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Let’s Have Honest Debates About Jews

by SAJBD on 12 May 2015

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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