The South African government’s application to the International Court of Justice on grotesquely false allegations of genocide against Israel needs to be seen for what it is: A defamatory lie that not only threatens the Jewish state, but stigmatizes and endangers Jews throughout the Diaspora.
The genocide label paves the way for the discrimination, persecution, and ultimately, the murder of Jews.
The stigmatization and eventual dehumanization of Jews is something we have seen before. The chillingly titled “Warrant for Genocide,” a book published in 2005 by British historian Norman Cohn, exploring the myth of the Jewish world conspiracy and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” describes a situation that feels all too familiar:
“Throughout the world in the fateful years 1943-1945 … people were unwilling to bestir themselves on behalf of the Jews. The very widespread indifference, the ease with which people disassociated themselves from the Jews and their fate was certainly in part a result of a vague feeling that, even if there were no Elders of Zion, Jews were somehow uncanny and dangerous. And ironically enough this feeling grew stronger as the persecution of the Jews grew worse.”
If Iran gets a nuclear bomb and destroys Israel, God forbid, people will say Israel had it coming. They were occupiers. They perpetrated apartheid. They inflicted war crimes and genocide. And that’s what happened in Nazi Germany. Hitler convinced people that the Jews were responsible for the worst ills of society, and so when the Holocaust came, nobody opposed it.
The false accusations that Israel is responsible for genocide don’t just threaten the Jewish state. They also stigmatize the Jews of the Diaspora. We who support Israel — if these allegations are true — are, by extension, supporters of genocide and evil. The result of this stigmatization has been only too plain to see: surging antisemitism across the world.
Cries of gas the Jews in Sydney. An elderly pro-Israel demonstrator killed at a pro-Palestinian rally in California. Students hounded into the library at an Ivy League university. A rabbi attacked with a screwdriver in Genoa. A mob stormed an airport in Russia chanting antisemitic slogans and demanding to know where the Jews are. The smashing of the shopfront window of a kosher restaurant in London.
In South Africa, while these kinds of antisemitic incidents on the ground are unheard of, we’re seeing this stigmatization emanate right from the top — from the president himself. The South African Jewish community is one of the most proudly and openly Zionist in the world. And so when the country’s head of state says that Israel is guilty of apartheid, occupation, genocide and war crimes, he is, in effect, labeling all of us who support Israel as apologists for crimes against humanity.
By implying that South African Jews support genocide, in particular, the president sends a powerful message to all South Africans that any Jew who is a supporter of Israel is fair game. He has declared open season on us.
Recently, we experienced a disturbing example of this. In the same week that South Africa brought its case against Israel to the ICJ, the captain of the South African under-19 national cricket team, David Teeger, was stripped of his captaincy for expressing words of support for Israel and the IDF at a private Jewish function.
Following the event, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, an organization with ties to Hamas and Iran whose supporters celebrated the killing of 1,200 Jews on Oct. 7, began lobbying the Cricket South Africa league to strip Teeger of the captaincy.
Subsequently, an independent tribunal initiated by CSA (in itself an outrage) cleared Teeger of any wrongdoing. And yet, days before the u19 cricket world cup, Teeger was nevertheless removed as captain on the flimsiest of pretexts — that his captaincy position posed a security threat and could lead to “conflict or violence between rival groups of protesters.”
It’s no coincidence that the day after South Africa made its case at the ICJ, a young proud Jewish boy, hounded and stigmatized by anti-Israel groups and government ministers, was finally removed as national captain. The groundwork was laid by the genocide allegation, which puts a target on the back of Jews not just in South Africa but everywhere.
This tactic of stigmatization goes back to the origins of our people. We are currently reading the Torah portions from the early chapters of the book of Exodus that tell of the first exile and persecution of the Jewish people. Eerily, it forms a prototype for future eras of discrimination and threats against Jews. Note how Pharaoh paves the way for the enslavement, and later, the killing of Jewish babies, by saying to the Egyptian people: “Come, let us act wisely with [the Jewish people] lest … if a war will occur, it, too many join our enemies and wage war against us.”
Before Pharoah could begin to enslave and persecute the Jews, he had to stigmatize them as a threat to Egypt. He accuses them of something antisemites have always accused Jews of — disloyalty to the country they live in. He tells the Egyptian people that the Jews would join invading enemies.
Today, with the fabricated charge of genocide, apartheid and war crimes against the Jewish state, we’re seeing the same thing play out. And that is why the Jewish world needs to fight this vicious campaign against us with all the resources at our disposal.
These allegations are not just offensive and insulting; they are dangerous. And as such, they should be treated as a matter of the highest national security for the state of Israel, and a clear and present danger to Jews everywhere.
Rabbi Warren Goldstein is the chief rabbi of South Africa and the founder of the International Shabbat Project.