Howard Feldman

OPINION: There are no fireworks to mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year

2019-10-02 18:46
Lebogang Maile. Photo by Thabo Ramookho.

Lebogang Maile. Photo by Thabo Ramookho.

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Whereas I do not believe that the ANC is inherently antisemitic, there are too many examples that indicate that for some within the party, Jews are a safe target, writes Howard Feldman.

There are no fireworks to mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Instead, the event is commemorated with prayer, introspection, family and food.

Lots of food.

Although the New Year is a festival, it is a serious time, as we ponder our own actions over the past year and resolve how to improve ourselves. The many hours spent in synagogue give us time to consider our actions, our relationships and our business dealing. We also use prayer to ponder "who will live and who will die" in the year that follows. We naturally are more acutely aware of the empty seats at our tables as the festival marks the passage of time.

Whereas most of the political parties in South Africa wished the small Jewish community a happy new year, the ANC had another idea entirely. According to the South African Jewish Report, "Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Lebogang Maile has insulted the Jewish community by accusing Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba of "giving buildings to Jews", but he refuses to apologise, saying he did nothing wrong. Maile's offensive comment followed a tweet that claimed that Mashaba was "reclaiming the inner city the ANC [African National Congress] gave to Nigeria", and was transforming it into "the Jozi we want". His response to the tweet praising Mashaba's efforts was, "He's actually giving them [the buildings] to Jews. Ask him who are the new owners of these buildings?"

I am not sure which part of the above is the most offensive. Someone is handing out buildings to Jews and I have not been offered so much as a single story dwelling? Whereas I accept that the Carlton Centre would be out of the question, surely there is a small building, somewhere that this Jew could be given?

More than that, no one has made the application process clear and I have no idea how to apply for such buildings. Are they handing them out at local synagogues or does one have to actually drive into town to claim it? Further, how Jewish is Jewish? Do both parents need to be Jewish or does a single Jewish grandparent qualify a person for the property? I am sure that there are documents somewhere in history that could assist the ANC's Human Settlements MEC in determining "Jewishness". Because Jews being barred from buying and owning property is something that we have some experience in.

The Democratic Alliance issued this statement: "The Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature has reported the Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Lebogang Maile to the Integrity Commissioner for hate speech directed at the Jewish Community.

This follows a Twitter conservation when one Twitter user praised the Joburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba for transforming the Inner City.

In response to this Tweet, MEC Maile wrote, 'He's actually giving the buildings to Jews.  Ask him who are the new owners of these buildings?'

The MEC refused to apologise for his utterances claiming that he did nothing wrong and that he stated a fact.

If the MEC is aware of any irregularities in terms of the project of revamping the Inner-City buildings, he must address it as is his mandate instead of playing a political game.

The Jewish Community like any other citizens of this country are allowed to bid for any tender in the City of Joburg.

These irresponsible and horrifying utterances by the MEC in the public space constitutes hate speech.

MEC Maile has violated his oath of office through his offensive and discriminatory utterances that serve to inspire others to commit violence against Jews.

The DA calls on the Integrity Commissioner in the GPL to investigate Maile's actions and make findings. Should he be found guilty, Maile must apologise to the Jewish Community, retract his Tweet as well as face the consequences of his actions."

The DA are to be commended for calling out this racism. Most others have remained silent. Imagine, just for a moment, if the word "Jew" was substituted with any other group in South Africa and then imagine further what the reaction of the country would be.

Whereas I do not believe that the ANC is inherently antisemitic, there are too many examples that indicate that for some within the party, Jews are a safe target. With the global antisemitism at its highest level since before World War Two, the ANC needs to take an honest look at itself to determine if some of its members have a racism problem. And if so, they need to nip it in its very ugly bud.

It remains to be seen how they will choose to deal with this latest mess.

During this time, it is customary for Jews to eat apples dipped in honey and to wish each other a "good and sweet" year ahead. According to Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, the reason that we say "good" and "sweet" is because although we believe that everything that happens to us is "for the good," sometimes it doesn't taste "sweet," and it is difficult to deal with.

My wish is that the year ahead will be a sweet one for all South Africans. My wish is that we will work together, no matter our differences to create an environment that is both good and sweet and that we will seek that which unites us instead of that which divides us. "Shana Tovah."

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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