In yet another example of deteriorating relations between some South African trade unions and the local Jewish community, a major rift has broken out over a protest that took place at a celebration of Israeli Independence Day in Johannesburg.
According to a union press release entitled “COSATU condemns Zionist brutality against pro-Palestinian protesters“:
“During this protest, two young women protesters were violently assaulted by the Jewish CSO [Community Security Organisation], had their hands tied with cables, their faces covered and their heads smashed into the parking lot’s concrete paving. Other protesters were forcibly thrown down escalators and one protester was locked into a passageway where he was repeatedly and simultaneously kicked in the stomach by more than five CSO thugs. He later suffered concussion. Members of the Jewish community attending the event also punched a woman protester in the face several times resulting in a serious swelling injury.”
The Jewish community tells a different story. In a press release issued by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies they call the charges “false and defamatory” and have contacted the police. The Jewish community insists that its right to peacefully celebrate its holidays is being infringed upon by violent anti-Israel protestors, who admit that they attempted to disrupt the celebration by, among other things, throwing stink bombs at the audience.
In the past, some South African trade unionists have found themselves crossing the line from criticism of Israeli government policies to outright Jew-hatred. Bongani Masuku, COSATU’s international secretary, was found guilty of this by the country’s human rights commission. But Masuku’s outbursts took place at the height of the Gaza war, when emotions ran high, while the current incident is happening at a moment of relative quiet in the Middle East.
An indication of how deep the rift goes is the way in which the unions alternate between the words “Jewish” and “Zionist” in their press releases.
The COSATU press release, for example, refers mostly to Zionists but at one point uses the expression “members of the Jewish community attending the event”.
A press release by NEHAWU, a large public sector union for education and health workers goes on to say “After witnessing the violence of the Zionist lobby, we are more determined to help the Palestinians who face this colonial brutality every day. We will not be cowed into submission and will confront the Jewish lobby’s aggressive methods of intimidation and violence head on.”
This opens the door for anti-Israel protestors to begin to openly speak not only of their hatred for “Zionists” but for “Jews” as well, setting a very dangerous precedent.