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SAJBD takes antisemitism facts to minister’s door

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The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) delivered a memorandum to the justice department in Pretoria on 12 February in response to Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola’s recent denial of the existence of antisemitism in South Africa in at least two media interviews.

“We need to correct this misinformation, and ensure that not just the minister, but his department is well informed about antisemitism,” said SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn, who was one of those protesting in Pretoria.

“This is the ministry that should be protecting South Africa’s Jewry. To do so, we need to make sure that we’re all clear as to what the situation is.”

Lamola insisted on BBC HARDtalk on 30 January, “In South Africa, there’s no threat or harm whatsoever to Jewish people. Nothing has happened to them, and nothing will happen to them or any Jewish community on the basis of their creed, sex, or religion.”

However, the SAJBD has facts and figures clearly showing a 631% increase in antisemitic attacks in South Africa in the last three months of last year. The number of attacks went from 19 to 139 from October to December 2023 compared to the same period of 2022.

The SAJBD monitors and records antisemitic activity mainly through incidents reported to it by community members and other Jewish institutions. The Board compares methodology with equivalent Jewish representative bodies, including those in France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

“South African Jewry has prided itself on the relatively low levels of antisemitism compared to other Jewish diaspora communities. However, our government has created an environment where antisemitism can flourish with Minister Lamola’s comments being an example”, said Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the SAJBD.

In response to questions on HARDtalk about SA Jewish Report chairperson Howard Sackstein’s opinion piece in the paper four weeks ago in which he spoke about not feeling safe as a Jew in South Africa anymore, Lamola said, “It’s a very unfortunate statement not based on any facts. It’s just a figment of his imagination.”

Lamola doubled down on his statement in an interview on the Clement Manyathela Show on Radio 702 on 8 February, when he said, “It’s nonsense”, in response to the SAJBD.

Thereafter, the SAJBD headed for the justice department on 12 February to deliver a memorandum to convey the fact that the number of antisemitic attacks had increased in the aftermath of the war in Israel.

“Our memorandum called for the minister to acknowledge the spike in hate against Jews in South Africa, and to use his ministry to protect and support our community in the same way that all hate in this country is protected,” said Kahn. “The minister assigned members of his office to collect the memorandum, and they assured us that the contents would be brought to the attention of the minister, who is currently in Cape Town.

“Our picket outside the offices of the justice department also provided us with an opportunity to engage with the media present and brief them on the actual situation relating to antisemitism in South Africa,” Kahn said.

Though it was a small demonstration compared to others organised by the SAJBD, comprising only 12 people, “We wanted to deliver our memorandum to our minister urgently. We didn’t want him to use another public platform to deny antisemitism in South Africa. Wearing our t-shirts stating, ‘The Lamola Deception’, and with key messaging on our placards including ‘Rabbi assaulted in Joburg, reported to SAPS 11 Nov 2023’; and ‘Antisemitism isn’t a figment of our imagination’, among others, we were more then able to state our narrative clearly,” Kahn said.

Kahn said the SAJBD was more than willing to share case numbers with the minister, as Lamola has claimed that “there has been no such thing reported to law enforcement in South Africa” on 702.

“To date, eight cases have been or are in the process of being lodged with the South African Police Service. They include assault, damage to property, and incitement of violence,” said Milner.

“It’s a slap in the face of our country’s Constitution, which calls for all citizens of South Africa to have equal protection by the state irrespective of race, religion, and so on,” said Kahn. “The minister has an obligation to protect us all, and his comments show disregard for our Jewish community.

“It’s our hope that the minister will now investigate so that he understands the real challenges experienced by South African Jewry at this time,” Kahn said.

“South Africa’s new Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is coming into law. This legislation is crucial in protecting all members of our country, and the minister needs to ensure that our community is protected by these laws,” she said. “South Africa has advanced legislation to protect all its citizens. There cannot be a feeling that they are not applied across the board. Also, it matters that our minister is ignoring the reality on the ground when it comes to our community,” said Kahn.

“There are concerns about global Jewry during times of war in Israel. We continue to be vigilant. While the anti-Israel rhetoric is toxic and hostile, overall, our community is still able to wear kippot and function as proud Jews in our country.”

The SA Jewish Report reached out to Lamola and his ministry, but his office refused to comment.

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