Earlier this week, the Western Cape branch of Cosatu put out a statement that, even by the increasingly feral standards of hard-core left-wing politics in South Africa, was quite extraordinary. Issued in the name of Provincial Secretary Tony Ehrenreich, this presented the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) with an ultimatum to cease its “Zionist propaganda” in Cape Town by August 7 or face a Cosatu-led campaign of strikes and boycotts against its members and all supporting companies and organisations.

The full statement can be read on Politicsweb.

In summary, this is the thrust of what it says:

• The SAJBD’s “condoning Israeli aggression” is “against the sentiments of the majority of South Africans and not representative of the sentiments of progressive Jews in South Africa”.

• It is against South Africa’s “commitment to the people of Palestine” to allow these “funders of a war against a defenceless people act with impunity”.

• Action needed to be taken to show the SAJBD that they would not be allowed to “act with impunity against the will of the majority of South Africans”.

• Should the SAJBD fail to comply with Cosatu’s demand that it desist from spreading its “Zionist-supporting lies”, it will be subjected to an economic boycott and strike campaign directed at both its members and its supporters.

Anti-democratic threats against the established order in the Western Cape are not new. A couple of years ago, as will be recalled, the ANC Youth League threatened to make the province “ungovernable” if its demands were not met by the ruling DA, leading to threats of criminal proceedings being taken against it. However, threatening Struggle-era mass action tactics to enforce conformity of opinion is something altogether new. For the first time, a leading political lobby aligned with government has come out and declared that freedom of expression is conditional on the views expressed being in line with what “the people” as a whole are said to be thinking. If such opinions are adjudged to be out of synch with those of the majority population, moreover, then action must be taken to punish those who step out of line.

It is self-evident that to dismiss this threat as something directed solely at the mainstream Jewish community would be a serious mistake. Should Cosatu in the Western Cape actually proceed with its envisaged campaign to silence dissenting voices on the Israel-Palestine question, then it would set a precedent legitimising campaigns to suppress viewpoints on all issues where these differ from what is supposedly the majority consensus. That the Jewish minority has been singled out as a grouping whose collective voice (outside of the tiny minority whose opinions coincide with Cosatu’s) must be silenced does, nevertheless, beg the obvious question. I cannot put it better than R W Johnson who, in his opinion piece on today’s Politicsweb, stresses that what is at stake is that Ehrenreich and those like him “are seeking to demonise and bully a whole section of the country’s population in clear defiance of our Constitution and all our laws and values”.

Cosatu has not been the only offender when it comes to questioning the right of mainstream Jewry to express “unacceptable” views on Israel-Palestine. The Young Communist League of South Africa has also been making threatening noises over the past few weeks, as seen by such tweets as “People who support the Nazi state of Israel have no place in South A|frica. Expel them!”, “How much longer must we allow Nazis masquerading as Sa Zionists under the @sajbd in our country?” and “the SAJBD must decide NOW if they are SA patriots or murdering mob sleepers on our shores”.

It would also be a mistake to dismiss Ehrenreich as a “clown”. The same, after all, could have been said for Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Idi Amin Dada, Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il. Such people are indeed clowns, until they get into power, after which no-one is laughing.

Recently, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe caused a stir when he described the EFF as “fascists” whose tactics were aimed at undermining democracy and state institutions. In warning against the allegedly totalitarian agenda of those on the opposition benches, however, he would do well to take cognisance of the overtly fascistic tendencies surfacing within the ruling tripartite alliance as well.


  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.


David Saks

David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African...

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