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Anti-Semitism figures based on detailed records

  • 2b-Letter7
In the 14 February 2020 edition of the SA Jewish Report, Darren Bergman expressed his concern that the “SAJBD had politicised the situation to create a sense of calm and an image that the SAJBD is in control” and that we are “complacent and/or out of touch”. To allay Mr Bergman’s fears, I would like to provide him with some information. The purpose of our reporting isn’t to “pat ourselves on the back” as he suggests, it’s a globally recognised resource used within academic and international Jewish parameters. For many decades we have worked with universities, foreign governments, and the United Nations Human Rights Council utilising our monitoring techniques.
by Wendy Kahn, National Director SAJBD | Feb 20, 2020

Undeniably, many incidents are going unreported, but that’s true everywhere in the world. In the United Kingdom (UK), for instance, it’s estimated that only about 10% are brought to the attention of the authorities or Jewish communal bodies detailed with monitoring and investigating such activity.

One of the functions that compiling records of known incidents does perform is to show trends from year to year.

The likelihood of incidents going unreported is heightened in cases where they occur in areas where Jewish presence is small, and where there are consequently no Jewish organisations on the ground equivalent to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) or Community Security Organisation (CSO). The more centralised a community, the easier it is to obtain a reliable sense of what’s happening on the ground. This is the case with South African Jewry, which is primarily concentrated in four cities, all of which have a branch of both the SAJBD and CSO responsible for monitoring and responding to anti-Jewish activity.

As can be seen from a detailed breakdown of actual incidents recorded over the past two decades, the SAJBD scrupulously records all incidents that come to its attention. These range from serious cases involving physical violence and/or threats, to an offensive remark made in a school playground. A response appropriate to the nature of the incident is determined. Put another way, nothing is being suppressed or swept under the carpet. In fact, in France, whose records in recent years include more than 13 people killed in separate attacks, as well as cases of attempted murder, a fair number of what in South Africa is adjudged to be incidents would probably be considered too innocuous to be added to the annual tally at all.

The more identified people are with their Jewishness, the greater the likelihood they will have a) the motivation and b) the information about who to report incidents to. The South African Jewish community has notably high levels of Jewish identity, and the board’s experience is that people certainly don’t hold back when they believe they have experienced anti-Semitism. Indeed, some individuals can be somewhat over-zealous in that regard, seeing anti-Semitic motivations where, once looked into more closely, don’t in fact exist.

The relatively small number of Jews in South Africa compared to other diaspora countries with a significant Jewish presence (Canada, UK, Australia, France, and Germany) obviously does, in part, explain our low rate of anti-Semitism (certainly as measured by actual incidents). Fewer Jews logically translates into fewer targets. However, the discrepancy between incidents in South Africa and in those countries is far too great to be accounted for by this. The Australian Jewish community is roughly twice the size of ours, yet last year, the number of incidents it recorded was more than ten times higher than in South Africa. Canada has about nine times more Jews than South Africa, but last year, recorded nearly forty times more incidents. The UK comparisons show a similarly high degree of discrepancy.

We would be more than happy to explain to Mr Bergman or any members of our community how our monitoring and reporting is conducted. 

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