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South African Jews Condemn President’s Call for ‘Genocide’

Ramaphosa’s chant sparks outrage among Jewish community over perceived incitement.

South African Jewish leaders have condemned President Cyril Ramaphosa for what they describe as a call for “genocide” against Jews in Israel. The controversy erupted over the weekend when Ramaphosa, speaking at an election rally in Johannesburg, led the crowd in chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free.” This slogan, popular among anti-Israel activists, is widely interpreted as advocating for the destruction of the Jewish state, which lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The rally, held at FNB Stadium, was the African National Congress’s (ANC) final event before the South African elections on Wednesday. Notably, Ramaphosa’s prepared remarks included a call for the release of hostages taken by Hamas on October 7, but this was omitted in his speech.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) expressed their outrage in a statement shared with The Algemeiner, condemning Ramaphosa's remarks. “The president of the ruling ANC party and the head of state of a democratic country has called for the elimination of the only Jewish state,” said Wendy Kahn, national director of SAJBD. “He uses the populist slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ which is widely regarded as a call to genocide of the Jewish people.”

Kahn drew parallels between the slogan and Hamas’ goal of making Israel “Judenfrei,” or free of Jews, highlighting the contradiction between this rhetoric and the South African government’s stated support for a two-state solution. “The chanting of this slogan by a head of state of a government that recurrently tries to express their commitment to a ‘two-state solution’ as their policy on Israel and Palestine is hypocritical to the full,” she added.

The SAJBD criticized Ramaphosa for inciting division within South Africa and expressed concern over his disregard for the Jewish community. “The president’s contempt for South African Jewry is evident in this unscripted outburst at the rally which amounts to nothing more than Jew hatred,” Kahn stated. The SAJBD is exploring options to hold the president accountable for his statements.

Since the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated on October 7, South Africa’s ANC government has been a vocal critic of Israel. The country temporarily withdrew its diplomats from Israel and closed its embassy in Tel Aviv, citing concerns over civilian casualties in Gaza.

In December, South Africa hosted two Hamas officials at a government-sponsored conference in solidarity with Palestinians, further straining relations with the Jewish community. Additionally, South Africa’s Jewish community recently protested Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor’s call for intensified anti-Israel demonstrations on college campuses.

Despite the South African government’s attempts to argue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide, the ICJ has not supported these claims. However, the court did issue an emergency ruling last week ordering Israel to halt its military operations in Rafah, Gaza, as part of South Africa’s ongoing case.

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