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‘There is No Antisemitism Here,’ South African Justice Minister Claims, Despite 631 Percent Increase in Attacks on Jews

Wearing a “Palestine” scarf, South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola is seen at an ANC meeting in Johannesburg. Photo: Reuters/Alet Pretorius

The claim of South Africa’s Justice Minister that there is no antisemitism targeting the country’s Jewish community drew a forthright response from Jewish leaders on Wednesday, who also accused the South African government of “creating an environment that emboldens antisemites.”

In an interview with the BBC’s “Hard Talk” program on Monday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola flatly denied that antisemitism — which has soared in South Africa in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel and the Israeli government’s military response — was a problem.

When presenter Stephen Sackur quoted South African Jewish leader Howard Sackstein saying that he was “staring at my suitcase contemplating whether it’s time to leave the only home I’ve ever known,” underlining as well his fear that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government had been “captured by radical Islamists,” Lamola dismissed these concerns outright, going on to attack the “Zionist state.”

“It’s a very unfortunate statement not backed by any facts, it’s a figment of his own imagination,” Lamola said.

Lamola added that the case charging Israel with “genocide” brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by South Africa was “not against the Jews as a people, it’s against the Zionist State of Israel,” which was “maiming and killing the Palestinians as a group in Gaza,” he said.

The ICJ’s ruling last week essentially rejected South Africa’s argument, with no immediate order issued to Israel to halt the war, only the demand that assistance must be provided to improve humanitarian conditions and measures taken to prevent acts or incitement against the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention.

When Sackur pointed out that there had been a precipitous rise in antisemitic attacks in South Africa since Oct. 7, Lamola fired back, “there’s no such…there is no antisemitism in South Africa against the Jewish people.”

A statement from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) on Wednesday highlighted that between October and December of last year, in the weeks following the Hamas assault, 139 antisemitic incidents were recorded, compared with 19 in the same period of 2022 — an increase of 631 percent.

The statement pointed out that there had also been as “a sharp increase in physical attacks against Jewish persons or property, something which had occurred only rarely in previous years. There were six cases of physical assault, whereas the annual average had been only one in the preceding decade.”

Among the violent incidents recorded were two cases of assault outside a Johannesburg synagogue, an attack on a Johannesburg rabbi, and a Jewish community member being repeatedly struck over the head with a pole at a pro-Hamas rally in Cape Town. Vandalism included damage and desecration to Jewish cemeteries in Pretoria and Durban.

During the incident in Cape Town, the targeted individual was surrounded by dozens of violent protestors who bellowed “Viva Hamas” and “Murderers,” telling him “Hitler did not kill all of you guys, just so that we could all see exactly why he did it.”

South Africa’s Jewish community “has prided itself on the relatively low levels of antisemitism compared to other Jewish Diaspora communities,” the SAJBD remarked. “However our government has created an environment where antisemitism can flourish with Minister Lamola’s comments being an example. We call on Minister Lamola and the ANC Government to stop dismissing antisemitism and to stop creating an environment that emboldens antisemites.”

A report on South African antisemitism submitted by the SAJBD to the US State Department and shared with The Algemeiner described how South African Jews increasingly face opprobrium and hatred in their daily lives.

“A ‘naming and shaming’ process has been adopted, where people are encouraged to shun those characterized as ‘genocidal baby killers’ and the like,” the report noted.

In one of several hateful emails sent to members of the community, a Jewish doctor in Cape Town was virulently abused by a former patient who accused him of financial dishonesty.

“I don’t expect anything from a Jewish c*** like you; it’s true what they say about you Jews, it’s ******* huge noses ***** greedy,” the email ranted. It ended, “my sexy rat-eyed y*d, we are coming for you. Hail [sic] HITLER.”

Lamola’s denial of South Africa’s antisemitism problem followed his assertion last week that the ICJ case brought against Israel meant that Nelson Mandela, the late South African President who led the ANC in its struggle against apartheid, “will be smiling in his grave.”

ANC leaders have repeatedly invoked Mandela in a political campaign against Israel that has intensified over the last decade. However, Mandela was a supporter of the two-state solution, declaring in a 1993 address to the Jewish community, “As a movement we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”





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Jewish Graves Found in Gaza From WWI Fighting

Israeli soldiers operate at the Shajaiya district of Gaza city amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, Dec. 8, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Yossi Zeliger

Soldiers in the IDF’s 188th Brigade were surprised to find Jewish gravestones during fighting in the Gaza Strip. According to reports in Hebrew media, the soldiers were operating in the central Gaza town of Al-Maazi when they noticed stars of David on some of the tombstones at a cemetery in the town.

The cemetery, it turned out, was one of the fallen British soldiers of World War I who fought in the land of Israel against the Ottoman Empire some 110 years ago. The photos of the gravesite holding an Israeli flag went viral on social media due to the irony of the situation. One of the soldiers there, Lt. Col. Oren, told Hebrew media “It was damaged a bit in the battles, but it can be restored. We noticed the stars of David on the tombstones and names like Goldreich. We returned after a few days to the place and said Kaddish on the graves after many years.” The kaddish prayer is one typically said by Jews to honor the dead.

