It’s no secret that the South African government has an anti-Israel bias. It’s no secret that the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has cozied up with the leaders and members of both Hamas and Fatah over the last few years. And it’s no secret that this bias has led to an alarming infringement of several key rights in the country’s constitution.
Over the last few years, this anti-Israel rhetoric has blurred into the lines of antisemitism more and more. It’s been a slow and steady process as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has influenced the government and its thought process on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The ANC has continuously referred to Israel as an apartheid state and has called on the country “to end” its so-called “occupation,” - a rhetoric-echoed continuously by BDS and its supporters.
To be fair, the South African government has voiced its belief in a two-state solution, however, such comments have been followed by harsh criticism of Israel and in some cases, BDS-related lies such as a comment earlier this year, that “Israel must withdraw from Gaza” despite the country doing so in 2005.
In the past, antisemitic incidents - up until now - were far and few, rearing their ugly heads during heated times of the year like Israel Apartheid Week, outside concerts or photography exhibitions concerned with Israel, or during flare-ups of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Viral video of antisemitic incident at Johannesburg airport calling Jews wicked (Dylan Rendel)
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The ANC’s resolution to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv to liaisons office at its national conference in December was not a surprise, with members of BDS reportedly sitting in on the discussion. However, the resolution has not been implemented as of yet on a government level.
The Hezbollah flag has also become a permanent symbol at any BDS-related protest - it’s well-known that Hezbollah is an internationally recognized terrorist organization.
During Israel-Apartheid Week last year students who support BDS performed Nazi salutes and the goose step. While several years ago, the concert of Israeli pianist Yossi Reshef was violently disrupted by BDS and Palestinian Solidarity Committee members. Outside a concert where an Israeli Jazz quartet played in Johannesburg that same year, the words “Dibul ijuda,” meaning “Shoot the Jew” were sung by these same activists - who claim to be fighters for humanitarian purposes.
These were isolated incidents spread across several years. Once in a while, social media blows up with anti-Israel comments that then receive antisemitic responses: Where there was a distinction 20 years ago between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, today, that line has vanished and the two have become one in the same.
But over last week or so, at least six incidents of antisemitism took place in South Africa in just two days. According to the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, about six incidents are reported a month. To see six incidents in this same space of time in the US, UK or Europe is sadly the norm, but for South Africa - it’s very unusual.
However, it seems there were several incidents that allowed for this antisemitic rhetoric to bubble over - leaving South African Jewry shocked and concerned.
After a Johannesburg city councillor stated her unequivocal support for Israel early last month, and a supermodel - Shashi Naidoo - defended Israel’s actions in Gaza just days later, explaining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a factual manner (during which, she called Gaza a “shithole” due to the way Hamas is running the Strip because it uses international aid and money for rockets instead of housing, schools and better infrastructure), all hell broke loose.Threats were issued
to the Jewish community and the SAJBD over social media and Whatsapp, with one writer saying on Twitter: “The Holocaust will look like a picnic after we’re done with you [Jews].”
It’s become common practice to threaten and intimidate anyone - Jewish or not - who expresses any pro-Israel sentiment. This in itself is an infringement on the South African constitution’s right to freedom of expression, as well as the right to freedom of speech, belief and opinion.
For those who think that hate speech, threats and intimidation are considered part of such rights, they are deeply mistaken.
As more and more antisemitic incidents broke out on social media, Whatsapp and even at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport, the South African government issued a strong statement condemning the antisemitism.
However, many blamed the rhetoric used by this same government in a May statement, where it condemned Israel for the violence in Gaza, as feeding into the antisemitic behavior that BDS and its cronies encourage.
“All South Africans must rise up and treat Israel like the pariah that it is,” it wrote. “In our struggle against the apartheid regime, governments did not give us support initially, but the people did. Some around the world shunned South Africa and its supporters. Just as progressive Dutch and British people, on their own volition, rejected White South Africa, so too must South Africans of Jewish faith and culture also stand up and reject Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”
The South African government’s acts of condoning BDS behavior, the organizations’ hate messages and its antisemitic tendencies, have encouraged those who would ordinarily not express their hateful views of Jews and Israel, to do so. They see no repercussions for doing so and believe that if the government can, at times, have such views about Israel, why can they not take that a little further and respond with blatant or borderline antisemitism.
If the government were to stop its wishy-washy contradictions of itself, it could quell such people and put a stop to the blatant hate. If it were to take a step back from its interactions with Hamas and Fatah, as well as BDS activists, and take time to research the situation instead of just listening to the whispering of lies into its ears by such treacherous advisors, the antisemitic rhetoric could cease and maybe, just maybe, the battle lines between anti-Zionism and antisemitism would be redrawn - and perhaps they may see that Israeli-Palestinian conflict bears no resemblance to the painful and difficult past of apartheid.