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Open season on Jews

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As expected, the Gaza conflict resulted in a sharp upsurge in antisemitic attacks the world over. The focus of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) over the past week has been on following up several of the more serious instances of anti-Jewish abuse and intimidation. We assisted a university student in laying criminal charges against two classmates who cyberbullied and threatened him, and are assisting a community member who was threatened in a Johannesburg gym and subjected to disturbing rhetoric. We have further worked closely with children at non-Jewish schools, university students, professionals, and business people who have likewise been victimised.

Another area of concern has been the growing prevalence of calls for Jewish-owned businesses to be boycotted. It’s noteworthy that the ostensible distinction that Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS)-aligned activists routinely make between “Zionists” and Jews has been distinctly absent regarding these initiatives. Those responsible have quite unabashedly identified those they wish to target on the basis of them being Jewish. In one case that has come to our attention, a store was singled out for boycott because it stocks kosher products. These actions very obviously amount to incitement to cause harm on the basis of both religion and ethnicity, and as such, are expressly prohibited in South African law.

Such is the intensity of the anti-Israel frenzy whipped up in times of heightened conflict in the Middle East, many consider it to be open season on anyone who takes a contrary position. In practice, that usually means Jews, although we are now also seeing people outside of our community targeted, most notably a Laudium school teacher who was reportedly fired for expressing what was no more than a mildly pro-Israel view.

Fortunately, in a democratic society, the law states otherwise, and in cases where people have crossed the line, the Board has always gone to whatever lengths necessary to hold them accountable. Among those who have learned this to their cost are former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Fatima Hajaig; Bongani Masuku, the international relations secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); and international relations secretary and former COSATU Western Cape leader Tony Ehrenreich.

Upholding the right of the Jewish community to dignity and equality is the core mandate of the SAJBD, and that includes safeguarding the right of its members to support and identify with Israel without being threatened, racially abused, or unfairly disadvantaged.

Striving to inject more balance in the media is another area in which the Board, in tandem with the South African Zionist Federation and other communal organisations working in that field, continues to be much involved. This week, we have co-ordinated a united response by leading Jewish organisations to a scurrilous and thoroughly disgraceful attack on our chief rabbi that appeared in a leading weekly newspaper over the weekend. This, together with the many interviews and comments provided by our spokespeople and opinion pieces published have at least got our community’s voice out there and ensured that the media’s coverage of issues hasn’t been one-way traffic.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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