Justifying hate by anti-Israel lobby groups in South Africa

The world watched in horror as terrorists embarked on a killing spree across Paris.

Sitting glued to CNN, we mourned with the people of France, and applauded as French society united in their condemnation of the attacks and commitment to fighting terrorism.  We watched the poignant images of Parisians from different backgrounds and religions taking to the streets with their common message of eradicating hatred in their land.  It was impossible to not be inspired by the outpouring of grief and also the determination to stand up against global terrorism.  The image of a senior Muslim leader entering the Paris Synagogue on the evening of the march was very moving.

There were many condemnations in South Africa as well, including by the Muslim Judicial Council. Unfortunately, not everyone in the tip of Africa felt the same way about those acts of terror.  They included spokespeople for the Media Review Network, a hardened anti-Israel organization whose mission statement presents it as being a body working to “dispel myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster understanding between the diverse people” of South Africa.

MRN executive member Iqbal Jassat told The Star newspaper on 8/1 that “The murder of 12 people in Paris should send a clear message to the world that the lampooning of Muhammad is unacceptable.  …Although the loss of life is regrettable, the media had repeatedly been asked not to cross this line.”

The attacks were further justified by fellow MRN Executive Director Firoz Osman, who wrote, “The deliberate provocation of six million Muslims in France and the 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide through constant racial vulgarities and indignities directed at the Prophet and Islam under the guise of freedom of speech is reckless and utterly reprehensible”.

Osman, in his Politicsweb article last week, calls for “dignity, privacy and respect” and for people to, “imbibe Islamic values of tolerance, respect and honor”. It is an ironic assertion, in light of the MRN’s long history of Holocaust Denial, Jewish conspiracy theories (including around 9/11 and the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and the promotion of antisemitic canards.

By trying to justify these heinous killings, Osman and Jassat are legitimizing global terror.  As long as you don’t like what someone says as in the case of Charlie Hebro or the religion that one comes from as in the victims of the Kosher Food Market you are fair game for global terrorists.

Another lobby group in South Africa that feels it is fine to intimidate and threaten other people if they don’t subscribe to your narrow views or your specific narrative is BDS SA.  BDS SA has been known to have harassed and threatened shoppers who dare to frequent stores that store produce from a country they don’t like, a protest resulting in a pigs head in a Woolworths store.  They have sung `Shoot the Jew’ at BDS SA protests outside Wits University when they don’t like the origins of the performing musician and their coordinator Mohammed Desai has justified this.  They have objected to the SA Jewish Board of Deputies celebrating South Africa’s 20 year democracy as we dare to feel differently about how to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian situation.  Our calls for a negotiated `two-state solution’, being inconsistent with their punitive approach, makes them want to demonise us as `bad South Africans’ and attributing full guilt to us for Apartheid.

The South African values that are enshrined in our Bill of Rights in our constitution hold as pillars of our democracy freedom of religion, belief and opinion (section 15), Freedom of expression (section 16) and Freedom of association (Section 18).  Osman and Jassat question these tenants as they justify the brutal murder of the journalists at Charlie Hebro.  BDS SA ignores these foundation stones of our democracy as they intimidate and threaten South Africans who do not subscribe to their agenda.

Paris highlighted many festering wounds in South Africa amongst these civil society bodies that claim to represent human rights.  It exposed them for their antidemocratic values and highlighted their true agendas in contrast to the unity that we saw in Paris a week ago.

About the Author
Wendy Kahn is the National Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
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