Raising our collective voice

By Stuart Diamond, Executive Director, Cape SAJBD

The New Year offers us a chance to start a new with the wisdom we gained in the previous year.

Two issues of concern that we bring with us into 2021 are the high levels of divisive debate in our community and the small — yet dangerous if unchecked— rise in antisemitism and anti-Jewish cases reported to the Cape SAJBD.

In 2019, we launched our new reporting system so that community members could report all incidents of antisemitism or anti-Jewish behaviour. This reporting tool allowed members to report by various categories, namely hate speech, intimidation, acts of violence, vandalism and graffiti. In that year, we had 10 reported cases, which were mainly acts of vandalism and graffiti. At the time, we had the odd incident on school campuses, and these were excellently handled together with the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

In 2020, with the community more aware of the tool, we saw our case numbers rise to 19 with an alarming increase in antisemitism taking place on school campuses in the Western Cape.

The Cape SAJBD will continue to engage with these schools and advocate that they ensure students have the correct programmes to counter the narrative of antisemitism. The Cape SAJBD works closely with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the US to ensure that we are not only trained but that we have the best materials available.

We continue to urge community members to report instances of antisemitism through our reporting system. That way, the professionals and lay leaders on the Antisemitism & Legal Subcommittee, led by Simone Sulcas, can ensure we break down the pipeline of hate.

In March 2021, we will launch our antisemitism booklet that community members can download and share. We hope that both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities will use this resource.

Today, we have a communal and moral obligation to be the whistleblower when we see or feel something is not right. I often hear community members say that what they witnessed was ‘not serious’ or that it had ‘no power to impact people’. However, when we choose to turn away from the graffiti tags or the words filled with hate, our silence can be seen as agreement. My team and I are there to deal with these matters and protect you. If you see something, do something.

In response to the divisiveness that we have seen inside and outside of our community, the Cape SAJBD recently launched a campaign titled #WordsMatter. The campaign underscores our right to freedom of expression in a democratic society, that this right is “balanced against other fundamental human rights — such as our right to human dignity, equality, and freedom of religion, belief and opinion”. That is, “free speech” is “never a justification for the use of derogatory or hateful words”. Most importantly, this campaign design encourages us to reflect on the words we use and the potential impact that these words might have on another.

Martin Luther King Jr said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
May this be a year that we all find our voices and commit to raising them when needed so that we create a safer future for our community.

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website: www.capesajbd.org, Instagram, and Facebook page.

Published in the print edition of the February 2021 issue. Download the February 2021 issue PDF here.

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