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South Africa witnesses a spike in anti-Semitism



Nicola Miltz
 In the space of less than two days last week, a string of vicious attacks committed either verbally, face-to-face or on social media were reported. 

At least three people, who have been traced for allegedly writing disturbing anti-Semitic posts, will be hearing from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and its lawyers.

Freelance writer Matome Letsoalo posted a number of hateful tweets on his now blocked @JustSmartRage Twitter account.

In one of them, he said, “@SAJBD The #Holocaust Will be like A Picnic When we are done with all you Zionist Bastards. Fuck All Of You.”

In another, he said, “@SAJBD Must get Decimated. We Can’t Have these Scandinavian Rats, Fake Jews, Zionist Bastards Running our Economy.”  

He also posted distressing Holocaust photographs, a swastika, and images of a burning Israeli flag.

When criticised online for calling Jews “rats” and “scum”, he posted a picture of a semi-automatic weapon and tweeted, “I’m ready for you.” He has since removed the offending tweets, but they remain in the Twittersphere.

Letsoalo has since been blocked from both Facebook and Twitter, and has been banned from writing again for News24, where he has featured in the past.

Disturbing tweets going back as far as 2014 allegedly show him to be openly anti-Semitic and racist.

His writings are full of pseudo-intellectual anti-white, anti-establishment, anti-West, and anti-Semitic ramblings. He describes himself as, “An African artist, owing my origins to my ancient Cushite ancestors (Afro-Asiatic) from the highlands of Ethiopia, the plains of Sudan (Nilo-Saharan), and the tropical forests of West and Central Africa (Niger-Congo). I am Bantu, I am Khoi, I am San…”

In another episode, Muhammad Hattia, 19, of Houghton, and Tameez Seedat, 19, of Bedfordview allegedly went on an anti-Semitic rampage on a WhatsApp chat group. The group – which includes Jewish people  –  is called SneakerHeads and apparently sells takkies online. The chat turned nasty last week, when the conversation touched on events surrounding TV personality Shashi Naidoo. 

Naidoo made headlines last week after expressing pro-Israel sentiments on social media, which led to her receiving death threats from anti-Israel lobbyists. She finally succumbed to making a public apology under the watchful eye of the BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement).

The backlash from the Naidoo incident included slurs and threats against the Jewish community, mostly on social media.

David Saks of the SAJBD said that it was “unusual” to see such a spike of anti-Semitism in South Africa. On average, there were six incidents reported a month, compared to last week’s six incidents in a couple of days. In countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, this was sadly “par for the course”, but not here.

“Things are getting out of hand. The racial rhetoric is turning feral and rancid. We can’t just complain about it, we need to call on the law which is here to protect us, otherwise things can spin out of control.”

King David Linksfield High School pupil, Jordan Landsman, 16, is one of the administrators of SneakerHeads. He threatened to block Hattia and Seedat after they allegedly spewed insults against Jews and Israel. He said on the chat: “This isn’t a politics group. I support Israel and this shit ends right here and now.”

Hattia, who attended Greenside High School, is a first year B Comm Law student at the University of the Witwatersrand. He allegedly posted on the group: “Fuck you jew pricks. Fat nosed fucks. Fuck Israel the non-existent state. Fuck you Landsman for supporting the killing of innocents you uncultured swine I hope you and your family die. Hitler fucked up he should’ve killed you all Now kick me you Jew pigs like how you kicked the Muslims out of their state.” This, among other abusive comments.

Seedat who matriculated from Benoni High School, works at Sharp-Rite, a specialist tool supply store in Commissioner Street, Fairview, said among other things on the chat group: “You fucken Jew/Zionists will see your time coming. Make our fellow brothers and sisters suffer, but what you don’t understand is that worse will be coming your way. You homeless scums that came and took our land, we were the ones who invited you when you had no land, but you chose to be typical greedy ass Jews and take everything. You all belong in hell.”

These are only a few of their comments. Lawyers have a dossier containing several more made that day.

In yet another incident, Polokwane businessman Christiaan van Schalkwyk of Audio Corporation sent a letter to a sales representative at the company of businessman Joss Pack, ProaudioSA. In it, he asked to be removed from the company’s mailing list, saying, “I will never buy from that company while that jewish c&*t and his puppy dog manager is running the show.”

This letter was posted on Pack’s Facebook page, causing a flurry of online activity.

Van Schalkwyk is now also on the SAJBD’s and lawyers’ radar.

In the same week, a mural of a German flag with a carefully painted swastika in the middle appeared in Hamilton Street, Coronationville, in Johannesburg. The Community Security Organisation is tracking down the culprits who evidently took their time to paint it in full view of passers-by. The Board has since painted over the swastika.

On the same day, passengers waiting for their luggage from an El Al flight to South Africa were verbally abused in public, and called “wicked Jews” by a man who was allegedly deported from Israel and refused entry. The incident was reported to airport security.

The SAJBD said it was urgently pursuing each one of the cases with the intention to “vigorously pursue” every legal avenue.

Condemning the attacks, the Board said that the incidents had “generated great anxiety and anger” in the community. They were not only a threat to the Jewish community, but to the Constitution and the country’s democracy.

SAJBD Chairman Shaun Zagnoev said, “Racism has no place in this country. And certainly, any minority group is protected by the Constitution, which protects our freedom of expression and association.”

Of the social media posts, Zagnoev said it showed “how easily radical anti-Israel sentiment can spill over into hateful slurs and threats against Jewish people in general”.

Matome Letsoalo also threatened attorney Ian Levitt, who acts on behalf of the SAJBD. On Sunday, 21 June, he tweeted: “You won’t take me to court cause I would Shoot you Dead in front of Police. Don’t mistake me for the common Native.” 

Said anti-Semitism expert and academic, Professor Milton Shain, “…Often anti-Zionism is driven by a simple hatred for Jews. It would seem to me that for a host of reasons [not least the well organised presence of BDS with access to high places] the chattering classes are hostile to Israel and the Zionist idea.”

He said that regarding “blatant Jew-hatred” on social media, “people feel unconstrained in saying the most awful things. It is new terrain… In a sense we are able to read today what was simply in the minds of people in the past. This is a new phenomenon.

“We have a worrying context. High unemployment, a failing state, huge and visible inequality. The temperature is rising across the country in general, and Jews are facing part of the burgeoning hatred. Look at Malema and the Indians.”

UK anti-Semitism expert and academic, David Hirsh, who lectures sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, said, “Anti-Semitic politics and anti-Semitic ways of thinking, if licensed and legitimised by the community of progressive opinion-formers, really does become a politics of hatred. It metastasises into movements of hatred; it is capable of energising new followers; and it draws hungrily on older anti-Semitic emotions, images and claims.”

Meanwhile, the ANC came out against anti-Semitism following the incidents, calling it abhorrent, and saying that the treatment of Palestinian people was not an excuse for hate speech against Jews.

It said the party’s attention had been drawn to recent acts of ”blatant anti-Semitism” by fellow South Africans on social media and graffiti on walls. “This is clearly against the spirit and letter of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, which discourages hate speech, against any group, based on race, religion, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.”

The ANC confirmed its commitment to “the universality of human rights” adding, “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”.

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