A Jewish South African’s views on Dlamini, xenophobia and anti-semitism

I’m a South African wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, employer, colleague, friend, director … and a writer, chocolate addict, reader, compulsive online shopper, control freak and pedant.

So far, you probably don’t find anything about me particularly offensive. You may think I’m a bit strange, but you’re unlikely to have strong negative feelings about me. Maybe, we could even be friends (real friends, I don’t do Fa(k)ebook), or at least become familiar enough to smile warmly at each other at book festivals. Or craft markets. We can certainly follow each other on Twitter.

Until I say something you don’t like. Or until the other adjectives you could use to describe me get in the way. Because I’m also white and Jewish – a combination that seems to anger many South Africans, who appear to have preconceived ideas about my life, what I think and how I behave based on these two words.

The vacuous Mcebo Dlamini, in vomiting his defence of the man responsible for killing so many of my ancestors into our national psyche, has once again highlighted how thin the veneer of tolerance in our fragile society is.

I tweeted this morning that praising Hitler’s organisational skills – used to plot the systematic extermination of all non-Aryans – is akin to admiring the strength of a rapist’s erection.

The glorification of a mass-murdering megalomaniac has no place in our or any other society. Anyone who truly believes we can learn from the man whose name I still find it hard to hear, sending chills, as it does, down my spine, demonstrates utter ignorance of history and deserves to be alienated, ignored and left to his own devices. (How he came to be the president of Wits SRC is something people allied with that institution need to consider.)

Do I think this only because I’m white and Jewish? I doubt it. For one, the number of times my tweets were retweeted, and the breadth and depth of the demographics of the retweeters suggest otherwise.
And besides, I think more of my fellow human beings than that. Because I don’t think you have to be Jewish to find Dlamini’s logic fallacious and his praise of the Fuhrer offensive; or gay to speak out against the corrective rape of lesbians; or foreign to feel the pain of those attacked and chased out of South Africa.

And yet … I still stumbled upon tweets this evening accusing people like me of only opening their mouths when the injustice is committed against members of their own demographic – “The SAn Jews mustn’t only stand up on issues that directly affect them, there are many issues that affect this county and they are silent”.

In a week in which we commemorated those who perished in the Holocaust (Yom Hashoah was on 16 April), the South African Jewish Board of Deputies concentrated all of its efforts on marching against, speaking out about and raising money for the victims of xenophobic violence in South Africa.

It is precisely because we know what it is like to be persecuted for things over which we have no control (race, birth religion), that many Jews are such vocal opponents of injustice. The American Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all” is now one of that nation’s premier civil rights and human relations agency. Its slogan, ‘Imagine a world without hate’, bears contemplation, at once achingly simple and complex.

I wrote a column for the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies about tolerance a while back. Because, whether we consider ourselves Jewish South Africans or South African Jews — or whether there is even a difference between the two — we owe it to ourselves to stand up against and speak out about injustice and racism and persecution and the violation of human rights. Even — or especially — when those issues don’t threaten our own lives or dignity.

I ended that column as I end this one, with the haunting words of Martin Neimöller, a Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazis, because they say it better than I could.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
— because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
— because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me
— and there was no one left to speak for me.