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Anti-Semitic graffiti found in Gauteng

  • Pretoria2
Two seemingly unrelated incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti have been discovered within close proximity of two Gauteng synagogues in the past week.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Feb 07, 2019

Last Friday night, as congregants were walking to the Sydenham-Highlands North Hebrew Congregation, they came across offensive graffiti. The word, “Revolution”, and below it, “Hitler was here” were crudely displayed on an electrical box close to the shul on the corner of Main and Viljoen Street, Rouxville.

Meanwhile, in Pretoria, at the intersection of Steger and Schroder Streets in Groenkloof, a short walk from the synagogue, someone spray painted a black swastika and the word, “Hitler” written inside a heart on the asphalt in the middle of the road. This apparently was not yet there when congregants walked to and from shul on Shabbat.

On Sunday morning, a resident of an old-aged home in Groenkloof noticed a large and vulgar spray painted body part (that of a penis) painted on two sides of the road on Leydes Street. She quickly alerted the city councillor in her area, Shaun Wilkinson. On inspection of the area, Wilkinson came across more graffiti near the Pretoria synagogue.

It is believed the same person or small group of people were responsible, as it appeared as if it was the same “handiwork”, Wilkinson said.

Further away in Muckleneuk, an old South African flag, this time in colour, was painted on a public wall. It is believed that all three Pretoria incidents took place on Saturday night, 2 February. There are no witnesses so far, but according to Wilkinson, several reports of rowdy youngsters were heard in the vicinity of at least two of the three incidents.

Rabbi Gidon Fox of the Pretoria Hebrew Congregation said that while incidents of this nature were unfortunate and offensive, he believed it to be an isolated incident, and did not see the need to make a big deal out of it.

“I have been here for more than 13 years, and this is the first time I have come across anything anti-Semitic. I don’t believe it is emblematic of a broad issue, or anything seething under the surface, just individual bigotry and hatred. I’m reticent about making this into something bigger than it is,” said Fox.

Louis Perlman, the Chairman of the Pretoria Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), confirmed that the graffiti was found about half a city block from the Pretoria shul complex.

The matter, he said, was reported to the local Community Security Organisation and National Council of the SAJBD.

“As there appears to be a link between the two graffiti incidents, both having appeared at about the same time, attention seeking rather than hate speech directed against the Jewish community is perceived to be the motivation of the perpetrators.”

He said the incident was kept low key, and there was no release to the local press “as this may only encourage the attention seekers, assuming this was the motive”.

Wilkinson said he did not believe this had happened before, certainly not during his tenure as ward 59 councillor.

“I have not come across this during my time as councillor. In one weekend, I have a penis with the word ‘why?’ written next to it on Leydes Street, just outside one of the female residences of the University of Pretoria; a swastika at the synagogue in Groenkloof; and an old South African flag in Muckleneuk, all on the same night.”

“My guess it was some youngsters from the neighbourhood or a single person walking around in the middle of the night,” he said.

Both Johannesburg and Pretoria incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti were reported to the CSO.

Said Jevon Greenblatt, Director of CSO Johannesburg, “What we are seeing is in line with global trends, even though what we are experiencing in South Africa is not yet at the levels being experienced in Europe and other countries. Any form of anti-Semitism is a concern, and should not be treated lightly because history shows that words turn to actions.”

These incidents didn’t warrant a specific increase in security, however. “What it comes down to is constantly working with the community, remaining vigilant and aware, and putting measures in place to make sure that Jewish installations are protected.”

Anti-Semitism expert David Saks, the Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said that the two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti were “no cause for real concern”.

“Incidents like this are inevitable from time to time. Anti-Semitism remains quite low in South Africa.”

According to Saks, there has been a 50% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in South Africa, at 62 incidents reported in 2018 compared with 44 incidents in 2017.

While it remains relatively low compared to Europe and other parts of the world, right-wing anti- Semitism is on the rise in this country, experts say.

Commenting on the Pretoria incident, Saks said, “These people are trying to get at the Jewish community, trying to make people upset. It rewards them.” He said it was best to remove the offending graffiti, and not turn it into a big issue as this “might encourage and reward the perpetrators, leading to copy-cat actions”.

The most recently recorded incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti directly targeting synagogues in South Africa occurred in 2015, when swastikas were daubed on the wall of the reform shul in Port Elizabeth in January. In the second incident in July of the same year, a slogan reading, “Your land will escape” and below that, a swastika, followed by “Heil Hitler F**k the Jews Amen” was written on a sign attached to the fence of the Essenwood Road shul in Durban.

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