majority of members of the United Nations.”

He goes on to apologise to all South Africans for the “rash” statements, and commits himself to “a more thoughtful and considered approach” to his comments in future. Ehrenreich said he remained committed to fighting oppression, but would do so in a “responsible manner”.

The SAHRC passed the “apology” on to the board, saying it considered the matter finalised.

However, the board responded by saying it was not appeased by the letter of apology, and outlined its concern about sincerity, asking for amendments to be made.

No sooner had Ehrenreich got wind of this did he respond to the SAHRC with a no-holds-barred, rabid tirade against the board.

In it, he tells the SAHRC that he had, in fact, intended to demand an apology from the board for its “support of the violence against the Palestinian community”, and was going to demand that the board “conceeds (sic) that their attitude and stance of supporting the violence of the Isreali (sic) defence force against innocent woman and children is not shared by all people from the Jewish community in SA”.

“I don’t like the SAJBD attempts to justify their support for apartheid style conduct in Isreal (sic), that has been declared a crime against humanity,” he fumed.

He instructed that the SAHRC not copy him on correspondence from the SAJBD, unless obligated to respond, because its position on Palestine was “offensive and unacceptable” to most South Africans. He went on to say that he didn’t regard the board as representative of many progressive members of the community.

Ehrenreich said he worked closely with many members of the Jewish community for peace, and they “would not be detracted by attempts to justify the SAJBD stance, to secure the status qou (sic) in the Middle East”.

The board told the SA Jewish Report that his subsequent tirade validated the concerns raised on receipt of his initial apology. It said his apology was “nothing more than justification by Ehrenreich of his original statements, in which he incited violence against the SAJBD as well as by clear implication anyone else who disagrees with his extreme anti-Israel views.

“His bizarre belief that the tiny minority of Jews that support his ideology exonerate his incitement against the majority of South African Jewry is ludicrous, not to mention insulting,” the board said.

The SAJBD has on several occasions accepted apologies from individuals who have made offensive or anti-Semitic statements. “This has been done when there is a sincerity and acknowledgement of wrongdoing,” it said.

Milton Shain, emeritus professor of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town, and an expert in anti-Semitism, said this week, “It seems to me that the SAHRC should consider the matter, and assess the meaning of Ehrenreich’s statement. It’s clearly not unequivocal, and since [the SAHRC] has ruled, it’s for it to judge.”

Evidently this matter is far from over.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Peter John Wertheim 26 Jul
    I am angry about COSATU's participation in the systemic corruption with which the South African government is riddled, which is ruining the lives of South Africans.  According to Ehrenreich's own logic, his refusal to condemn this corruption makes him a legitimate target for violent revenge attacks by the South African population, along with all other COSATU officials who are complicit.  Of course COSATU has long ceased to be truly representative of South African workers and their interests.


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