An article featured on the Times of Israel website by prominent UK Barrister and QC Jeff Samuels draws attention to the “significant” Judgment of a South African Court, which convicted Bongani Masuku, a trade union leader, of antisemitic hate speech.
Among the comments made by Masuku were references to the “struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler” and the need “to subject them to perpetual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others”.
He stated that “any South African family who sends his son or daughter to be part of the IDF must not blame us when something happens to them with immediate effect”.
He threatened that “Wits” and “Orange Grove”, a campus with a large Jewish population and a heavily Jewish neighborhood respectively, must “face the consequences even if it means that we will do something that may necessarily cause what is regarded as harm”, and insinuated on campus that “it will be hell” for “that side”.
These blatant antisemitic statements which seem to incite violence somehow managed to evade our attention when they were made, with Samuels’ coverage being the main reason the news reached the public outside of South Africa’s Jewish Community. However, what is significant here is not merely these antisemitic rants, but the legal response.
The case was brought before the Human Rights Commission, a body which was created under section 9 of the South African Constitution which was drafted after the collapse of Apartheid. The Human Rights Commission upheld the complaint, which the Palestine Solidarity Campaign described as a “pack of lies” and the Jewish Community’s response as en example of supposed “constant, frivolous and false accusations of anti-Semitism”.
As the HRC cannot enforce the decision, the case went before the Equality Court, a division of the High Court. Before the Equality Court, Masuku claimed, in what is almost a ritual incantation of left wing antisemitism, that his statements referred only to Zionists, not to all Jews.
The Court dismissed this defence, finding that “Zionist” was “offensive and targeted at the Jewish community”, which Samuels points out is significant in that it was not required that Jews are explicitly mentioned. The references to “Wits” and “Orange Grove” were also deemed to be sufficiently clearly targeting Jews.
Masuku also claimed that his statements were protected free speech as “fair comment”, which the Court dismissed as having “no merit at all”. The Judge went on to say that Masuku had gone out of his way “to instill detestation, enmity, ill will and malevolence towards Jews in South Africa. It is distinct advocacy of hatred – nothing else”.
Strong words aside, what is notable, and commendable, about this Judgment is the clear understanding that, as the Judge puts it, comments about “Zionists” such as these can “readily be understood to be concerning Jews”. It is a simple insight, yet one which is often left missing from the approaches of law enforcement and legal systems when dealing with reports of hate speech or hate crimes against Jews.