SA Jewish Board of Deputies withdraws hate speech charges after 'sincere apology'

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has withdrawn a case against two men accused of hate speech after meeting with them.

Charges were recently laid against Tameez Seedat and Muhammad Hattia in response to threatening and anti-Semitic comments they made in a WhatsApp group, Sneakerheads.

READ: SA Jewish Board of Deputies lays complaint against 3 men over anti-Semitic hate speech

But following a meeting between the two, their families and the SAJBD executives, the organisation decided to withdraw the charges.

"We believe that when somebody is genuinely remorseful and apologises, we need to take that apology seriously," SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn told News24.

"It was a very moving experience to see the real anguish that they showed," she added.

Learning opportunity

SAJBD national chair Shaun Zagnoev said that it was clear that Seedat and Hattia showed remorse and that their family members also had a sincere desire to correct the harm caused.

Kahn rejected assertions that the withdrawal of the charges implied that the organisation was tolerant of hate speech.

"Unfortunately this is not about optics; this is about changing behaviour. We've had several people in court and will continue fighting, but these two young men understood that what they had done was unacceptable and they showed genuine remorse."

READ: Shashi Naidoo apologises for Gaza 'shithole' comments

She said that the apology served as a learning opportunity and allowed the men to understand that their words had an impact.

"The offender and victim came face-to-face and for the first time, connected as human beings, not through their keyboards. For us, that's very important," said Kahn.

In March, former real estate agent Vicki Momberg became the first person in the country to be given a jail term for crimen injuria.

She was found guilty after a video of her racist tirade hurled at a police officer went viral.

Seedat and Hattia will visit the Holocaust Centre in Johannesburg for sensitivity training as part of an effort to reduce the incidence of hate speech that often rears its head on social media platforms.

Pragmatic approach

Model Shashi Naidoo recently waded into controversy when she described Gaza as a "s**thole country" on social media platform Twitter.

She apologised at a media briefing, saying that her comments were ill-informed. She committed to taking a trip to the Palestinian territories to educate herself about the issues there.

Kahn said that the incidence of hate speech on public platforms was worrying and the organisation took a pragmatic approach when dealing with Seedat and Hattia.

"We need less of hate. It's (the case's withdrawal) pragmatic because if we want to change attitudes [we need to realise that] we're dealing with a plague of hate in this country."

A third person also accused of hate speech against Jews has refused to engage with the SAJBD and Kahn said that the organisation would continue to pursue legal action as he created additional Twitter accounts to continue spreading his ideas.

"That's the kind of person that we need to meet in a courtroom."

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