‘No antisemitism here’ – South Africa claims despite 631% surge in attacks on Jews

Incidents of assault, threats, and vandalism have skyrocketed since October, 7th.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

The claim of South Africa’s Justice Minister that there is no antisemitism targeting the country’s Jewish community drew a forthright response from Jewish leaders on Wednesday, who also accused the South African government of “creating an environment that emboldens antisemites.”

In an interview with the BBC’s “Hard Talk” program on Monday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola flatly denied that antisemitism — which has soared in South Africa in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel and the Israeli government’s military response — was a problem.

When presenter Stephen Sackur quoted South African Jewish leader Howard Sackstein saying that he was “staring at my suitcase contemplating whether it’s time to leave the only home I’ve ever known,” underlining as well his fear that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government had been “captured by radical Islamists,” Lamola dismissed these concerns outright, going on to attack the “Zionist state.”

“It’s a very unfortunate statement not backed by any facts, it’s a figment of his own imagination,” Lamola said.

Lamola added that the case charging Israel with “genocide” brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by South Africa was “not against the Jews as a people, it’s against the Zionist State of Israel,” which was “maiming and killing the Palestinians as a group in Gaza,” he said.

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The ICJ’s ruling last week essentially rejected South Africa’s argument, with no immediate order issued to Israel to halt the war, only the demand that assistance must be provided to improve humanitarian conditions and measures taken to prevent acts or incitement against the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention.

When Sackur pointed out that there had been a precipitous rise in antisemitic attacks in South Africa since Oct. 7, Lamola fired back, “there’s no such…there is no antisemitism in South Africa against the Jewish people.”

A statement from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) on Wednesday highlighted that between October and December of last year, in the weeks following the Hamas assault, 139 antisemitic incidents were recorded, compared with 19 in the same period of 2022 — an increase of 631 percent.

The statement pointed out that there had also been as “a sharp increase in physical attacks against Jewish persons or property, something which had occurred only rarely in previous years. There were six cases of physical assault, whereas the annual average had been only one in the preceding decade.”

Among the violent incidents recorded were two cases of assault outside a Johannesburg synagogue, an attack on a Johannesburg rabbi, and a Jewish community member being repeatedly struck over the head with a pole at a pro-Hamas rally in Cape Town. Vandalism included damage and desecration to Jewish cemeteries in Pretoria and Durban.

During the incident in Cape Town, the targeted individual was surrounded by dozens of violent protestors who bellowed “Viva Hamas” and “Murderers,” telling him “Hitler did not kill all of you guys, just so that we could all see exactly why he did it.”

South Africa’s Jewish community “has prided itself on the relatively low levels of antisemitism compared to other Jewish Diaspora communities,” the SAJBD remarked. “However our government has created an environment where antisemitism can flourish with Minister Lamola’s comments being an example. We call on Minister Lamola and the ANC Government to stop dismissing antisemitism and to stop creating an environment that emboldens antisemites.”

A report on South African antisemitism submitted by the SAJBD to the US State Department and shared with The Algemeiner described how South African Jews increasingly face opprobrium and hatred in their daily lives.

“A ‘naming and shaming’ process has been adopted, where people are encouraged to shun those characterized as ‘genocidal baby killers’ and the like,” the report noted.

In one of several hateful emails sent to members of the community, a Jewish doctor in Cape Town was virulently abused by a former patient who accused him of financial dishonesty.

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“I don’t expect anything from a Jewish c*** like you; it’s true what they say about you Jews, it’s ******* huge noses ***** greedy,” the email ranted. It ended, “my sexy rat-eyed y*d, we are coming for you. Hail [sic] HITLER.”

Lamola’s denial of South Africa’s antisemitism problem followed his assertion last week that the ICJ case brought against Israel meant that Nelson Mandela, the late South African President who led the ANC in its struggle against apartheid, “will be smiling in his grave.”

ANC leaders have repeatedly invoked Mandela in a political campaign against Israel that has intensified over the last decade. However, Mandela was a supporter of the two-state solution, declaring in a 1993 address to the Jewish community, “As a movement we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”