‘Run, Israel, run!’ says hate-filled mob
The conflict between Hamas and Israel has spilled onto the streets of South Africa and around the world. Events thousands of kilometres away have brought out large, angry mobs against Israel in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria. These demonstrations can quickly degenerate into naked Jew hatred, and cause consternation in the Jewish community.
Professor Rebecca Hodes, an academic at the University of Pretoria, was at an African National Congress (ANC) rally in the nation’s capital on 20 October. She told the SA Jewish Report: “I attended because I thought it would be an important moment in popular politics in South Africa. I wanted to witness and write about it.”
Hodes said, “The rally was much bigger than I expected, showing the ANC’s power to mobilise popular support quickly and effectively, and showing the popular purchase that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict holds. The overarching sentiment among participants was that Israel is in the wrong, that it’s an apartheid state that’s terrorising Palestinians. The walk from where the march started to the Israeli embassy was relatively long, and the crowd chanted the entire way.”
“The march, and particularly the speeches that were given outside the Israeli embassy, showed how people struggle to maintain rhetorical divisions between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists. It was in these speeches outside the embassy that the most antisemitic and pro-Hamas remarks were made,” Hodes said.
In an article on Politicsweb, Hodes wrote, “Pro-Palestinian stalwart Firoza Mayet shouted, ‘Comrades, we have been in power for 30 years. Why is the Israeli embassy, the Zionist Jew Federation [sic], the Jewish Board of Deputies on our soil? Why? Why comrades? We are in power. They must be expelled now. Not yesterday. They must be expelled now.’”
She reported that a Muslim cleric said, “Hamas is a legitimate organisation. Hamas is defending its people. Hamas is defending its land … [against the] Zionist beasts.”
According to Hodes, the ambassador of Palestine, Hanan Jarrar, said, “Together we gather here in front of this apartheid entity in Pretoria, united against the ongoing tragic Israeli genocidal war on our people, and the 75-year occupation. In this genocidal war, more than 15 000 Palestinians have been injured, excluding those from the Israeli bombing of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital.” Never mind that the accusations that Israel bombed that hospital had been disproven days ago.
Hodes reported the words of ANC Youth League President Tlhologelo Collen Malatji. He said, “We’re here today and we’re told that the ambassador of Israel isn’t here. Now we’re calling upon President Cyril Ramaphosa to expel them immediately. This embassy must be removed with immediate effect. If President Ramaphosa doesn’t remove them by Monday, we’re coming back on Monday. We’re going to occupy this building here. All we do is to protest and walk around.”
Hodes wrote, “An unnamed representative from the Congress of South African Trade Unions then shouted into the mic, ‘Run Israel run! Run to the sea, run! Comrades, we can no longer afford to live with Israel in our borders. They must be chased to the sea! They don’t like us, we don’t like them. Let them fokof and leave our shores.’ With this statement, the alleged peaceful intent of the protest was exposed as the lie it was, with explicit support for genocide of the Israeli people. The genteel mask of the ANC’s protest fell, and the threat of violence and expulsion were made palpable.”
“Problematically,” Hodes said, “there was no mention throughout the course of the day about the atrocities committed against Israelis on 7 October. The celebratory atmosphere of the rally, particularly in the morning, showed an erasure of the violence committed against Israelis.”
Not to be outdone – and it is, after all, election season – the red-clad Economic Freedom Fighters led another large march to the Israeli embassy on 23 October. Like the ANC rally, Hamas flags and emblems were in full view. Some marchers toted automatic firearms. The rhetoric of its leader Julius Malema was inflammatory, ugly, and vicious.
In Durban, there were six pro-Palestinian pickets and marches between 17 and 22 October. They took place outside the United States consulate, in Berea, and on the Durban beachfront, among other venues.
Daniel Bloch, the executive director of the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said that over the past two years or so, “Cape Town has become the hotspot of anti-Israel protest, unfortunately.” He noted that on 22 October, about 1 000 people converged in the afternoon on the Sea Point beachfront and there were 300 to 400 cyclists riding in support of the Palestinians in the morning from Camps Bay to Hout Bay. About 3 000 people gathered in Salt River.
“Right now, the Jewish community is upset, angry, and frightened,” Bloch said. “But we’ve urged it not to engage.”
They are showing their support for Israel. Almost 3 000 people attended a pro-Israel rally in Gardens in Cape Town last week. “It was civilised, and had a really moving service,” said Bloch. “People weren’t calling for murder and death. Compare this to the video footage of the other side. It’s like chalk and cheese. The security of the Jewish community is of the utmost importance. We need to remain calm and keep level heads, even as we express ourselves.”
Bloch recognised that a small incident could spark conflict and put everyone at risk. He agreed that the size and frequency of protests could grow if Israel launches a ground offensive in Gaza. “When Israel sneezes,” he said, “South Africa coughs and gets a cold.”
Guidelines from the Community Security Organisation (CSO) call for calm, discretion, not sharing unverified information, keeping the CSO informed, and being careful to avoid these gatherings or not draw attention to yourself if caught up in one. “Stay away from any pro-Palestinians protests, and don’t engage with anti-Israel activists, online or in person,” the CSO advises. It has comprehensive plans in place to secure the community in the unlikely event that this becomes necessary. “The CSO will continue to monitor the environment and update you as appropriate,” it said. In an emergency, call the CSO on 086 18 000 18.
With a long ground war expected in Gaza, the country and the Jewish community should brace itself for even more large protests.