No matter how hard anti-Israel activists, tenured academics, posturing politicians, or virtue-signaling celebrities claim otherwise, Zionism is inextricably interwoven with Judaism. It is a historical imperative that ensures the continuation and flourishing of the Jewish People, and its purpose and moral necessity is only reinforced by the current 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 antisemitic beliefs, whether intentional or not.
Yet, 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 antisemitic than an anti-Zionist attempting to misappropriate the meaning of Zionism and explain what it actually means. As Jews, we are immensely better equipped to understand our own shared experience, history, and the need for a safe haven after millennia of hatred and persecution. The late historian Paul Johnson characterized antisemitism not simply as a form of racism, but as an "intellectual disease...extremely infectious and massively destructive."
It is the most ancient of hatreds that goes back to the very origins of the Jewish people.
It is no coincidence that South Africa, with its dark history of apartheid, has been chosen by the antisemitic BDS movement as ground zero for promulgating the apartheid smear on Israel. This gives their demonic campaign a veil of credibility that hides a crude hatred of Jews. Sadly, all this achieves is to hijack the meaning and memory of apartheid for Black South Africans who suffered under it. The BDS movement uses South Africa as the nucleus of its abhorrent agenda because it's symbolically convenient to use the stain of apartheid against the only country that offers universal support and protection for Jews, and in so doing, selfishly overwrites and dilutes decades of systematic oppression against Black people.
What is perhaps worse is that they have managed to infiltrate and influence levers of the South African government and the ruling party, including a member of the Mandela family, to repeat their talking points and do their bidding. Their goal is for the Jewish State to be seen as a universal evil and a pariah state that must be obliterated through political and economic warfare using the well-oiled tools of mass deception and propaganda.
It goes without saying that Israel is everything that BDS claims it isn't: a beacon and shining light of democracy, with Arabs and minorities well-represented in its parliament and civil society. Israel offers affirmative action policies, remarkable opportunities (obviously including the right to vote) for Arab-Israeli women that are not available anywhere else in the Middle East, and redress for discrimination where it occurs.
That is not to mention decades of attempted peace-making with the Palestinians. If Israel was able to make peace with Egypt, Jordan, and now also Morocco, UAE and Bahrain, then perhaps it is not the one to blame for the lack of a resolution with the Palestinians. But facts should not get in the way of the big lie that the haters have learned to repeat at every opportunity.
In South Africa, irresponsible politicians, media, and civil society organizations have learned to exploit the Palestinian-Israeli 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 South Africa, whether Jewish, Christian or secular, are labeled "war criminals," victim-shamed, treated with contempt and bullied online. Jewish businesses, at least those that are 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 our 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 South Africa 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 Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF)