Charisse Zeifert writes for The Sowetan:

Let’s Have Honest Debates About Jews

The anger of the callers during a discussion on Power FM last week, was illuminating: Ike, a regular caller in to all radio stations, was in his element.  The Holocaust, according to Ike, needs to be put to historical scrutiny (suggesting of course that it didn’t exist). Eddie, the following caller, went further to suggest that Jews in Germany deserved to die. After all, they were in control of the German economy, prior to Hitler’s rise to power.  In addition, the rants against Israel being a Nazi state would certainly add to the anger whipped up against Jews.

What sparked this discussion were the comments made by Wits SRC President, Mcebo Dlamini.  He said he admired Hitler’s organisational skills and believed that every white had a piece of Hitler in him. The above views are problematic because they portray Jews as a murderous people who wantonly massacre others. The mass murder of Jews at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany is seen to be justified by the supposedly hateful nature of the Jews themselves.

The Jewish community took these comments seriously. The SAJBD laid a complaint against Dlamini with the SA Human Rights Commission. Numerous Jewish organizations issued statements, including the SA Union of Jewish Students. The academic community was equally outraged. Both the Wits Vice Chancellor and the head of convocation were unequivocal in their condemnation, and distanced the University from Dlamini’s comments. The University has subsequently, removed Dlamini from his position as President of the SRC (albeit on another disciplinary issue).  Reasonable people did their best to convince Dlamini that Hitler was not a role model for their cause. He hated blacks just slightly less than he hated Jews. Nonetheless, Dlamini came out defiant, and his supporters stood by him. And while everyone retreated into their camps, the bigger questions remained unasked and answered, and tensions continue to simmer on both sides.

This is a pity, because South Africans have more to unite than divide them. For a start, ours is a deeply religious society. We have huge respect for each other’s’ religious beliefs and practices. Both at government levels and through NGO interfaith fora our communities work well together.  For example it is commonplace that huge political rallies begin with interfaith prayers, something unique to our country.  Similarly, at an NGO level, faiths come together regularly to tackle issues facing our country, such as xenophobia, crime and violence, and work together to make our country a better place. South Africans are also united by our love for our various traditions and culture. We stand firm in celebrating our rites of passage for all our major milestones from birth to death.

When it comes to racism, Jews and black South Africans, have a lot in common. Both groups have experienced racism from time-immemorial, and continue to do so. Hitler used pseudo-science to differentiate Jews from Aryans. This formed the basis of the apartheid government policy. Race is the burning issue in this country. The black majority still remains dispossessed. There are still changes that need to happen, especially around the economy and our own reconciliation as a society. One of the points brought up in the discussion on Power FM was the fact that  70 years post the Holocaust, Jews still remember and commemorate their past, while merely 21 years post-apartheid, South Africans should simply move on. The Jewish attitude towards the Holocaust was to forgive but not forget.  In remembering, it was hoped that the racism of the past would not be able to take root again. There are numerous international memorial days, museums, and monuments constantly being erected to remember the past. South African Jews would be more than willing to partner with various stakeholders, government or community-based to share experiences of collecting and collating history.

Rather than be offensive and inflammatory, the discussions around our past and future need to take place honestly and within safe environments, lest the wounds fester.  We need to talk to each other, not at each other.

The Ikes, Eddies and Mcebo’s of the world would like us to believe that Jews are a worthy target in this country, as they are elsewhere.  They are supported implicitly and explicitly by a number of groups whose narrow views on and blinding hatred for Israel see people like Hitler as heroes.  The distortion of the role of Zionism has led to yet another classic anti-Semitic canard:  that of dual loyalty.  South African Jews put their roots down in this country more than 120 years ago. We are committed to and are part of its social fabric.  The Jewish community has established programmes.  One such is that run by ORT SA (Organisation Research and Training South Africa) that is an NGO in education, vocation and enterprise.  It works in Soweto, ivory Park and Alexandra. It’s ORT Bidvest Alex project has empowered teachers in Maths and has led to improved learner performance.   t is surely this principle of nation building that we want to achieve.  We need to debate honestly and openly because if we don’t, the extremists and their extreme views are going to dominate.

Zeifert is head of communications at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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SAJBD’s Head of Communications, Charisse Zeifert writes this article:

 

When Mcebo Dlamini was found guilty of misconduct and removed as Wits SRC President earlier this year, his reaction (echoed by his supporters) was revealing: He was, he wrote, being removed from his position as a result of Vice Chancellor Adam Habib havingused “the racist zionist controlled” Wits Legal Office to find him guilty.

