The rise of antisemitic incidents in SA after October massacre
Of the 182 antisemitic incidents reported to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) in the first 11 months of 2023, 63% occurred after 7 October, and for the first time since the start of this century, about 6% of the attacks involved violence, including assault and vandalism.
The 182 incidents compares with 67 recorded in the first 11 months of 2022. The increase in the violence of these attacks is perhaps even more concerning.
“You f***ing Jew, everything in the Middle East is your fault,” were the words shouted by a male jogger as he attacked a community member walking to shul in Sydenham. The attacker crossed the road, ran into the man, knocked him over, kicked him on the leg, and punched him in the torso while he lay on the ground. An assault charge has since been laid at Sandringham Police Station.
In another case, a Johannesburg rabbi reported that a Muslim male tried to cut in front of him on the road. When not given right of way, the man then deliberately reversed into and damaged the front of the rabbi’s car. He preceded to get out of his car and approach the rabbi, who swiftly did a U-turn onto a nearby highway. The antagonist followed him, repeatedly trying to swerve into his car. Eventually exiting the highway, the rabbi parked at a BP garage, only to be confronted again. The man got out of his car, pulled off the rabbi’s windscreen wiper and started hitting his vehicle with it while screaming, “Get out, get out, I will smash you up!” and “This Jew, he smashed my car! This Jew hit me!”
These are just two of six reported incidents of antisemitic assault, according to a report compiled by the SAJBD at the end of November 2023. Meanwhile, five incidents of damage and desecration to Jewish property were also recorded. These included damage to the war memorial at the Jewish section of the Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria in October, where the sheimos (sacred religious text) was also removed and torn up. Then in November, the words, “Stop the Gaza genocide” and “Free Palestine” were found sprayed on an outer wall of the old Jewish cemetery in Durban.
There have also been 33 cases of abusive behaviour, defined as verbal insults, threats, and offensive gestures. These include cases of derogatory language shouted at community members from passing cars as well as a confrontation in front of a shul in the heart of the Johannesburg community. Here, a Jewish man was accosted by a male who spat in his direction as he stood by the shul door.
After being asked what he’d meant by this, the male put his hand on community member’s shoulder, looked into his eyes and said, “You’re a murderer; you’re causing genocide. You’ve done nothing to object to what’s happening. The Muslims are gonna [sic] come and kill you.”
Community members and organisations have received vitriolic messages in numerous incidents of hate mail and written threats. These include one sent to the SAJBD, which said, “I hope all you dogs that have grandkids that day must all grow up with the most horrible diseases and problems so you can … suffer with them just as you Nazi Zionist are doing with our kids in Palestinian G–, I hate this Jewish Zionist Nazi scums [sic].”
In another incident, a group of community members watching a Hamas demonstration in Cape Town were accosted by protesters who shouted, “Are you Jews?” after which many more stormed up and began threatening them. While the group crossed the street to take refuge in an apartment building, the protesters followed them and stood outside the security gates “baying for blood”.
Well documented business boycotts against the likes of Cape Union Mart and Jewish-owned padel entities including Africa Padel and the 10by20 establishment have also been recorded. Here, there was a widespread message on a WhatsApp group announcing that new padel courts that would “be 100% Muslim owned and managed” were opening in the Orchards area in Johannesburg, and those that cancelled bookings at Jewish-owned courts would play there for free. There have also been well-publicised protests and demonstrations, with many led by the Economic Freedom Fighters and Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs), that have descended into hate speech and alarming threats.
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, David Saks, the associate director of the SAJBD, says that when cases are reported, the Board first tries to determine whether there’s any traceable information that will allow it to identify and locate the perpetrator/s. “If not, we simply log the details of the incident – even when perpetrator details are lacking, we urge people to nevertheless report them to us.
“If there’s a reasonable prospect of finding the perpetrator/s, the approach varies. Often, it’s necessary for the individual victims themselves to institute appropriate action, whether criminal or civil, with the South African Human Rights Commission or in other, less formal ways,” Saks says.
The SAJBD will provide support by advising them of their options. Should victims decide to take action, the SAJBD will assist as much as possible by, for example, helping to draft statements or formal complaints. “If the attack – which might include written or verbal threats, vandalism, offensive graffiti, or inflammatory statements by public figures – isn’t against an individual but the community as a whole, then we have to decide if it warrants action, if action of some kind is possible, and what action to take,” says Saks.
In more serious cases this might mean instituting criminal or civil proceedings in the Equality Court, while in others, the Board may approach the institution that exercises some kind of influence or authority over the perpetrator, “for example, a school where a pupil has made or posted an offensive comment, or a company in which the offender is employed”. Mainstream and social media incidents are followed up by laying complaints with the owners or hosts to get the material removed, with an apology where appropriate.”
Depending on the nature of the offence and the action taken, there could be criminal or civil court findings against perpetrators. Outcomes could also include what the SAJBD classifies as “restorative justice”. “Here, the offender apologises in writing, sincerely acknowledges wrongdoing, and often also attends an education and sensitivity awareness session at the Holocaust & Genocide Centre,” Saks says. “That’s always been our preferred option, where possible.”
- Should you experience an antisemitic incident, email sajbd.org, or if you feel you are under immediate threat, call the Community Security Organisation 24-hour number on 086 18 000 18.