Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Cosatu: Anti-Semitic?

Readers who are of a mind to do so may scroll back and go through articles where I have tackled Islamophobia. This is an exercise I have done repeatedly not for any recognition but because I believe that intolerance is an evil which should not be allowed to go unchecked. It has also included an ongoing struggle against homophobia, misogyny and all the other hatreds that seem to afflict the human race.

This time out I want to look at anti-Semitism in light of Cosatu’s decision to march to the offices of Beyachad, a Jewish community centre in Raedene, a densely populated Jewish residential area, as opposed to the Israeli Embassy.

South Africa, as we have repeatedly seen, has steadfastly refused to deal effectively with racists and bigots at parliamentary level, which has only served to intensify the spreading of intolerance, which has had and will continue to have serious consequences. The xenophobia we witnessed last year was sufficient warning of how ugly this can become. Yet repeatedly we have seen ministers and deputy ministers making racist remarks seemingly with impunity.

Across the hallway one of the ANC’s alliance partners, Cosatu, decided that they would illegally demonstrate outside local Jewish offices in Johannesburg. In essence that any feelings towards Israel regarding the Palestinian conflict should be directed at the local Jewish community and not against Israel or that old hoary chestnut, the Zionists. This was not aimed at the Israeli Embassy nor was there a Zionist gathering worthy of targeting — just simple raw anti-Semitism aimed at the local Jewish community.

Cosatu are of course free to correct me if I’m wrong — perhaps they might even be able to set out how, during this march, they delineated between those Jews who are Israelis, those who are Zionists and those who are Jews but do not fall into either of the other two groups. What about those Jews who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Was Cosatu’s desperate need to display their hatred of Jews too compelling to waste time on the niceties? While they’re doing this exercise perhaps they might also confirm who decided not only on the march but where it should take place.

More importantly Cosatu should now set out for us when it was, and by whom it was decided, that South Africans should start to vent ill-feeling regarding overseas confrontations on local communities? In time they may well see that calling this a dangerous precedent is the understatement of 2009.

If we as South Africans allow this as the way forward then we will be opening up a Pandora’s box that might never be closed. By way of example and using the conduct of Cosatu to guide us, what you are inviting is inter alia a Hindu-Jewish march against the Muslim community to express outrage over Mumbai, perhaps a black African Muslim march against the Muslim community to protest Darfur, a feminist march against Islam regarding the blowing up of girls’ schools in Pakistan and on and on ad nauseam. Indeed if regard is had to the global Islamic community right now, extremists are currently involved in conflicts on almost every continent and against almost every race, creed, culture and sex the planet has to offer. Moreover the targets involved are more often than not civilians.

Accordingly should our local Muslim community, based upon the Cosatu model, be held accountable for their actions?

If you needed time to answer that don’t try and operate any heavy machinery. Of course you cannot ask our local Muslim community to answer for extremists just as you cannot fault Muslims who identify with their co-religionists throughout the world. If our local community doesn’t feel a bond with those who share their version of Islam, then they are unique. Most of us identify with those who share our religious beliefs.

The fact that Muslims identify with those who share their religion does not mean that they condone extremism nor support it. Even where they do support it but go about their daily lives in South Africa as lawful citizens there can be no call to bring pressure on their community. Where individuals take part in terrorism they can be dealt with individually but certainly no more than that.

That is just the Muslim community, what about the rest? Where do you draw the line or are people suggesting that groups post a 24-hour guard to keep an eye out on events happening around the world? If for example Russia and Georgia return to hostilities would local communities with ties to the conflict begin preparation for local conflict?

Accordingly to target protests against local communities for events overseas is not only inciting violence but dangerously groping in the dark. Unless Cosatu can furnish us a reason why they chose to target a local community for events in the Middle East and how they went about distinguishing which individuals supported what cause, there can be no doubting that as an organisation they are simply anti-Semitic.

Indeed and without minimising the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there are a number of other conflicts on the planet right now where casualties and atrocities have far exceeded anything that has taken place in Gaza and in respect of which Cosatu appear quite oblivious. Perhaps they might address this issue as well: How does this conflict in so far as a South African trade union stand out above all others, particularly with so many wars on our own continent? Do they draw a conflict out of a hat and then storm the castle or did all roads simply lead to an inherent hatred?

In terms of the conflict itself, lest some of my co-religionists suggest I am dodging the real issue, I have made my views very clear on the subject and hopefully been fair to both sides without pulling punches. As an Orthodox Jew, albeit without sufficient training to speak on behalf of the community, I do believe that Israel’s response has been disproportionate and that the time is long overdue for the establishment of a two-state solution. I also believe that the Palestinians have “sponsors” whose agenda does not include a Palestinian state and who would be quite happy to see this conflict continue indefinitely. Accordingly both parties need to shed the spoilers, the opportunists and get around a table.

The Muslim and Jewish community of South Africa have generally gotten along very well. Events that are taking place overseas do and should concern us all as they seem to impact on the planet as a whole. What they should not do is drive a wedge between us in South Africa. The aim should be to rather build on what we have achieved here and assist in bringing peace to that tortured region rather than allowing others to have fun demonstrating their latest intolerance.

If we as South Africans don’t clamp down hard on all intolerance we will invariably all land up as its victims.

Cosatu marches against jews cartoon thumbnail
Wonkie Cartoon: Cosatu protest events calendar