Op-eds

Turning back the tide of hate

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
South Africa is hardly the only democratic country grappling with the problems of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry. That much was made clear during a roundtable discussion on combating hate held under the auspices of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre this week.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Aug 01, 2019

Participants included the centre’s director, Tali Nates, South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Vice-Chairman Karen Milner and National Director Wendy Kahn, former German Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin, and Shanelle van der Berg, representing the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). It was an engaging discussion, but also a sobering one. Throughout the free world, hate crimes are on the increase, with a strikingly high proportion of them – in Europe, North America and elsewhere – being motivated by anti-Semitism.

To a great extent, the problem is being fuelled by toxic discourse in social media combined with inflammatory statements by public representatives. Falling into both categories are the threatening and abusive comments made by then Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) Western Cape chairman Tony Ehrenreich about the SAJBD.

Ehrenreich was directed by the SAHRC to furnish the SAJBD with a written apology for his comments. However, when the apology was finally made, it turned out to be a brazen attempt on his part to justify his unacceptable conduct, in part by repeating his calumnies against the SAJBD, and we had no hesitation in rejecting it.

Our right to speak out publicly on Israel’s behalf without being subjected to the kind of threats and vicious abuse that Ehrenreich has been guilty of is non-negotiable, and we have no intention of being fobbed off by a back-handed “apology” that in reality, merely repeats the original offence. We will continue to pursue the matter with the SAHRC.

Congratulations to new SAZF leadership

Congratulations to Rowan Polovin on his election as national chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) together with all the other new office bearers. I wish them success in taking this venerable communal organisation forward over the next four years.

Polovin has served with distinction as chairman of the Western Province regional branch, and in recent years, the board has worked closely with him in addressing a number of issues of common concern to our respective organisations.

We were further delighted that Benji Shulman was presented with a special award at the conference for multiple services to the local Zionist cause.

The board’s association with Shulman goes back more than ten years, when he was chairman of the South African Union of Jewish Students, and since then, we have worked with him regularly, most notably in the hate-speech case against Cosatu’s Bongani Masuku. Shulman was our main witness in the case when it came before the Equality Court, and acquitted himself with the same courage and quiet dignity he displayed, often in exceptionally difficult circumstances, when he represented our Jewish students on campus. We congratulate him on this well-deserved acknowledgement.

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

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