Rowan Polovin
6 minute read
3 Jun 2021
12:31 pm

Responsible parties must quell spread of antisemitism in South Africa

Rowan Polovin

Those who express support for anti-Zionism, writes Rowan Polovin, hold intrinsically anti-Semitic beliefs, whether intentional or not.

Supporters protest in solidarity with Israel during a demonstration organised by the South Africa Zionist Federation at the Israel Centre in Johannesburg, with Palestinian supporters protesting outside the venue. Pictures: Michel Bega

No matter how hard anti-Israel activists and certain journalists and politicians claim otherwise, Zionism is inextricably interwoven with Judaism.

Zionism proclaims the universal right of Jews to return and live freely in their ancient indigenous homeland of Israel. It is an historical imperative that ensures the continuation and flourishing of the Jewish people. Its purpose and moral necessity is only reinforced by the latest global rise in antisemitism.

It follows that anti-Zionism is the rejection of the Jewish right of self-determination in Israel. Those who express support for anti-Zionism hold intrinsically anti-Semitic beliefs, whether intentional or not. Yet here in South Africa and around the world, anti-Zionists are at pains to explain to us Jews that Zionism and Judaism are separable.

There is perhaps nothing more anti-Semitic than an anti-Zionist attempting to misappropriate the meaning of Zionism and explain what it actually means to us Jews who are immensely better equipped to understand our own shared experience and history and the need for a safe haven after millennia of hatred and persecution.

Enter 4,000 and more rockets fired by Hamas from among civilians in Gaza towards civilians in Israel and Israel’s sovereign obligation to protect and defend itself and its people. Hamas, in case it is not known, is an entity sworn to Israel’s destruction (as well as Jews around the world).

Instead of the empathy that we might expect for any other country subjected to an endless barrage of sophisticated rockets raining down on its cities and praise for Israel’s restraint and unique ability to aim its responses surgically at terror targets and minimise civilian casualties, we witness a surge of hostility and hatred against Israel instead.

The ANC and its “progressive” allies are fired up to leverage a conflict, thousands of kilometres away, to support their domestic agendas with the attention and zeal unseen in any other international or regional conflict. President Cyril Ramaphosa, facing internal divisions in the ANC after the removal of Ace Magashule, seizes the opportunity to deflect attention by throwing Israel under the bus.

Ramaphosa, known for playing to the audience, for the first time labels Israel an “apartheid” state and thereby falsely and unabashedly dilutes the actual history of apartheid simply to support his obvious political agenda. To a different audience, Ramaphosa has said that South Africa could “learn a lot” from Israel and its achievements. One should be circumspect about this double-speak.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor, known for her anti-Israel views, was given a green light to bash Israel on the world stage while removing all agency and responsibility from the Palestinians and their corrupt leadership as the true cause of their own suffering.

She asks for Israel to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), but forgets how her own government deliberately discarded its obligations as a state party to the Rome Statute to carry out an ICC order to arrest genocidal Sudan butcher Omar al-Bashir when he was in the country.

Newly minted acting ANC secretary-general Jessie Duarte was even less restrained when she condemned the alleged hypocrisy of anti-Israel activists outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria for drinking Jacobs Coffee and not boycotting “Jewish”, ahem, Israeli products.

One can only assume that she thinks that “Jacobs” is a Jewish name, but we should be thankful that she unwittingly exposed the face of antisemitism that hides behind the veil of anti-Zionism.

It is unfortunate too that the DA released a disappointing statement that equivocated between the fault of the sovereign state of Israel and the terrorist entity Hamas in the whole wretched conflict, yet somehow neglected to mention the stark evidence of Hamas targeting innocent Israeli men, women and children.

The EFF and others amplified the ANC’s voice and only the ACDP and Freedom Front Plus had the moral courage to stand up for Israel during this vulnerable period.

After the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, anti-Israel activists in South Africa marched into perceived Jewish neighbourhoods of Johannesburg and Cape Town to hold “peaceful” protests (similar to what was seen in London and New York).

Shouting “down Zionists” and brandishing placards saying “Zionazi” at Jews across the road was as peaceful as it got. In fact, it was blatant antisemitism and must be called out as such.

Nor is the genocidal chant “Free Palestine” peaceful. It is not a call not for the freedom of Palestinians, nor a two-state solution or a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but simply for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state and the expulsion or murder of its Jewish population.

It is particularly concerning when supposedly objective South African journalists use that coded language in their social media posts and then purport to offer credible analysis of the issues at stake. A major Sunday paper published a full-page onslaught on the chief rabbi of South Africa in its op-ed page with title and text that would make Der Stürmer proud.

Of all the mainstream media publications in South Africa, most of which showed extreme levels of anti-Israel bias and outright incitement during this conflict, only The Citizen had the courage to defend objectivity and resist bias in its notable editorial “Israel-Palestine conflict: We won’t pick sides in our reporting”.

While we hope The Citizen would understand why Israel has to defend its citizens from attack, this approach reflects the most sensible position throughout the entire media landscape during this period.

Where to from here? The ceasefire is holding, but here in South Africa, irresponsible politicians, media and assorted virtue signallers exploit the conflict in support of their domestic agendas, stirring up division and hatred among South Africans. They have much to answer for.

Their hypocrisy is blind and silent to almost all the gross human rights violations around the world, including the ill-treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon and Muslims in China and Myanmar, let alone atrocities on our continental doorstep, but they cannot hide their obvious bias against the Jewish state.

Pro-Israel communities in this country, whether they be Jewish, Christian or secular, are labelled “war criminals”, victim-shamed, treated with contempt and bullied online. Jewish businesses, at least those perceived to be Jewish owned, are targeted for boycotts.

The hate has spilled into the workplace and universities and a foreign conflict has shattered the glass of our rainbow nation.

Ultimately the South African government will be held responsible for any increase in antisemitism in this country, alongside those reckless groups who spur it on.

History shows that now is not the time to sit idly by and all reasonable people of this country must do all it takes to stop the spread of hatred and prejudice. As Elie Wiesel said: “In Jewish history there are no coincidences.”

  • Rowan Polovin is the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of The Citizen