The rise of political antisemitism, masked as anti-Zionism

By Tzvi Brivik, Chairperson, Cape SAJBD

As I sit here preparing a letter to the community, we are still feeling the effects that the May conflict in the Middle East has had on our society.

As an organisation, we support the existence of the State of Israel and their right to defend itself. However, we note, that even within our own community, the extent of this support may vary. Whilst the Cape SAJBD is not a pro-Zionist lobbying group, we choose not to associate or partner with any person or organisation which denies Israel’s right to exist. We accept genuine criticism of the Israeli government, and recognise that there are differing views as to how the State of Israel should be governed. Where this criticism of the Israeli government is used to mask or justify antisemitic beliefs, we will step in and address it.

Over the course of May, we watched as social media ‘activists’ used anti-Israel sentiment to disseminate antisemitic rhetoric that was masked as ‘anti-Zionism’. We watched how quickly this tool, which allowed every person to become a commentator on this conflict regardless of whether they had intimate knowledge of the history and affairs in the Middle East, led to global Jewry becoming scapegoats for the actions of a state.

Unfortunately, social media is not the only place where we have noted a significant increase in hate speech. Journalists and politicians, from whom we should expect balanced and fair reporting and comment, have left us disappointed by their one-sided, inflammatory statements. We addressed radio stations, newspapers and politicians directly urging them to consider a more balanced view.

We would like to commend Herzlia school for inviting speakers to address the learners on all aspects of the conflict, and our own Generation Next subcommittee which hosted webinars focused on engaging the youth on how these difficult conversations should take place. (Read more about Generation Next’s ‘Navigating the Age of Informed Ignorance with Dr Zohar Raviv’ webinar on page 9 by subcommittee Chairperson, Justin Asher) As Dr Zohar Raviv had said during this webinar: freedom of speech does not translate into freedom of expression. At any time in a discussion, should one side become abusive, accusatory or demeaning, there can be no meaningful exchange of ideas. It is crucial then, that when we attempt to have dialogue, we recognise that words matter. Our #WordsMatter campaign asks each active citizen to practice engaged listening and connect with one another meaningfully despite our differences.

Before this May conflict, we addressed another incident of antisemitism. We, alongside the national SAJBD, raised concern with the method and nature of questions posed to Judge Unterhalter and Advocate Lever by the Judicial Service Commission in April. We were concerned that questioning them on their religion and affiliation to Israel, or even their views on the Middle East, was unfair and unreasonable; and could not, in any event, have led to the judicial service commissioners being able to make a competent decision. We are pleased that this first week of June, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution brought an application to the Constitutional Court in which it stated that the questioning of these candidates went beyond what was permissible, and as usual, that this application will be heard on an expedited basis by such court.

Finally, and in order to further our ability to serve our community, we have implemented a new #ReportHate hotline on 079 994 5573 available from 8am to 5pm on weekdays. This has allowed us to respond faster to complaints of antisemitism, including investigating and where necessary addressing the offender, either directly or through an institution affiliated to such offender. We encourage anyone who believes that they may have been subject to hate speech or antisemitism to report this to us using this Hotline or fill in our #ReportHate tool.

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

• Published in the PDF edition of the July 2021 issue – Download here.

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