SA reaction to massacre speaks volumes
For South African Jewry, it has felt like a week of shiva. We are mourning, yet only a few outside our community have come to offer comfort and support. Some have twisted the knife.
Body after body has emerged following the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust, yet the government’s response to the atrocities inflicted on civilians in Israel last weekend by Hamas terrorists remains ice cold.
It has shown zero compassion for a community grappling with harrowing images of death and devastation. In pro-Palestinian sectors, sickening undercurrents of celebration can be felt.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has made its feelings crystal clear. It stands with Palestine no matter what, saying the actions of Hamas were “unsurprising” considering Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land. It later condemned the killing of civilians and called for restraint on both sides.
The Economic Freedom Fighters has unyieldingly championed the Palestinian cause, while showing no empathy for the Israelis in the face of this unprovoked assault.
Social activist and political commentator Howard Sackstein said, “If the South African government cannot find it within itself to condemn the slaughter of innocent Israeli civilians or offer sympathy for the South Africans murdered or missing or who have lost their homes in the barrage of Hamas rockets that have pummelled Israeli cities, then it has once again proved that it lacks the moral authority to govern.
“For the ANC, the wholesale slaughter of innocent Jewish civilians or grandmothers and babies is of no consequence. Its incapacity to comprehend the consequences of its approach is simply astounding, but it lacks the credibility to speak on any of these issues, and must be treated with the disdain it deserves.”
There are many South Africans living in Israel, many directly affected. The SA Jewish Report is holding onto stories of witnesses to the massacres at kibbutzim in the south of the country. The trauma is too raw for them to be disclosed publicly.
“Every one of us knows someone who knows of someone killed or missing in Israel,” said Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) at a press conference earlier this week.
While morally upright nations worldwide unequivocally condemned the heinous, evil actions of Hamas, some countries displaying colours of the Israeli flag on prominent buildings in solidarity, the South African government and its allies remained steadfast in their stance, placing responsibility for the attacks on the Israeli government, persisting even in the face of gut-wrenching images of lifeless Jewish infants in body bags on gurneys.
“We know of South Africans that have probably been captured or murdered and are in Gaza, and our government doesn’t care. We haven’t had one phone call. It’s a sad day,” said SAJBD National Vice-President Zev Krengel.
He said Pretoria’s downgrading of the embassy in Tel Aviv had made it difficult to help South Africans, some of them Christian tourists who may be trying to leave the country or others caught up in the conflict.
Addressing thousands of members of the community at a communal prayer gathering for Israel earlier this week, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein said South African Jewry should stand proud and united, and not rely on the government’s support.
“We need to stand up and be proud citizens of this democracy, and say with strength and conviction to our government and the ANC that we don’t need its endorsement, we don’t need its support,” he said, pointing out that the government’s moral credibility was questionable.
Encouraging people to be bold, he said, “We need to make sure that the story of the state of Israel is told, but ultimately, those who support barbarism and savagery will be judged by G-d himself.”
There was an entire day of death and destruction last Saturday, 7 October, starting when the sun rose until it set and beyond. Yet there was no mention of it in the country’s largest newspaper, the Sunday Times, the following day. Other news outlets focused on the government’s one-sided response and included front-page photographs of burning Palestinian buildings showing the aftermath of retaliatory attacks in Gaza. A few days in, News24’s editor in chief, Adriaan Basson, criticised the ANC for immediately blaming “apartheid-state” Israel for the attacks on its citizens.
Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, said, “The South African media has so far shown a mixed response to the Hamas massacre, at times uncritically repeating fake news in the department of international relations and cooperation [Dirco’s] statement about the “destruction” of the Al-Aqsa mosque, or including comment from the antisemitic BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement and other extremist organisations in order to show ‘balance’.
“Balance in the media isn’t to balance views on whether Israel should exist alongside those that advocate for the country to be destroyed, and organisations that seek her destruction aren’t legitimate commentators. Thankfully, a number of publications have carried editorials on Hamas’ gross human rights violations and war crimes, but as far as we can tell, no publication was brave enough to come out unequivocally in support of Israel.”
As the scale of atrocities unfolded this week, a horrified United States President Joe Biden condemned the attacks as “sheer evil”. United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged his support for Israel during a moving speech at a London synagogue.
All this wasn’t enough to deter local pro-Palestinian lobby groups such as Africa4Palestine from taking part in numerous radio talk shows giving support to the Palestinians and showing disregard for the Israeli civilians butchered in the attacks. Nor were images of Hamas militants having killed babies and dogs in kibbutzim enough to deter pro-Palestinian groups from gathering in numbers to protest Israel’s “continued colonial occupation of Palestinian land”.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said Hamas “had the right” to do what it did, and said it was “no surprise”.
Soon after the massacre, students of the University of Cape Town’s Palestine Solidarity Forum posted menacing messages on social media saying things like, “The time has come.” One said in capital letters, “The future of Palestine is being decided as we speak. All eyes are on Al-Aqsa. Will you be supporting the resistance?”
Other campuses including University of the Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch University are following suit with demonstrations in support of Palestinians.
There has been support from Christian groups and several political parties such as the Democratic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus, African Christian Democratic Party, Inkatha Freedom Party, and the Patriotic Alliance, which have all condemned the vicious attacks, agreeing that there was no justification for such atrocity, and have made calls for the return of hostages from Gaza and for the resumption of peace talks.