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Racist rant in Parliament

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In combating antisemitism, the Board deals both with direct instances of abusive behaviour against Jewish individuals or institutions and offensive statements made in the public domain by designated leaders, officials, or influencers. When it comes to private individuals commenting on social media, it has to be accepted that within certain boundaries, many prejudiced and unpleasant things will be said about our community that cannot realistically be responded to, and that they therefore simply have to be lived with. The same isn’t true, however, when such comments emanate from public figures such as political representatives or public intellectuals, including university academics. This week, we responded to two such incidents of antisemitism in the public domain, the first a comment by an academic from the University of South Africa (Unisa) that appeared in a mainstream newspaper, and the second a rant in Parliament about a supposed imminent Jewish takeover of Cape Town.

In the first case, the Board responded to a reported comment by Unisa political scientist Boitumelo Senokoane, who characterised a certain family that had recently made a substantial donation to another political party as “a Jewish lobby group”, and asked what their view was on the war in Gaza. In spite of its name, the family concerned hasn’t in fact been a Jewish one for generations, which naturally was pointed out to the paper. However, the real issue we stressed was Senokoane’s assumption that merely having a Jewish name amounted to having a specific Jewish agenda rather than a broader South African one. It portrayed Jews as being somehow separate and un-South African while at the same time playing into negative stereotypes about their true loyalties being to global Jewry rather than the countries to which they belonged. It was bad enough when such prejudiced notions were expressed by the person in the street, but coming from an accredited academic, it was frankly scandalous.

In our second response, we issued a statement responding to National Freedom Party Member of Parliament Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam’s paranoid rant about a supposed planned Jewish takeover of Cape Town facilitated by the Democratic Alliance (DA). Speaking during last week’s debate over the State of the Nations Address, Emam declared among other things that there would be “a bloodbath” if the DA were to hand Cape Town over to “the Zionists”, and that the people wouldn’t “allow [the DA] to make this a Jewish state”. He combined these warnings with claims that the DA and its Zionist backers had “pawned the land in the Western Cape to the United States and others”.

In our response, I likened these racist, defamatory, and xenophobic ravings to how Nazi-supporting white supremacists had once used the opposition benches in Parliament to rail against supposed Jewish control of the economy and clamour for restrictions on Jewish immigration. Nor was it the first instance of this individual having used Parliament as a vehicle for peddling his antisemitic bigotry. I referred to his declaration back in June 2021 when he informed the House that the reason why Jews had been thrown out of so many countries was because they made themselves unwanted. What was new this time was his readiness to use dangerously inflammatory language that at least bordered on incitement to violence. Our statement concluded by calling on the government and all political parties to condemn Emam’s remarks, as well as urging Parliament to censure him for having flouted the democratic principles and human rights values of our Constitution.

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

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