Court Orders Pro-Palestinian Activist in South Africa to Apologize to Jewish Community for ‘Zionists Are Friends of Hitler’ Comment
South Africa’s highest court on Wednesday ordered a prominent labor union activist to apologize to the Jewish community for antisemitic hate speech, drawing a line under a bitter dispute that stretches back for more than a decade.
In its ruling, the South African Constitutional Court deemed that a statement by Bongani Masuku — the former international relations officer of the Cosatu labor union — that attacked “Zionists” and their “friend Hitler” breached the country’s Equality Act.
Masuku made the comment in his official capacity in a 2009 post, during the three-week long war between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza. “Bongani say hi to all of you as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists, and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler!” he wrote. “We must not apologize; every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
Masuku continued: “We must target them, expose them, and do all that is needed to subject them to perpetual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others and stop their savage attacks on human dignity. Every Palestinian who suffers is a direct attack on all of us.”
After Jewish organizations lodged formal protests, Masuku’s comment was subsequently condemned by the South African Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of Appeal, before it was overturned on appeal. As a result, his case came to the Constitutional Court.
Examining the “Hitler” posting, the court found that “a reasonable person would understand the statement as being based on Jewishness as an ethnicity, not anti-Zionism.”
The court’s ruling explained that it had reached this conclusion “primarily because of the statement’s reference to ‘Hitler,’ because a reasonable reader would have noted that a reference to Hitler to a group which was predominantly Jewish was used because of their Jewish ethnicity and identity.”
The court also examined three other statements on Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that the facts in these cases “did not conclusively support the finding that, seditious as they may have been, these statements were targeted at members of the Jewish faith or ethnicity.”
Masuku now has 30 days to “tender an unconditional apology to the Jewish community in respect of the first statement.”
Commenting on the ruling, South Africa’s main Jewish organization emphasized that freedom of expression did not extend to hate speech.
“Freedom of expression does not permit people to incite harm against and call for the expulsion of one’s fellow citizens because of their political views,” Prof. Karen Milner, chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), said in a statement.
Milner said that the SAJBD, which filed the original complaint against Masuku in 2009, was satisfied that a “clear message” had been sent by the court.
“Bongani Masuku’s taunting reference to Jews who supported Israel as being friends of Hitler was especially hateful, and in view of well-known Jewish sensitivities over this tragic part of their history was clearly intended by him to cause maximum hurt and offense,” she said.