Time to raise your head above the parapet
If my parents were alive today, I would be in serious trouble. It wouldn’t be for a phone call, but they would ask me when a good time would be to “pop past” to discuss something. I would be given no sense of the subject.
They would uncharacteristically arrive on time, and like the well-oiled machine they never were in life, would have my mother act as the diversion so that I would find myself alone with my father.
“Mom and I are worried.” He would start. “I think you need to stop being involved in all this nonsense.” He wouldn’t have to clarify that it wasn’t drugs, alcohol, or gambling. That it wasn’t that I was cavorting with inappropriate women or neglecting my family. It was that I was drawing attention to myself. And as a Jew, that wasn’t a good idea.
“You shouldn’t be looking for trouble. I agree with what you’re saying,” he would say, and then would add some choice words in an array of languages just to show how much he agreed, but make it clear that I shouldn’t be saying these things publicly.
As a Jew in a foreign land, I shouldn’t be raising my head above the parapet.
The conversation would be like the one we had when I went to study at Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) when the struggle against apartheid was at an intense phase. They might have detested the racist system, but that didn’t mean that I should put myself at risk.
Because Jews are a target. Always have been, and always will be. Just ask my murdered great-grandparents.
My late parents would be right. Just as they would be wrong. In the past 10 days, I have raised my visibility. I have defended Israel, I have called out blatant antisemitism, and I have called out politicians, media personalities, and so-called human rights activists. And in return, I have faced online abuse that I have never faced as a Jew in South Africa.
Today, I reached an all-time Twitter (X) low when Carl Niehaus, the former spokesperson of the African National Congress, messaged me to ask if I believed all the “propaganda crap” that I repeat. Aside from thinking he was dead, being called out by the likes of Carl is something that I will have to live with for the rest of my days.
To date, although I engaged in Israel discourse, I tried to protect it from being my “brand”. I didn’t want to be the “Israel guy”, and chose to write on it only when I felt it was important to do so. This changed following the 7 October massacre and the appalling reaction by many in South Africa.
My view is that the war that Israel is waging is one that has many fronts. It’s not only in the north, the south, and the West Bank, but is being fought on a cyber front as well as on social media. I’ve never been a soldier given my flat feet, asthma, and fear of pain, but I can take up a sword in the form of a pen.
These are difficult times. They are scary, infuriating, and devastating. But they also provide an opportunity for each of us to stand up for each other, do what we’re able to, and make a difference in any way we can.
Even if it means raising our heads above the parapet. And even if it means upsetting the living Carl Niehaus or our departed late parents. May their memories be for a blessing.