SAJFP Rejects Claims of an Environment of Antisemitism in South Africa

South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP) rejects the SAJBD’s claims about antisemitism in South Africa and their accusation that our government is “[creating] an environment where antisemitism can flourish”. The SAJBD has referred to a supposed 631% increase in antisemitic incidents between October and December 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. While SAJFP takes antisemitism as seriously as any other form of racism, the SAJBD’s talk of an antisemitic environment is manipulative and alarmist.

SAJFP challenges the SAJBD’s characterisation of a rise in antisemitism in South Africa because their definition of antisemitism includes certain criticisms of Zionism and Israel. This is made clear by the inclusion of boycotts of “Jewish-headed businesses” or protests outside so-called “Jewish institutions” like the South African Zionist Federation in their reckoning, regardless of the extent to which these businesses and institutions are supporting the Zionist state in a material way.

Antisemitism is never acceptable and SAJFP particularly urges a thorough investigation of the 8 incidents reported to the South African Police Service – including alleged assault unrelated to Zionism and the vandalism of Jewish graves.

Unfortunately, however, claims of antisemitism have long been weaponised by Zionist hasbara (propaganda) in a concerted effort to distract attention from the illegal occupation of Palestine. In today’s reality, it does so by prioritising the discomfort of Zionists over the unimaginable experiences of Palestinians in Gaza. SAJFP encourages the media to bring the conversation back into perspective. The boycott of companies like Cape Union Mart is not a form of racist dehumanisation, it is a legitimate form of protest action directed at subverting funding going to Israel. In contrast, consider the way that Palestinian lives in the media are frequently reduced to numbers of dead, injured, and starving. There is rarely mention of the severe emotional and psychological suffering experienced by those who have nothing to go back to – the homes and neighbourhoods that were filled with memories, culture and artistry, the diverse businesses that took years to build, the universities, mosques, churches and schools, have all but been destroyed.

When it comes to recognising the humanity of Palestinians that the Zionist regime continuously and violently attempts to erase, consider the words of the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish about what his family was forced to leave behind in the Nakba in 1948:

“Why did you leave the horse alone?

-To keep the house company, my son.

Houses die when their inhabitants are gone”

Apologists for Israel’s crimes repeatedly use claims of antisemitism to try to erase the realities of Palestinians, and to delegitimise their struggle for freedom. SAJFP once again reiterates that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism and commends South African institutions and citizens for ensuring that, since Apartheid ended, South Africa has never enabled an environment of antisemitism. We encourage South African leaders to take far greater steps to ensure this is true for every human being living in our country.