Lamola quite wrong, antisemitism has spiked in SA - SAJBD

Board responds to Minister's BBC HardTalk claims that “There is no antisemitism in SA against the Jewish People.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola stated on BBC HardTalk that  “There is no antisemitism in South Africa against the Jewish People.“

1.      Here are the facts:

- In 2023, antisemitic incidents in SA reached the highest levels since the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) began compiling detailed lists from 1993.  For Oct-Dec 2023 there were 139 recorded incidents compared to 19 over the same period in 2022, an increase of 631%.

- There was also a sharp increase in physical attacks against Jewish persons or property, something which had occurred only rarely in previous years. There were six cases of physical assault, whereas the annual average had been only one in the preceding decade. These included two cases of assault outside a Johannesburg synagogue, an attack on a Johannesburg Rabbi and a person being hit over the head with a pole at a pro-Palestine rally in Cape Town. Vandalism included damage and desecration to Jewish cemeteries in Pretoria and Durban.    

2.      Definition of antisemitic incidents and discourse

In terms of the SAJBD’s working model, an antisemitic incident is broadly defined as:

Any hostile, and usually illegal, act clearly carried out with the intention of inflicting harm on Jewish persons (whether at the individual or collective level) or institutions.    

Such acts might include assault, vandalism, threats, verbal abuse and insults, graffiti, hate mail, anti-Jewish boycotts and the dissemination of overtly antisemitic literature. Abusive and/or threatening rhetoric engaged in by political leaders could in certain circumstances constitute antisemitism.

A distinction is made between antisemitic acts and antisemitic discourse. General negative comments about Jews in the broader media realm, however wrongheaded and even deplorable they might be, fall into the ‘ discourse’ category. While not counted as specific incidents, however, the propagation of overtly prejudiced hostile attitudes towards Jews and Judaism as well as certain extreme forms of anti-Zionist rhetoric is always a concern, not just because of the emotional and psychological harm it causes but also because if unchallenged it can easily lead to actual acts of harmIt can fuel antisemitic incidents against Jews and Jewish institutions, and may leave many Jews feeling isolated, vulnerable and hurt. (Community Security Trust, ‘Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2008’,  

3.      Methodology

The SAJBD monitors and records antisemitic activity in SA mainly through incidents being reported to it by community members and other Jewish institutions.

We compare methodology with our equivalent Jewish representative bodies, including France, the UK, Canada and Australia.

SA Jewry has prided itself on the relatively low levels of antisemitism compared to other Jewish Diaspora communities. However our government has created an environment where antisemitism can flourish with Minister Lamola’s comments being an example.

- On the steps of the Peace Palace in the Hague, SA Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola stated, “In SA we live side by side with Jews.  They run companies and thriving business. It is not about antisemitism.”  UCT Professor Adam Mendelsohn said of these comments, “Lamola managed to imply that Jews are outsiders in SA society — the language of “us” and “them” — and drew on an old and unfortunate trope by associating Jews with business (

- On BBC’s HARDtalk the Minister went on to state that any claims of antisemitism in South Africa are “not based on any facts” and are a “figment of [his] imagination”.  This is misleading and disregards the voices of those affected, namely South African Jews. 

4. Actions taken against antisemitic incidents October to December 2023

1. To date, eight cases have been, or are in the process of being lodged with SAPS.  They include assault, damage to property and incitement of violence.

2. We are currently finalising cases which will be brought to the Equality Court.

We call on Minister Lamola and the ANC Government to stop dismissing antisemitism and to stop creating an environment that emboldens antisemites.

Issued by Karen Milner, National Chairperson, SAJBD, 31 January 2024