South Africans are understandably highly sensitive to racial prejudice. Many of us have no difficulty recalling the “Whites Only” beaches and benches, restaurants and movies. Many of us were educated as to the “Advantages” of “Separate Development” and have spent the best part of a lifetime trying to eliminate the “education” we received as young children.
Call us hyper-vigilant or neurotic or just aware, we are naturally predisposed to seek out the subtext of racism and challenge it. I was therefore more than a little surprised when I noted a news headline in the Mail and Guardian (March 24), one of South Africa’s more open and left leaning papers, known for its human rights focus and its criticism of Israel – “Is Jewish Billionaire Funding the EFF? We’ll Never Know.” The article, an opinion piece happens to be sensible and balanced and notes that a so called document indicating a financial transfer by Kirsch to the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) might well be false. But on the basis that in South Africa there is simply no demand for disclosure and hence no way to verify this the writer questions why there is not more transparency in the system. All fair and well.
But the fact that it leads with a Jewish reference in the headline – a harking back the Protocols of Zion and reinforces the notion that Jews control political parties through money, is more than a little disturbing. Even more so is that the paper quickly recognized the error of its ways and changed the title from “Jewish” to “Eccentric”. ( I am not sure which the so-called “billionaire” in question would prefer?) But in doing so the article prominently notes at the end of the piece that: “Initially, the headline of this article referred to Kirsch’s Jewish religion. As this is not relevant for the point the author is making, the reference has been removed.”
Well actually by doing so, they not only have not removed it but have drawn more attention to it. The Internet link still refers to a “Jewish” businessman and one has to wonder how this was allowed to happen in the first place.
The article was written and checked and then “subbed.” It was then captured and loaded and links were created. What I find so hard to believe is that at no point during this process did anyone hit the pause button and suggest that the racial nature of the headline should be eliminated. This, from a paper known for its left leanings and criticism of anything that hints of bias. And whereas I applaud that the paper did make the change (albeit clumsily), I can’t help wondering how this happened in the first place.
The answer is unfortunately sadly simple. Whereas South Africans might be acutely aware of racism, there seems to be a comfortable disconnect or dissonance created when Jews or Israel are involved. The rules that apply to all others in local society seem to be suspended and a different standard adhered to. The possibility of the headline reading “Muslim Billionaire” or “Christian Billionaire” would never have been possible, as the checks along the way; the sensitivity that has been instilled in us would have raised the question of relevance and precluded it as racist.
This is not a South African quirk alone and the double standard is not unique to this country. As Jews and as supporters of Israel we are all too familiar with this frustration and are hardly shocked that the perpetrators are so often those who hold the flag the highest. We speak about it, we lament it and we note it. But only by challenging it will we remove the Jew from the Headline.