The notion that Jews control the world (media, banks, in this case Universities) is a classic antisemitic canard. It is almost as if Jews have some kind of supernatural power, which they use to influence every aspect of everybody’s life, for their own selfish purposes. It is problematic because, apart from being self-evidently absurd, such thinking portrays Jews as being intrinsically under-handed, manipulative, untrustworthy and, all-in-all, a people to be mistrusted and shunned by the rest of humanity.

Dlamini was finally removed this week as SRC President, not, incidentally, for his recent comments expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler (although those are also under review, and clearly didn’t help) but for prior disciplinary infringements. On his removal, he reported stated, “It’s proof to everyone that white supremacy is putting its boots on the neck of the black child.”

Are Jews becoming the epitome of all that is wrong with South Africa?  Are they being scapegoated for the economic ills of this country?  And in admiring Hitler, does Dlamini also wish to emulate him?

The discussions taking place on this issue are becoming toxic. “All Jews have Hitler in them”, “Jews deserve what they got in Germany” and “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, so Jews are legitimate targets” are just some of the remarks being made over the airwaves and in the social media.

Meanwhile, even as Dlamini was receiving his marching orders, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was orchestrating the SRCs of various universities to join the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Yesterday, representatives of five of South Africa’s 24 public universities announced at a press conference that they will be lobbying their respective institutions to join in such a boycott. Clad in keffiyes  (traditional Palestinian scarves), with BDS signage as backdrop, delegates from the universities of the Western Cape, South Africa, Durban University of Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Mangasutho University of Technology all tried to outdo one another in excoriating Israel. They conflated everything, from Mcebo Dlamini’s recent statements on his love and admiration for Hitler, the Gaza war in 2014, to the denial by Israel of a visa to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

BDS itself insists that it is not antisemitic. They claim that the Israel lobby uses the antisemitic label to silence criticism of Israel. Is this a case of “the lady does protest too much”?

The reality is that BDS campaigns regularly lead to antisemitic behaviour and discourse.

Indeed, one of the University SRC endorsing the anti-Israel boycott call is Durban University of Technology, which immediately following a BDS campaign on its campus earlier this year issued a demand that all Jewish students be ‘de-registered’ (that is, expelled). A “Juden Frei” university! Another more recent instance of BDS incitement leading to overt acts of antisemitism was the depositing by its supporters of a pig’s head in what was thought to be the kosher meat section of a Woolworths store in Cape Town. All in all, the vitriolic, rabble-rousing nature of BDS rhetoric, combined with its routine factual dishonesty, incites overtly antisemitic behaviour.

The campaign, by its very nature, seeks to isolate people who support Israel, whether Jewish or not. The way in which they conduct their campaigns, including against Woolworths for stocking a miniscule amount of carefully labelled goods, is a case in point.  Earlier this year, dozens of teenagers looted a Woolworths store at Sammy Marks Square, Pretoria. Carrying placards with slogans reading “Israel is the devil”, their rampage caused losses to the store estimated at R300 000.  Such hooligan-like behaviour brings to mind how in 2013 members of the Wits SRC, proudly wearing their SRC blazers, violently disrupted a piano concert at Wits University at the behest of BDS. Yet BDS still insists that it represents the youth and protect education, through its campaigns.

In what way is the BDS, so vociferous boycotts against Israel, dealing with the real issues facing our youth and students:  unemployment, energy insecurity, spiralling food and commodity costs and inferior education?  How about higher education costs, the poor administrative state of many of our universities, the dysfunction at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and escalating higher education costs? In other words, what is really at play here?

 

South Africa is a country that has huge racial, economic and cultural divides. There is huge anger, but it is misdirected. It is not our foreigners that are causing poverty, nor are South African Jews behind it.

 

Mr Dlamini was fired from his position this week, not because the VC Adam Habib is too weak, and not because of the machinations of the so-called “Zionist lobby”. He lost his position through having repeatedly brought an academic institution of high national and international standing into disrepute by his own racist utterances and misconduct.

 

South Africa has real economic and social issues. We’re not going to simply get-over apartheid. We need to address the issues. However, blaming Jews for these ills is not going to solve the problems. Indeed, it will only make them worse.

