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The Jewish Report Editorial

South African citizens just want peace

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Over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I will pray for peace and harmony. I will especially pray for an end to anti-Semitism.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Sep 26, 2019

I don’t mind running happy news stories on our front page if it means that we have less ugliness and unpleasantness in our world.

This week, I experienced kindness, friendliness, and a sense of wider community on the few occasions I was out in public spaces.

Passing people in rowboats on the Zoo Lake on Heritage Day, everyone offered helpful advice, waved, chatted, and made us feel a part of a happy society. That was the most intimate of these occasions, but no different to our other experiences.

I didn’t feel nervous, or concerned that my skin was too pale, or that I was too Jewish. It felt really good.

We are all just South Africans with our own chosen paths. It feels like as ordinary citizens, we are doing the best we can for ourselves and each other. I genuinely believe that most South Africans just want a country where we can live happily together.

But it doesn’t take long to see a very different side to this country on social media. I understand that social media is a necessary evil, but the ugliness spewed on these platforms can destroy all the good the rest of us do in our day to day lives.

Lebogang Maile, Gauteng human settlements, urban planning and co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC, recently made an ugly comment about Jews in his battle with Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba.

I was sure that he would soon realise that he should not have made such an offensive statement, especially as a government representative, and would apologise. I was wrong.

His response to questions from the SA Jewish Report following his insult of the community made it clear that he didn’t care about offending us, digging himself further into the hole of racism. (See story on page 1.)

Then, we have Clinton Gary Swemmer, the South African envoy to the United Nations Human Rights Council, accusing Israel of using Netanyahu’s planned annexation of the West Bank settlements as “an excuse for ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. He claimed South Africa was concerned about this.

He was then quoted as saying, “What started in East Jerusalem is going to spread unannounced and without an outcry, but with devastating consequences.” (See story on page 3.) What is he talking about? Not only is he accusing Israel of looking for an excuse for ethnic cleansing, but of having already done so in East Jerusalem. This is absurd and outrageous! It is such a clear example of what is termed “new anti-Semitism”, in which there is clearly no truth to his ugly statements. It’s pure Israel (therefore Jewish) hatred.

In light of both of these instances, the UN’s scathing report released this week condemning mounting global anti-Semitism is all the more disturbing.

In the report, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, warned that, if left unchecked by governments, the “prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes” poses “risks not only to Jews but to members of other minority communities, Anti-Semitism is toxic to democracy and mutual respect of citizens, and threatens all societies in which it goes unchallenged,” he said.

He urged governments to adopt a “human-rights based approach” to combatting the hatred of Jews.

The report points to three main sources of hatred towards Jews: right-wing white supremacists; left-wing anti-Semitism that couches itself in anger at Israeli government policies or practices; and Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) “objectives, activities and effects [which] are fundamentally anti-Semitic”.

Isn’t it interesting that Maile cannot see that accusing the mayor of “giving” – not selling – property to Jews is a problem. In his response to us, he claimed that he meant all whites. But he didn’t say that, preferring to pinpoint a minority that is so easily and quickly used as a scapegoat in racist behaviour.

As for Swemmer, I wonder how he justifies what he said. It would help if he deigned to respond to our request for answers. We will not let up on trying to get a response.

I am relieved that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is always quick to jump on these cases of anti-Semitism, not allowing people to walk away from making racist slurs against us. I appreciate that some people feel that the SAJBD is soft on anti-Semites, but I disagree. I believe it is doing the right thing by bringing the might of the law against these people. We dare not stoop to the level of those who despise us – we are above that. We need to use our integrity, moral judgement and the law to ensure people know we won’t take their abuse.

In this newspaper, we make sure to alert you to anti-Semitic attacks, no matter how small. So, it may sometimes seem as if we are under general attack, but we aren’t. We simply don’t accept anti-Semitism. However, we are relieved that for the most part, Jews in this country are treated like all other citizens. And there is, comparatively, little anti-Semitism in South Africa.

I put this down to the fact that, intrinsically, South Africans are not full of hate, and actually want to get on with each other in a peaceful, calm way. We have our problems, but we want to be able to row our boats on the lake, and smile at those around us.

Here’s to a peaceful 5780!

Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah!

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