It’s taken a while, but there’s finally been some public statements released in response to South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Fatima Hajaig’s fevered conspiracy theories about Jewish power money controlling America and the Western world.
The press has finally caught onto these remarks and reports today have appeared in some of the leading dailies. But there has been no real outcry. I doubt we will see many opinion pieces bemoaning the high-level problem here – that there has been an insufferable wound to the vital trust between a government and a community of her people.
Besides for the blogosphere, where David Saks, associate director of the Jewish Board of Deputies South Africa, broke the news, the first group to publicly respond to the Minister were guys I recently had a run-in with - Nathan Geffen, Doron Isaacs, Jonathan Berger, Zackie Achmat and Faizel Slamang. It should be said however, that the Jewish Board had already laid their complain of hate speech with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), so although they weren't the first to release a public statement, they were the first to react and we commend their strong response.
The Geffen, Isaacs et al. letter is available here. Not able to separate a response to blatant anti-Semitism from their politics, the letter begins with this opening salvo:
|“We are deeply concerned about the recent invasion of Gaza. We are also deeply concerned by the manner in and the extent to which the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has expressed its unqualified support for Israel's attack which left over 1,200 people dead. Three of us, who are members of the Jewish community, have signed a widely published statement in this regard.”|
I don't quite see what relevance their rejection of the Jewish Board and their widely-published but poorly supported petition has. Do their political positions lend their criticisms additional weight? If not, what is the value of stating these positions?
Let’s use the same model but switch the variables – say a Jewish Minister in the South African government made some crude anti-Islamic remarks. Should a condemnation of those remarks begin by expressing criticism of Al-Qaida or Hamas? It's not necessary. If someone at my work says that “Muslims control the world,” I won’t begin my rejection of that opinion with “I condemn Islamic terrorism but what you said is...”
The Democratic Alliance has also responded with Tony Leon, their spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, quoted as saying that Hajaig must apologise or be sacked. I don’t think an apology should cut it – she is responsible for her statements and, as I have already said, for violating the important trust between a people and their governmet. As a consequence she should be sacked. Tony Leon writes:
|"This makes it clear that she feels absolutely no contrition, nor believes her comments to have been offensive. "Ms Hajaig’s allegations are nothing more than bargain-basement conspiracy mongering, which would be unacceptable coming from a senior member of any government anywhere in the democratic world." Leon warned that if the comments were ignored, it would create the impression that they reflect the views of the South African government. "President Motlanthe therefore needs to deal with this issue with the forthright decisiveness which it so clearly merits."|
Finally, the Jewish Board od Deputies has laid a formal complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission. The full press release has been included below:
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has laid a formal complaint against Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fatima Hajaig, with the SA Human Rights Commission for anti-Jewish hate speech. The complaint is based on statements made by Hajaig at a pro-Palestinian rally in Lenasia on Wednesday 14 January, in which she alleged that the control of the United States and most other Western countries was in the hands of “Jewish money power”.
What Hajaig, speaking in her capacity as Deputy Minister, said was the following:
They in fact control [America], no matter which government comes in to power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush. The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.
SAJBD Director Wendy Kahn strongly condemned what she termed “classic anti-Jewish stereotyping and conspiracy-theory mongering”, which were typically used by those seeking to portray Jews as scheming, manipulative and disloyal to the countries in which they lived.
“The Jewish community is outraged by such a public display of bigotry by a senior government representative. As South African citizens, we cannot allow this kind of comment to be brought into this country” she said.
SAJBD Chairman Zev Krengel observed that the decision to lodge the complaint had not been taken lightly, but that there had not been any realistic alternative. He commented that not since the era of pro-Nazi Nationalist MPs more than half a century ago had such statements been made against Jews by a senior government official, nevertheless emphasizing that Hajaig’s views were her own and in no way representative of Government as a whole.
The deputy Foreign Affairs Minister should be sacked not only for her anti-Jewish remarks but also for the lack of diplomacy she showed in her recent "dressing down" of the new Israeli ambassador to South Africa Dov-Segev-Steinberg. She unleashed her fury for 45 non-stop minutes not allowing the ambassador a word in edgeways. Steinberg said that in all his years as a diplomat, years which include spells in the Arab world and Far East, he has never been treated so appalingly.
Haaretz today also reported that the deputy Minister accused the ambassador 'of bringing a diplomat of Ethiopian descent to the embassy "only because he was black"'.
It's been a poor start to the year for our Foreign Affairs department, and as my next post indicates, I suspect things may get a lot worse.