Op-eds

Putting our money where our mouth is

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
There is an unfortunate tendency for people to resort to irrational scapegoating when confronted with threats they are unable to fully understand. History has shown time and again how collective fear can lead to the emergence of all kinds of noxious prejudices, usually aimed at those faced by those very same threats. Almost invariably, scapegoating targets vulnerable minority groups who are seen as an alien element in society and therefore somehow untrustworthy. In our own history, the blaming of Jews for the Black Death and the horrific persecutions that resulted is a particularly grim example of this phenomenon.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Mar 12, 2020

The global coronavirus crisis has regrettably provoked a new wave of xenophobic prejudice, in this case targeting people of Chinese origin. However illogically and unjustly, the mere fact that the pandemic originated in a province of China is being seen as a reason to shun, defame, and even physically attack Chinese people.

We are all feeling anxious and uncertain about the coronavirus threat. This is normal. Clearly, we need to be concerned in order to protect ourselves. However, when legitimate concern spills over into unfounded prejudice, discrimination, and the stigmatising of an entire community, we have a duty to take a firm stand against it. This was the reason for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ (SAJBD’s) #ShoppingAgainstPrejudice initiative, in which Board representatives, as a public gesture of solidarity with the Chinese community in Johannesburg, arrived en masse at the Chinese market in Amalgam in the south of Johannesburg on Monday to do their pre-Purim shopping.

A demonstration of solidarity with Chinese South Africans was worthwhile in itself, but in order for it to be truly effective, it needed to be adequately publicised. Our media statement detailed the reasons behind the initiative, also making reference to how it resonated with the themes and lessons of the upcoming Purim festival. In interviews with, amongst others, Radio 702, eNCA, and Africa Newsroom, SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn explained how Purim was intrinsically linked to the themes of human rights, anti-racism, and acceptance of diversity. One of its universal lessons is the evil of prejudice, and what it can lead to if left unchecked.

Kahn also stressed how Purim is also about fostering bridges of friendship and understanding between people, as shown by the practice of exchanging gifts. In the same way, she said, the aim of the board’s pre-Purim shopping visit was to express our community’s support and extend a hand of friendship to our Chinese fellow citizens.

The Board’s gesture was greatly appreciated by representatives of the Chinese community, who are concerned at the way its members are being maligned and boycotted by the public at large. We can be proud that our own community has taken the lead in standing up to this irrational chauvinism, and hope that it will inspire others to do likewise.

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

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