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Three Rastas walk into a Bar

It wasn't racist of security to approach the customers in a S. African shop, but it left a very bitter taste

Three Rastafarians walk into a bar. One orders a cappuccino, and the other two regular coffees. It sounds like the beginning of a poor joke complete with an ending that one senses is to be distinctly un-funny. And indeed it is.

South African mainstream Newspaper, The Star, this morning leads with a front-page article that covers the following story. The above-mentioned Rastafarians went to Kosher World, a supermarket in the heart of the Jewish area of Johannesburg, for coffee. They ordered their drinks after which were approached by security who asked them to identify themselves as they were not known to them. There was no allegation of abuse or intimidation but the three felt affronted and felt that they were being racially profiled. Left with “no option”, they reported the incident to The Star who wasted no time or opportunity and returned to Kosher World for a photo shoot that would depict the three, leaving the store, the word “Kosher” in sharp focus and the headline “ Coffee Outing Leaves Bitter Taste.”

And indeed it does. It does because when a few weeks ago three Jewish teenagers were attacked and beaten at a mall in Johannesburg for being Jewish, the same newspaper grudgingly covered the event nearly a week after the affront. No sad faces of the assaulted appeared alongside the article, no reference to the emotional toll it had and would continue take on the children who wanted only to be able to go and watch a movie without fear of racism. And, no mention of the racial profiling that was required to single out Jewish children before beating them up. And indeed it does because the newspaper, notorious for its bias against Israel and the community who support her, has long been viewed with skepticism in the community and is daily losing its place as a credible news reporter in many circles.

And it leaves a bitter taste because the article makes us feel guilty. Because we are not comfortable that the coffee drinkers felt unwelcome in one of our establishments and that we are being labeled as being racist. We chafe against it, we call out anti Semitism and we decry those who practice prejudice. But in an uneasy world where Jews are being attacked for being Jewish and in an environment where terror warnings are real and where our children need to be aware of the Kippah on their heads, then I am not sure what the alternative options are. And that is so frustrating.

My bank called me a few weeks ago to verify a small transaction. It turned out that my credit card had been used at a Chicken Take Out restaurant in a rural area outside of Johannesburg. The amount used was around 20 shekel and it clearly was a fraudulent transaction. The integrity of the credit card had been compromised and was immediately cancelled. The reason, they called me was because “the spend” was an aberration in terms of my spending patterns (clearly the price of kosher chickens would never call for a NIS20 spend amount). In essence it was outside my norm and was therefore flagged for verification. People are not transactions, but three Rastafarians sitting in a kosher coffee shop in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood in the middle of Pesach has to be outside the norm and I am not sure that the security guard was wrong to follow up. So long as he did so with respect and treated those concerned with dignity.

The management of Kosher World was quick to issue an apology to those offended. They explained that the context and invited them back for a coffee. The outcome of which is unknown. And they were correct to do so, because no one wants to offend and no one wants anyone to feel what they clearly felt yesterday.

In many respects, too numerous to mention, South Africa is a country in crises. That The Star newspaper chose to lead its daily edition with this story makes me question not only their judgment and their standing as a credible news reporter but also their bias as one.

About the Author
Howard Feldman is a lawyer, a physical commodity trader by industry and a writer by obsession. He is very active in the Jewish community and passionate about our world.
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