Standing against anti-Semitism in South Africa

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has laid several complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), as well as criminal charges.

South Africans show their support for Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy)
South Africans show their support for Israel.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last week the chairperson of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), Siphakamsie Ngxowa, walked into a Woolworths store in Sea Point, Cape Town, pushing a baby pram. He removed the pig’s head that was hidden in the pram and placed it on a shelf which he assumed contained kosher meat.
He then proudly took a photograph of himself which was retweeted broadly, including by Boycott Divestment and Sanctions SA.
This was the latest in a long string of anti-Semitic incidents since Operation Protective Edge, which saw statistics rise from 52 for all of 2013 to over 115 in the months of July and August 2014. Not only have the incidents increased numerically but also in terms of intensity. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has laid several complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), as well as criminal charges.
However, this incident crossed the line. The implications of the pig motif are deeply disturbing. It epitomizes the worst of Jew-hatred.
It made it very clear that Jews were not welcome in this store, and by extension, South Africa. For this reason we lodged a complaint with the SAHRC, a constitutional body aimed at protecting the community from hate crimes.
But this was not enough. We had to categorically state that hate cannot be allowed in our country. South Africa’s democracy was built on the basic tenet of respect for our fellow citizens.
Today in Cape Town we gathered outside the store where this outrageous act of hate was perpetrated.
We wore T-shirts with a quote by Nelson Mandela stating: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”
The overarching message was that while others may not agree with our thinking, our beliefs or our values, we expect to be respected like any other South African. If we choose to have a relationship with Israel, that is our right as citizens of this country.
We do not expect the COSAS leadership to share our views, but we do expect them not to create hatred against us for that choice. Freedom of speech and freedom of association are intrinsic parts of our Bill of Rights.
WE CALLED on South Africans to join us in our fight against hate.
When any South African is being subjected to this type of abuse we should vociferously object together with one voice.
Messaging on our banners read, “Yes to free speech, no to hate speech,” “proudly South African, proudly Jewish,” “We as South Africans think what we want, believe what we want, shop where we want,” “Say no to anti-Semitism” and “An attack on SA Jewry is an attack on SA democracy.”
A placard compared an image of a pig from Berlin 1933 to the Cape Town pig image in 2014.
I read out a call for action for all South Actions to join us in solidarity to oppose what could become a growing threat to our young and precious democracy.
While we have been deeply disturbed by this hideous incident, we were encouraged by the interest and concern shown by the many ordinary South Africans who were appalled by the action. The ANC, which is aligned to COSAS, distanced itself from this disgraceful act.
Unfortunately this story does not end here. As I prepare this article on the plane back to Johannesburg I note that COSAS has again responded with venom, vowing that the pig’s-head campaign will continue: “We will not waste time talking about the lies that we don’t like Jewish people or Muslim people... If pigs’ heads insult people, they must explain why they are not insulted by the murder of Palestinian children.”
As I explained to a journalist today, a pig’s head will not help the situation between the Israeli and Palestinian people. It will not resolve the conflict. All it will do is unleash hatred against fellow South Africans.
This can in no way bring about the two-state solution that we yearn for.
This hatred achieves only to erode the principles that our 20-year-old democracy is built on.
The author is national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.