 

Read the article here: http://www.iol.co.za/the-star/blaming-jews-won-t-solve-sa-s-ills-1.1855347#.VUxnZ2SeDGd

www_ornico_co_za_editorialstream_OwnMediaAttachments_2015_05_07_2021970_pdf

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Yesterday’s Civil Society March against Xenophobia was an exhilarating experience.  It was heart-warming to see the outpouring of support by so many thousands of people from such different walks of life.  The SAJBD was proud to be part of, and was an official endorser of this rally.  While we saw some of our community members there, we did not see all.  Please send us any photos you took of the rally, as we would like to use some of them for facebook.  You can email the photos to Charisse@sajbd.org

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Dear Community Members

It has been a tragic and heartbreaking time for all South Africans in light of the ongoing manifestations of hate being leveled against foreign nationals in our country.

While The SAJBD will continue to work with groups such as the Hate Crimes Working Group and Peace Action in trying to find solutions for the scourge of xenophobia, we do recognize that there are immediate and pressing needs in alleviating the suffering of those affected by these attacks.

Our community has a history of great generosity whenever a need arises and we are now issuing an appeal for assistance in helping the displaced refugees.

The CKNJ (Council of Kwazulu Natal Jewry) within the SAJBD has been doing amazing work in responding to the crisis in Durban and now it is time to extend our relief work to Gauteng as well.

Yesterday I joined a team of Jewish volunteers to visit the two sites hosting the volunteers, the Methodist Churches in Primrose and Elsburg, to ascertain exactly what specific needs there are and to identify ways that our community can assist. It is important that we respond to the needs that exist and in light of this we will continue to assess the situation and keep the community informed.

The following are specific items required at present:

  • Toilet paper
  • Baby products (nappies, formula and wipes)
  • Hygiene products (soap, sanitary pads, toothbrushes, toothpaste and most importantly hand sanitizer that does not require water)
  • Cleaning products such as jik, dishwashing liquid
  • Foods such as rice, maizemeal and soya mince
  • Tinned foods such as corned beef and baked beans

These items can be dropped off at Beyachad, 2 Elray Street, Raedene. C/O SAJBD.

We would also be grateful for funds towards our relief effort so that we can use it to purchase items needed in the specific shelters such as pots, disposable products etc).

Donations can be made to the following account:

South African Jewish Board of Deputies

Standard Bank Killarney 200305190

Reference: Relief +your initial and surname.

 

We will keep the community updated as to situation and any specific needs that arise.

 

Wendy Kahn

National Director

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People’s March Against Xenophobia: Thursday 23 April

21 April 2015

On Thursday 23 April, 30 000 South Africans are expected to march in Johannesburg in a spirit of unity against xenophobia.  The People’s March Against Xenophobia will take place from 13h00, Peter Roos Park, Empire Road, and will end at Mary Fitzgerald Square.  The march is an initiative of civil society, and is endorsed by the […]

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Hate Crimes Working Group Press Release on Xenophobia

20 April 2015

Hate Crimes Affect All South Africans – Let’s Work Together to Foster Tolerance and Respect The Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG) is truly saddened by the current culture of hatred and violence in South Africa.  Intolerance has become endemic and all people in South Africa – civil, religious, community, and government – need to actively […]

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Doris Krinsky Shares her Mother’s Story About Surviving Auschwitz.

20 April 2015

“I am here today to honour my mother Mascha Schainberg and to tell you about her story of courage, strength and resilience and to share with you her miracle of surviving Auschwitz. Mascha was born in Bialystok Poland, she was the youngest of four sisters. She had a large and happy family and her home […]

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Alana Baranov article in Business Day on Xenophobia

17 April 2015

http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/2015/04/17/rainbow-nation-goes-up-in-smoke-on-durbans-streets

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Yom Hashoa Ceremony Guest Speaker Hugo Marom: From Orphan to Fighter Pilot

14 April 2015

2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, and other Nazi death camps.  On Thursday, 16 April, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies will once again be holding its annual Day of Remembrance Ceremony in memory of the Six Million Jewish Martyrs who perished at the hands of the Nazis during World […]

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David Sacks shares the Jewish Affairs Pesach edition

7 April 2015

2015 Marks the seventieth anniversary of both the end of World War II and the liberation of the remaining Nazi death camps in Europe. Accordingly, Jewish Affairs will feature various perspectives on these themes in the three issues this year. The first 2015, Pesach, issue has now appeared and been uploaded onto this site. It […]

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