Right-wing anti-Semitism on the rise in South Africa
The recent brouhaha involving comedian and satirist Deep Fried Man, aka Daniel Friedman, was an ugly wake-up call for many in the community that hardcore neo-Nazi sentiment is rearing its sinister head for all to see on social media platforms.
But while the numbers of such verbal abuse may be on the increase, it is nowhere near the anti-Semitism experienced in Europe and elsewhere.
Friedman was falsely accused of making fun of farm murders in a video he produced which was later altered and distorted by someone – an Afrikaner-rights activist – allegedly bearing a grudge against him. This ignited a loathsome flurry of right-wing anti-Semitism online, which led to the Jewish performer fearing for his life and taking himself off social media.
Among the many comments sent to Friedman, one read: “You are Jew scum and like 99.9% of you oxygen thieves don’t belong on this planet. Hope you get lynched by a hoard of black savages and your balls cut off and placed in your mouth. SIEG HEIL!”
Another wrote: “Pity his parents missed the train and the showers!!!!!!!!”
These are a mere smattering of examples.
In response, Wendy Kahn, the National Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) told the SA Jewish Report, “We have not witnessed such a spate of right-wing anti-Semitism for a long time.”
While Kahn says she has seen far larger numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, these were mostly related to anti-Israel sentiment, not traditional anti-Semitism.
“What differentiated this Deep Fried Man incident was that it contained neo-Nazi and right-wing anti-Semitism targeting our community.”
When Kahn spoke at a conference in Geneva last year on monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism, she said the trend in South Africa was mostly related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
In recent months, however, there have been a number of incidents which have clearly demonstrated right-wing, anti-Jewish sentiment. “It’s on the rise,” anti-Semitism expert David Saks told the SA Jewish Report this week.
“After the 1994 transition, the white right was shocked and demoralised, and little was heard from them for a number of years. The emergence of the internet and social media has provided effective new platforms for them,” he said.
“Today, the post-1994 spirit of inclusivity, reconciliation, and anti-racism has unravelled and the state of the country, combined with the upsurge in vengeful anti-white rhetoric and fears about crime and proposed land seizures, has given rise to a renewed sense of anger and paranoia. This has created fertile ground for the resurgence of anti-Jewish conspiracies as people look for someone to blame.
“The rhetoric around Jewish leftists and liberals polluting the blood of the white race and manipulating their downfall resonates much more strongly here,” said Saks.
“The fact that so high a proportion of Jews were involved in anti-apartheid activities fuels these ideologies,” he said. However, “manipulative Jewish capitalists” also receive their quota of blame. “Natie Kirsh has since been added, joining the Rothschilds and Oppenheimers, in the pantheon of malevolent Jewish capitalists [being lambasted],” Saks said.
Prior to the 1994 transition, right-wing anti-Semitism was seen as the main threat by the SAJBD and community at large, he said.
This went back to the prevalence of pro-Nazi crusading anti-Jewish movements in the 1930s and 1940s, for example the Greyshirts, and their influence in preventing further Jewish immigration, as well as the anti-Semitic programme of the opposition National Party which won the elections in 1948.
Then came the emergence of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) in the early 1980s, which was “very disquieting, as was the plethora of radical right splinter groups that appeared in the final years of white rule”.
After 1994, however, he said these virtually disappeared as a serious threat to the community.
Anti-Semitism, he said, is present within a range of different ideological camps. “The basic negative tropes about Jews are largely the same. There is, in fact, a constant overlap and cross-pollination of ideas and theories between the various factions.”
One of the main loci of contemporary anti-Semitism is within extreme right-wing, white supremacist (and therefore anti-black) and usually ultra-nationalist circles.
These factions tend to identify explicitly with and draw inspiration from Nazism, with Hitler regarded as a bold and visionary leader. What distinguishes the kind of anti-Semitism routinely espoused in this camp (as opposed to, for example, that within Islamist or radical left-wing populist circles) is the frequency with which certain notions come up, such as Holocaust denial and Holocaust mockery/humour. Also the notion that Jews are behind a global plot to destroy the white race by promoting – through their clandestine control of the media, politics, popular culture, academia, and the courts – race mixing and mass immigration from non-white countries to white ones.
“This is starting to resonate very powerfully in South Africa, where many whites are looking for a scapegoat on which to pin the blame for the downfall of apartheid,” said Saks.
Asked whether it was possible to criticise Israel without bordering on anti-Semitism or whether it was possible to oppose Israel without being prejudiced against Jews, Saks said it came down to assessing each instance on a case by case basis.
“Criticism of Israel is fine so long as it does not exaggerate, is measured and reasonable, and is similar in tone and thrust to criticism levelled at other democratic states. This is true even if the criticism is based on incorrect information or lack of such information. Being wrong about something does not mean one is unreasonably prejudiced.
“When criticism in fact amounts to the notorious ‘three Ds’ – delegitimisation, demonisation, and double standards – this is certainly a form of bigotry.”
Saks said that in practice, one finds that when subjected to closer examination, radical anti-Israel attitudes are at least to some degree mixed up with antipathy towards Jews in general. Often, making pro-Palestinian noises is simply a cover for getting at Jews without being accused of anti-Semitism.