Pagad ‘peace march’ descends into antisemitic hate-fest
There has been a chilling uptick in threatening, incendiary rhetoric at anti-Israel protests around the country which have veered towards threatening the community.
“The Zionists in this country mustn’t think they can walk freely in this country,” one of the Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs) leaders told the crowds at a protest outside the United States Consulate in Sandton last Saturday, 4 November.
“When we are going to unleash the Hezbollah, the party of Allah, they must run and they must hide under every stone they can find. The Koran is our constitution, jihad is our means,” he said.
Pagad leader Abdus Salaam Ebrahim then roused the crowd, saying it was time to “decentralise” the war and “get involved”.
“We must go to their businesses. We must make sure that we target them the way they have killed our people. It doesn’t make sense for someone to leave this country and do his service in Zionist occupied Palestine and then we allow him to come back. We must make sure that we do the same things they are doing to us. If we are serious, then we must fight however we find them. We must boycott them, we must go to their homes, to their schools. We need to be serious if we say we’ll give our lives, our blood, and our souls. We must ask ourselves, are we ready to do it?”
David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said the time had come when merely condemning the vicious attacks and slurs being levelled against our community was no longer sufficient.
“The hate-filled invective, much of it overtly threatening, that we’re seeing from Pagad and other extremist voices has reached such levels of virulence as to require firm action to ensure the community’s safety. We’re calling on the South African government to consider the way its rhetoric is placing its own Jewish citizens at risk, that it stop fanning the flames by using such outrageous terms as ‘genocide’ and ‘Holocaust’, and that it engage respectfully with the community’s representatives instead of denigrating and defaming them.”
Jevon Greenblatt, the director of Gauteng operations at the Community Security Organisation (CSO), said some of the rhetoric of Pagad and other extreme voices at these hate marches was “concerning”.
“It’s deeply concerning that Pagad, with it’s clear anti-Jewish agenda, is welcomed by the anti-Israel lobby, perhaps talking to its antisemitic leanings as a primary motivator rather than its stated pro-Palestinian objectives,” said Greenblatt.
“Pagad is a designated terror organisation in the United States, with a track record of carrying out bombings, assassinations, and other acts of terror in South Africa, specifically in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Its leaders were arrested for their crimes at the time. They have since been released. Those leaders who ordered and carried out these terror attacks – against synagogues, restaurants, police stations, gay nightclubs, and more – are the same people who have reinvigorated Pagad over the past few years.”
The demonstrators outside the consulate chanted for the eradication of Israel from the map, calling for “Death to Israel”; “Death to America”; and “Death to Saudis”.
They chanted: “Long live Hamas, long live!” and “Long live Hezbollah, long live!” thereby endorsing – even celebrating – the mass slaughter of Jews which took place at the hands of Hamas terrorists on 7 October. This chant was echoed in a monotonous refrain by keffiyeh-clad protesters, some waving Hezbollah flags, holding dummies of dead babies, and wearing Hamas headbands. The demonstration, which ironically called for peace and, among other things, an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, veered into antisemitic hate-filled language, arguably hate speech.
Before ushering Salaam Ebrahim onto the podium, a member of the organisation chanted, “One Zionist, one bullet!”; “One oppressor, one bullet!”
Salaam Ebrahim called for a citizen’s arrest of South Africans who returned to the country after serving in the Israel Defense Forces. “When they put their feet back on the land of South Africa, we must make sure we make a citizen’s arrest,” he hollered.
By “putting pressure on the satanic Zionist regime” and “fighting them on our front”, it wouldn’t “take away from” Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the people of Yemen or Lebanon. Rather, he said, “We would be assisting them in fighting for liberation.”
The CSO’s Greenblatt said that in recent months, Pagad had become more active, following a similar modus operandi to its rise and violent turn in the 1990s. “This time around, however, they seem to be more focused on Zionists.”
The speeches made outside the American Consulate on Saturday afternoon were concerning, he said. “Statements such as ‘decentralising the war in Gaza’ and chants such as ‘Khaybar khaybar ya yahud’ [an antisemitic chant], demonstrate the intention to bring the conflict onto the streets of South Africa.”
Greenblatt said that according to the Anti-Defamation League, “Invoking this chant at demonstrations problematically shifts the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious battle between Islam and Judaism. Moreover, in celebrating a past military defeat of Jews, this chant can be perceived as a threat of armed violence or forcible expulsion of Jews today.”
Hate speech expert Advocate Mark Oppenheimer said it was worth investigating whether some of the comments made at the demonstration by Pagad weren’t just clear instances of hate speech, but potentially also criminal statements.
“The test to determine hate speech says that no person may publish, propagate, advocate, or communicate words that are based on one or more of the prohibitive grounds including race, ethnic or social origin, religion, conscience, belief, and culture against any person that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be harmful or to incite harm and to promote or propagate hatred. ‘One Zionist, one bullet’ and several other statements made seem to be a call to action, a call to people to kill Zionists, being just one example. Even if it just refers to Zionists, it’s still a protected group based on the grounds of belief.”