Hot off the press – The SA Jewish Board of Deputies has been successful in gaining a Hate Speech verdict from the SA Human Rights Commission against Cosatu International Relations Secretary Bongani Masuku. This report from The Richmark Sentinel:
Cosatu's Masuku guilty of hate speech Friday, December 04, 2009
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has upheld a complaint of hate speech against Bongani Masuku, International Relations Spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The complaint, lodged by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) on 26 March 2009, is based on various threatening, inflammatory and derogatory statements made by Masuku against the mainstream South African Jewish community and its leadership.
Zev Krengel, SAJBD National Chairman, said that the ruling had reaffirmed the zero-tolerance attitude towards any form of hate speech that underpinned the country’s democratic culture. As such, it should be seen as a victory for all South Africans.
“While instances of racist and inflammatory rhetoric directed against sectors of society will inevitably occur from time to time, it is encouraging to see that this country has in place effective mechanisms to deal with them. We applaud the SAHRC for sending out a clear message that the right to freedom of expression does not include a license to indulge in hate speech and incitement” he said.
The SAJBD’s complaint detailed how Masuku, in a public address at Wits University on 5 March, as well as in various written communications, had repeatedly threatened that Jewish South Africans would be targeted because of their support for Israel. This included statements that Jewish lives would be made ‘hell’, that vigilante action would be taken against Jewish families suspected of having members serving in the Israeli military, and that Jews who continued to stand up for Israel should “not just be encouraged but forced to leave South Africa”.
In its ruling, the SAHRC noted the following:
[Masuku’s] comments and statements made are of an extreme nature that advocate and imply that the Jewish and Israeli community are to be despised, scorned, ridiculed and thus subjecting them to ill-treatment on the basis of their religious affiliation. A prima facie case of hate speech is clearly established as the statements and comments by Mr. Masuku are offensive and unpalatable to society.
The SAHRC requested Masuku to tender an apology to the SAJBD within 14 days, failing which the matter would be referred to the relevant Equality Court for final adjudication without further notice to him. Krengel said that although the SAJBD was prepared to go to court, he hoped that an appropriate apology from Masuku would make this unnecessary.
It all started soon after Cosatu marched with the Palestinian lobby against Israel, right outside the official Jewish community leadership centre in northern Johannesburg. Soon after the meeting, Masuku responded to coverage of the march by posting this comment at IAS:
Bongani says hi to you all as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and zionists who belong to the era of their Friend Hitler!
We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our broathers (sic) and sisters in Palestine. We must target them, expose them and doo allthat (sic) is needed to subject them to pereptual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others and stop their savage attacks on human dignity. Every Palestinian who suffers is a direct attck (sic) on all of us!
Soon after this, community member Anthony Posner emailed Masuku in an attempt to open up dialogue and invite him to an evening of poetry (yes, I'm serious). One thing led to another and soon I too was involved in dialogue with Masuku, which at first seemed quite promising but eventually degenerated into threats from Masuku that Zionists should be encouraged to leave South Africa (this from the leadership of a member of the ruling ANC’s tripartite alliance).
You can find all the details of the correspondence in this post: Cosatu spokesman calls on Jews to leave SA
Subsequent to this, Masuku addressed a PSC (Palestine Solidarity Committee) and Young Communist Leage event at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where he threatened to ensure that the lives of Zionists in South Africa would be made hell – see Bongani Masuku at Wits
Masuku is currently in the UK where he alongside Ronnie Kasrils and Omar Barghouti is scheduled to address crowds for a series of BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine) events calling for Sanctions and Boycotts. Find out more about BRICUP from Harry's Place.
We must commend the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) for resolutely taking on this case of Hate Speech and eventually winning it. It's now the second time this year that senior members of the ruling tripartite alliance have been found guilty of Hate Speech directed against the Jewish community (previously, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Fatima Hajaig asserted at a local Palestinian lobby rally that America is in the hands of Jewish money).
The response from the SAJBD has been to use the existing mechanisms and institutions of our State to deal with both incidents and they have achieved a favourable outcome on both occassions (and let's not forget the Budlender report) but questions will be asked about what they do with winnings that, with the evidence on hand, would have been criminal to lose. In this case, they seem content with the ruling that Masuku issue an apology within 14 days. Many in the community will question why Masuku will be allowed to continue in his position as International Relation secretary of an organisation with an excess of powers under the Zuma administration. Perhaps they did push for more, and if so, I have no problem with their acceptance of the ruling. Either way this is another victory for the community in a year tainted with mountainous challenges and irreplaceable losses and for that I will applaud the SAJBD for their effort and leadership throughout this most difficult year.
I eagerly await the SAJBD chairman's next column in the Jewish Report where I hope he will shed some light on what their goals at the HRC were and the thinking behind them.
But let’s not be too quick to discount the value of an apology. The HRC ruling and the subsequent apology ensure broad coverage of the issue and this helps fight the perception that Jews have a persecution complex – it demonstrates unequivocally that the levels of incitement used against ordinary Jews against the backdrop of the Palestinian conflict have crossed the lines from reasonable political opposition to Israel into the realm of classical hate speech. It tars not only Masuku, but those that support him, such as the PSC and Young Communist League who entertained him as a guest speaker at the event at Wits.
Update at 06/12/2009
To be fair, we need not wait for the Chairman of the SAJBD to explain what he aimed to achieve. The SAJBD offered an explanation when they laid the initial complaint. See Jewish Board Confronts Masuku Threats. The central aim is to ensure we continue to enjoy an environment on our university campuses and in South Africa in general, where all South Africans are free to express their views without fear of persecution.