South Africa 10.9.2018 12:08 pm

EFF’s ‘warm wishes’ to SA Jewish community sparks debate

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Sello Malema adressed the media with regards to the metros developments in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Tuesday, 28 August 2018. Picture: Mokone Mphela

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Sello Malema adressed the media with regards to the metros developments in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Tuesday, 28 August 2018. Picture: Mokone Mphela

The decision of the Economic Freedom Fighters to acknowledge the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, has led to a broader discussion.

When the EFF expressed “warm wishes to the Jewish community” on the start of the Jewish High Holy days with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, some questioned their sincerity.

Recently, the party was accused of antisemitism after commander-in-chief Julius Malema made the vague and unsubstantiated allegation that “Jews” were giving “right-wingers” military training.

“They will kill us for that. There’s a group of white right-wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers,” said Malema.

Some have theorised that Malema was referring to a video featured on Sky News showing an Israeli practitioner of a style of martial arts called Krav Maga, Idan Abolnik, giving South African farmers self-defense lessons.

If this is the case, it appears to be a huge leap for Malema to assert that “Jews” as a whole, as opposed to one individual, are involved in training “right-wingers,” and the idea that anyone is being trained as a sniper as opposed to in martial arts is also entirely unsubstantiated by the politician so far.

The statement was widely slammed as offensive and deemed hate speech by some.

READ MORE: Malema faces backlash for “Anti-Semitic” rant

Malema has not addressed the comments at all and did not respond to attempts to contact him by The Citizen at the time.

While the South African Jewish board of deputies did condemn his words in a Facebook post, they added that they did not want to engage in the issue further, with spokesperson Charisse Zeifert saying it did not deserve any more airtime.

One EFF supporter took to social media in an attempt to clarify the party’s stance on Jewish people and Judaism, claiming that they are not against either but rather “those that use the religion for their narrow self-interests at the expense of other religions or groups.”

He provided no further clarity on his tweet.

Among other users, the issue became a debate about the link between Israelis and Jews. One user argued that the EFF’s use of the term “apartheid Israel” shows that the party is anti-Semitic.

But another user was quick to call for a distinction between “Judaism as a belief system and Israel as an apartheid system.”

While some South African Jews argue that there is an inextricable link between the religion and the state of Israel, the distinction between Judaism as a religion and Israelis as a nationality is an important one to the minority of Jews who oppose Zionism.

There was not a huge response to the message from South African Jews themselves so far, perhaps because among observant followers of the religion, Rosh Hashana is meant to be spent praying and celebrating with family as opposed to being on Twitter.

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