South Africa 2005
South Africa again recorded relatively few antisemitic
incidents in 2005. In fact, the total was just over half that of the previous
year, and once again few were of a violent or particularly threatening nature.
Vitriolic anti-Israel views, which frequently spilled over into outright
antisemitism, nevertheless continued to be propagated within the Muslim
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
community, estimated at 75,000–80,000, has stabilized since the latter half of
2003. The main Jewish centers are Johannesburg (50 000) and Cape Town (18,000);
smaller communities exist in Durban (2,700) and Pretoria (1,500), as well as in Port
Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, East London and the Greater Plettenberg Bay area.
The South African Jewish community is highly cohesive and well organized,
boasting an impressive network of religious, educational, cultural and welfare
institutions. Over 80 percent of Jewish children are enrolled in Jewish day
schools and intermarriage rates are low in comparison with other Diaspora
countries. Some 85 percent of the religiously affiliated community is Orthodox.
The central representative Jewish civil rights organization is the South
African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), whose primary task is to monitor and
where necessary respond to antisemitism. The SAJBD meets regularly with key
political leaders from across the political spectrum and has been successful in
forging strong relations with the ruling party at all levels of government. The Community Security Organisation, the security arm of
the Jewish community, operates under the auspices of the SAJBD. Israel-related
activities are overseen by the South African Zionist Federation.
POLITICAL PARTIES AND EXTRA-PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS
The ruling party
in South Africa is the African National Congress (ANC), which controls all nine
of the country’s provinces and holds 70 percent of the 400 seats in the House
of Assembly. The Official Opposition, which holds 50 seats, is the Democratic
Alliance, whose leader, Tony Leon, is Jewish. Jews remain prominently
represented at all levels of government and society.
South Africa, mindful of its racially discriminatory past, has a
zero-tolerance attitude towards racist behavior. This ethos helps explain the
relatively low level of antisemitism that exists in the country. A
comprehensive Bill of Rights ensures adequate protection for all citizens,
including members of religious and ethnic minorities.
Extremist Parties and Hate Groups
Antisemitism in South Africa today is largely confined to extremist groupings within the country’s
800,000-strong Muslim community. The once relatively mainstream Muslim Judicial
Council (MJC) has radicalized in recent years, openly backing extremist Islamic
networks such as Hamas and Hizballah. Its leadership, and in particular deputy
president Ighsaan Hendricks, continued to make incendiary speeches during 2005.
Though avoiding overtly antisemitic statements, Hendricks made several menacing
references to local Jewish support for international Zionism and its alleged
misdeeds. In December 2004, for example, Hendricks charged that all Zionists
were the enemies of Islam and went on to say: “Many of the Jewish community of
Cape Town sons serve in the army that occupies the land of the Palestinians and
who brutally killed many of our Palestinians [sic].”
Islamic extremist movements are active mainly in the Western Cape Province.
They include Qibla, founded in 1979 and labeled
a terrorist movement by the US State Department, and
the Islamic Unity Convention. The latter has been engaged in an extended
court battle with the SAJBD over antisemitic broadcasting by the IUC mouthpiece
Radio 786 (see below).
The Media Review Network, a Muslim media advocacy group which promotes
the ideologies of Muslim extremist organizations the world over, remains a
vociferous presence in the South African media and propagates antisemitic
material, including Holocaust denial, on its website. Nevertheless, the MRN
continues to be used uncritically as a source representing Muslim opinion by the
mainstream South African media.