According to the troops, there are seven Jewish tombstones in the cemetery that was found near a Hamas weapons cache. Oren added “We also found there, next to the cemetery, a cache for the production of many weapons. We did not check if there was an underground tunnel under the cemetery because we did not want to harm its sanctity. In other cemeteries, we located combat tunnels that Hamas had built underneath. We were amazed that we found such a pure place in this cursed area.”

The land of Israel was a central battleground during World War I, after which the British took reign of the land from the Ottomans who had controlled it for centuries prior. Due to their control of the land for three decades, there are today eight British military cemeteries spread across the country, many of those buried being British soldiers or policemen.

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Israelis Continue to Protest Entry of Aid to Gaza

A Palestinian policeman gestures as trucks carrying goods arrive after Israel reopened Kerem Shalom crossing, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip May 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Dozens of Israelis formed a human chain at a Gaza border crossing, as protests against the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip continued. The demonstrations have led to the IDF closing off two of the crossings, labeling them as “closed military zones.”

Those gathered against the aid consisted of family members of those being held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as every day Israeli citizens opposed to the entry of goods. Of those, 18 were detailed at the Kerem Shalom crossing, one of the main border points between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Despite the demonstrations, 137 trucks passed through for distribution among Gazans.

The decision to close two of the crossings, Kerem Shalom and Nitzana, came in an announcement by Southern Command Commander Major General Aaron Fineklman, who extended the closure to a highway leading to the border.

The issue of aid into the Strip has been a contentious one since the beginning of the war, when Hamas surprised Israel with a barrage of rockets and an invasion that resulted in the murder of over 1,200 Israelis and the taking hostage of over 240. In the days that followed the attack of October 7, Israeli leaders pledged to not allow any aid in, as well as cutting off water and electricity. Following large international pressure, mainly from the United States, aid, water, and electricity started coming in. Additional aid also accompanied the November hostage deal that saw more than 100 hostages sent free.

Despite this, many Israelis have remained firmly opposed to any entry of aid, especially as it is presumed much of it enters into the hands of Hamas and is used in its war against Israel.

In a poll published by Israel’s Channel 12 on Tuesday, 72% of Israelis said that all aid should be stopped until all the hostages are released, with only 21% supporting its entry. The government has not signaled that they will stop aid at the moment.

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‘Unacceptable’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders Slam Decision to Pause UNRWA Funding

Progressive lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders demanded the U.S. restore funding for UNRWA — the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees — after the State Department paused certain funding for it due to allegations some of its members took part in Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.

The congresswoman reacted to the decision to pause funding on X, writing “Cutting off support to @UNRWA – the primary source of humanitarian aid to 2 million+ Gazans – is unacceptable. Among an organization of 13,000 UN aid workers, risking the starvation of millions over grave allegations of 12 is indefensible. The US should restore aid immediately.”

Sanders agreed, releasing a statement reading: “Obviously, it’s not acceptable for any of the 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza to be involved with Hamas, and allegations against the 12 people charged must be investigated. However, we cannot allow millions to suffer because of the actions of 12 people. The U.S. and other countries must restore funding to stave off this humanitarian catastrophe.”

After Israel had presented evidence that 12 UNRWA employees, including teachers, took part in Hamas’s October 7 attack — doing everything from helping to abduct an Israeli to distributing ammunition to stealing a soldier’s body to infiltrating Israeli territory — more than a dozen countries paused funding to the agency. 

The State Department said in a statement: “The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.  The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that approximately 10 percent of UNRWA employees are linked with terrorist groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. With a staff of about 12,000, it means the estimate is that around 1,200 UNRWA employees in Gaza are terrorist-linked. Among male employees, 23 percent are believed to have ties to terrorist groups — which is higher than the general male population. 

Democratic Majority for Israel wrote that the revelation demonstrates a “complete disregard for the UN principle of neutrality” and that “UNWRA is an obstacle to major peace that requires the top-to-bottom reform”

Additionally, about half of UNRWA employees are estimated to have a close relative who is part of such terrorist groups — and a telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA employees was recently found by UN Watch to have celebrated Hamas’s October 7 attack.

The additional information suggests the problem is much more widespread than Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders let on when explaining their stances.

Many of Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders’s colleagues disagreed with their assessment. Republican Senator Pete Ricketts from Nebraska wrote “The time to permanently ban U.S. taxpayer funding of UNRWA is NOW. When Biden took office, he reversed Trump’s policy ending UNRWA aid. Since then, Biden has given UNRWA more than $730 million. Not a penny more! We must pass @SenatorTimScott and my Stop Support for Hamas Act.”

However, others claim that cutting off funding to an organization that provides such a significant portion of aid to Palestinians qualifies as collective punishment — especially at a time when millions face food insecurity, displacement, and lack of access to medical care.

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