S. African Jews to take on deputy FM over slurs

Fatima Hajaig heard lamenting that "Jewish money controls America, West."

Fatima Hajaig 63 (photo credit: )
Fatima Hajaig 63
(photo credit: )
South Africa's Jewish Board of Deputies has lodged a complaint of hate speech with the country's Human Rights Commission against Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Fatima Hajaig of the ruling African National Congress. In remarks tape-recorded during a pro-Palestinian rally outside Johannesburg at the height of the recent fighting in Gaza, Hajaig can be heard saying that "Jewish money" controls the US and other nations. "No matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush, the control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money," she said. "If Jewish money controls their country, you cannot expect anything else," she said, referring to support for Israel by certain nations. Her words were welcomed by thunderous applause. The January 14 rally was organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Palestine Solidarity and the SA Council of Churches. According to South African media reports, the Jewish Board of Deputies called Hajaig's statement "an embarrassment to South Africa." It also wanted her to "withdraw her comments, distance herself completely from sentiments of this nature, and apologize." In its complaint, the board said the statement demonstrated "a clear intention to be hurtful, be harmful or incite harm and especially to promote or propagate hatred against the Jewish people." David Saks, the board's associate director, told the South African publication Business Day the statement was anti-Semitic because it alleged "that Jews are a scheming, manipulative, behind-the-scenes influence in their host societies, who control the affairs of the societies for their own selfish, usually evil, gains." Saks said the idea of "a Jew who uses his money to undermine the well-being of the human race" was "a classic anti-Semitic stereotype." The board's national chairman, Zev Krengel, told The Jerusalem Post that apart from the apology, the board wanted Hajaig to "educate herself" about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, possibly with visits to Cape Town's Holocaust Museum or even Israel's Yad Vashem. The board said Hajaig had crossed the line between being pro-Palestinian, which was legitimate, to being anti-Semitic, which was not. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said the department was "not [familiar] with the contents of the alleged statement made by the deputy minister," and that Hajaig was in Japan on official business. She was scheduled to return to South Africa on Friday. The Jewish governing body said it would give the cabinet a limited period of time to convene and decide what to do. The spokesman for South Africa's Human Rights Commission, Vincent Moaga, told the Post his group would address the complaint in the coming days. He said it first would have to decide whether it was the right body to handle the complaint, after which it would assess whether there was an opportunity to mediate between the parties or take the matter to court. The commission was also waiting to see how Hajaig responded before making a decision. The commission has dealt with previous cases of hate speech, including one in which the minister of labor made unfavorable comments about people of Chinese origin. Moaga said that following a complaint, the minister had been cooperative and, at a meeting between the sides, a solution had been found. Should Hajaig fail to respond to the Jewish Board of Deputies's satisfaction, or should mediation efforts fail, there is a good chance the Human Rights Commission will take the minister to court on charges of hate speech. South Africa says it has a zero-tolerance policy on racism and xenophobia.Should the commission not take Hajaig to court, the board of deputies would do so itself, Krengel said. If this were the case, the board would petition the country's Equality Court, which was set up to hear charges of racism and bigotry. On December 29, just two days after the start of Operation Cast Lead, Hajaig summoned Israeli ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg to explain the IDF's push into Gaza. Segev-Steinberg later said he was "bashed very, very badly" by Hajaig. There are an estimated 70,000 to 75,000 Jews in South Africa. Over the past 18 months, four percent of the community is said to have left, mostly for Israel, Australia and Canada.