The current war between Hamas and Israel has brought up a massive tsunami of every imaginable emotion for me, for all of my friends and seemingly for the entire world.
In this new reality of war in which we find ourselves, whether in Israel or the diaspora, watching from the front lines or from behind the scenes, we are witnessing its fiery wings spreading far and wide, evoking a massive cacophony of engagement.
The tribes have spoken and we, the Jews, no matter where we call home, are the consummate outsiders of the global village, the victims of the modern era’s conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
Even in South Africa, with all of its domestic crises, there has been an outcry against the war between Israel and Hamas by the African National Congress (ANC) and incitement of violence from one of the government’s most problematic personalities, Julius Malema.
On Friday, at a protest outside of the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party, threatened to expel Israel’s Ambassador, Arthur Lenk from the country.
“This is a warning shot,” Malema is reported to having said. “The next time we will come, we will physically remove the Ambassador.”
Following Friday’s protest, a warning circulated amongst the Jewish community of Johannesburg that a motorcade in support of Gaza was scheduled to take place on Saturday. The “Buraq Riders” planned to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods and we were urged to alert the Jewish Community Security Organisation (CSO) if we encountered them. “Pogrom vibes,” my Jewish friend Guy noted, as we quickly spread the word on social media to our friends. Thankfully, the motorcade did not end up driving into Jewish areas and the protest was peaceful, according to the CSO.
Since the war began, the Jewish community of South Africa has been put on even higher alert. A solidarity rally for Israel was postponed due to security concerns. At my daughter’s school, at synagogues, Jewish-owned shops and residential areas, special security guidelines have been put into place. As the largest Jewish community in Africa (estimated population 70,000) we are watching the violent surges of anti-Semitism being experienced by Jewish communities in North America, Europe and Australia, hoping we won’t be next.
Before this war began, the South African Jewish community had been challenged by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and the “Israel is an Apartheid State” debate, but never confronted by chants of “Kill the Jews” as a recent ANC Youth League (ANCYL) post on Twitter encouraged. Although it was later claimed that whoever posted the Tweet was not officially part of the ANCYL, the message sent shockwaves through the community.
“Keep Calm and Kill Jews”, read the Tweet, which has since been taken down.
This particular Jewish community is used to living under fire. We face daily threats of car hijackings, home invasions and violent crime. The threat of violent anti- Semitism, however, has never been seen in this land.
My Afrikaans friends have been asking me questions about the war in Israel, trying to wrap their heads around the complex dynamics of this battle. My friend Talitha wonders what is it about the Jews that has everyone wanting to kill them. “When it comes to the Jews, no logic can apply,” I answer her. What is it about THIS war, I wonder, that has Jews and non-Jews battling under the waves?
We have been awakened from a universal slumber not even the birth of ISIS could jar us from, and have quickly swum to take a side, elbowing each other in the race to get to a shore that keeps eluding us. We are each holding tight to everything we know, all the familiar paradigms: eye for an eye, right vs. wrong, destruction of the other for the sake of self preservation. Hate.
I find myself on the shore, with my American, Israeli and South African identities pushing back against the old paradigms, reaching for a new one that is still hidden.
These are the most frightening of times and many of us feel dragged under, defeated, undone. My friend Haneen, an Israeli Arab living in Jerusalem recently asked on Facebook: “When will we wake up from this nightmare?” Everyone wants to know when and how it will end.
I remain in waiting, hoping that the ethos of tolerance and nonviolence of the new South Africa will protect the South African Jewish community from what has now become a global storm. Hoping that this will be the last war that Israel will have to fight and that we will be able to rebuild after the destruction and discover what peace actually looks like.
I will take my hope and hold it close, until that epic shift occurs. In the meantime, I am wondering where the Mandela of the Middle East is.