Concerns continued to
mount over growing evidence that South Africa was being used as a base for
planning international terrorist attacks. In December Daily Voice, a non-mainstream
Cape Town publication that nevertheless claims a substantial readership,
revealed that al-Qa`ida-style training camps had existed at several locations
in the Western Cape for several years. The number of South African Muslims
arrested around the world on suspicion of taking part in attacks continued to
grow. They included Haroon Rashid Aswat, a former resident of Johannesburg,
arrested in Zambia in July in connection with the London subway bombings in
antisemitic incidents were recorded in South Africa in 2005, almost half that
of the previous year (37). Of these, half fell under the category of verbal
abuse, while there were seven cases of antisemitic hate mail and two involving a
confrontation between neighbors in which antisemitism appeared to be a contributing
The most worrying development was a move by the MJC
to make the local Jewish community answerable for alleged attacks on Muslims
and Islamic holy sites. In May, the Cape Town office of the SAJBD received a
letter from the MJC claiming that the Israelis were plotting to destroy the
al-Aqsa Mosque and demanding that the SAJBD accept a memorandum of protest.
Although it refused to accept the memorandum, the SAJBD extended an
invitation to the MJC to meet and discuss Jewish-Muslim relations. In response,
MJC Secretary Shaykh Ahmed Seddick wrote a virulently antisemitic letter,
saying, inter alia: “The Quran and the Bible state that the Jews were
killers and murderers of Prophets. The Jews have attempted to kill Jesus…
global Jewry denies… historical facts and dismisses the Word of God ‘as a pack
of lies and fabrication’… Who are the liars and fabricators of untruths,
misinformation, disinformation and falsehood propagation – The Muslim Judicial
Council/global Muslims or the Jewish Board of Deputies/global Jewry?”
The MJC memorandum was eventually handed
over to the Department of Foreign Affairs in the course of a protest march in Cape Town city center. About 10,000 Muslims took part in the march, well short of the target
of 100,000 the organizers were hoping to achieve. Slogans and banners dealt
mainly with al-Aqsa. Although the demonstration was not overtly anti-Jewish,
much extremely anti-Israel, and occasionally anti-American, sentiment was
RESPONSES TO RACISM AND ANTISEMITISM
Over the past decade the SAJBD has regularly lodged
complaints, and on occasion taken legal action, against antisemitic
broadcasting. A hearing into such a complaint, dating from 1998, against Radio 786, a Muslim community station in Cape Town run by the Islamic Unity Convention (IUC), continued to
be held up by the latter’s stalling tactics and by the failure of the
Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to act decisively
to bring the matter to a conclusion (see ASW 2004).
The last three court applications by the IUC were unsuccessful, and the case
was due to be heard by the Monitoring and Complaints Unit of ICASA in March
The SAJBD’s case against Voice of the Cape, another Cape Town Muslim community radio station, was brought to a successful
conclusion in September, when the Monitoring and
Complaints Unit of ICASA upheld the SAJBD’s complaint against the station. It
ruled that Voice of the Cape had violated the Broadcasting Code when it aired
an interview with local Muslim theology student Shaykh Mogamat Colby,
who made violently antisemitic statements without being challenged by the host (see ASW 2004).
Voice of the Cape was ordered to implement appropriate monitoring procedures to
prevent a repetition of such an incident and to broadcast an apology to the
Jewish community. The latter was done following ratification of the written
ruling in January 2006.
In July antisemitic graffiti, including the words “offensive bastard” in Biblical Greek and Hebrew and a large swastika,
was spray-painted by a resident of White River on his wall in full view
of his Jewish neighbor. The Jewish resident, through the Human Rights
Commission, took the case to the Equity Court. As a result, the first trial on an antisemitic matter in post-apartheid South Africa was to be heard in early February 2006.
Countering Anti-Israel/Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The SA Zionist
Federation, assisted where necessary by the SAJBD, continued to run its Media
Team, set up in 2003 to respond in the media to attacks on Israel. The group is made up of professional staff and volunteers, who write articles and
letters defending Israel, for publication in the press and call in regularly to
radio talk shows.
The SAJBD set up a separate Communications Department at the end of 2004
with the aim of promoting local Jewish affairs in the media. This department
enjoyed considerable success in 2005, gaining extensive coverage for events
such as the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the March of the
Living tour to Poland and Israel, Jewish involvement in tsunami relief efforts
and an exhibition on German-Jewish refugees from Nazism who settled in Johannesburg.