About rolenemarks

Rolene Marks is a member of the Media Team Israel, a body of volunteers that monitors bias in the media. A passionate advocate for Israel, Rolene has appeared on radio, tv and in the print Media. Rolene lives in Israel.

I call myself Zionist

This article currently appears in the WIZO Review:

file:///C:/Users/rolene/Downloads/WIZO_REVIEW_336.pdf

Maligned and misunderstood, emotive and provocative, the word Zionism is guaranteed to elicit very strong reactions when mentioned.

In the years since its inception and the forming of the first World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897, Zionism has been reinvented, reinterpreted and robust discussion has taken place over the merits and relevance of Zionism in today’s fast changing world.

The dream of a State of Israel for the Jewish people has been realized and many have debated whether or not Zionism is still relevant in our daily lives.

The most basic definition of Zionism is the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient ancestral homeland, Israel. In the years that have passed since the birth of the State of Israel it would seem that Zionism is the only national liberation movement of a people that is derided and questioned.

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Legendary civil rights leader and supporter of Zionism, Rev Dr Martin Luther King

In 1975, the United Nations passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. Even though this resolution was revoked in 1991, the damage was done. The seed was planted and the foundation was laid to portray Israel as a pariah state, equal to that of Apartheid South Africa. It became legitimate in public discourse to call Israel an Apartheid state and this really gained momentum in 2001 with the UN Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa.

It was here that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) really exploded in to the international consciousness. BDS activists knew that the irony and symbolism of launching at such a conference in South Africa, the home of Apartheid would give their movement the impetus they desired. Israel and the Jewish world were rudely awakened by the sophisticated organization of this campaign that included some of the worst invective since pre-war Germany and saw the birth of the international hate fest known as Israel Apartheid Week that takes place on university campuses around the world during March every year. The new anti-Semitism is wrapped up in the cloak of anti-Zionism and the central charge is Israel is an Apartheid state which must be dismantled at all costs.

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Billboards in Johannesburg, South Africa contain quotes from Nelson Mandela on Zionism

In 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to the barrage of rockets launched at her citizens from Gaza. Instead of empathizing with Israel’s citizens who were running to their shelters several times a day, Israel’s detractors used this as an opportunity to release some of the worst venom that sometimes culminated in violent acts against Jewish communities in their countries, giving rise to a tsunami of anti-Semitic hatred. From France to Germany, USA to South Africa, Jewish communities became targets in synagogues, schools, restaurants and across various social media platforms.

For the first time since 1945, the cry of “Jews to the gas” or ‘Jews, Hitler should have finished the job” became the rally call of the haters. Their methods are quite transparent. They wrap their “concern” for Palestinian human rights in condemnation of Israel and her Diaspora communities but it is apparent that if they cared about these rights their anger would be directed at Hamas.

It all sounds bleak and very threatening so how do we deal with threats to our identity in an increasingly hostile world?

It is my belief that if we do not stand for something, we will fall for anything. In the modern social media savvy world we too have access to all the platforms that our detractors do. We too are protected by constitutions and laws in various countries. We too, have a voice.

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WIZO protests the invitation of terrorist hijacker, Leila Khaled to South Africa by BDS

And it is a voice that deserves to be heard. We need to be heard. At every opportunity and on every platform we can. We as WIZO women, who proudly carry the word Zionism in our name are duty bound to take up this call and educate those in our Federations and communities. We need to know what the facts are, we need to be armed with the truth and we need to have courage in the face of all this to stand up for ourselves.

The best way to answer those who call for our destruction, question our legitimacy as a nation or brand us as racists is to be proud of who we are and be strong in our identity. Telling the Jewish people that they have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is racism. Telling the Jewish people that they have no right to an identity or to sit at the table with the rest of the family of nations is racism.

We are living in a time when people are fearful and this is understandable. Organisations like WIZO can help prepare and strengthen our communities. We are called to duty and to arms – armed with the truth.

This is why it is important to be armed with facts.  We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.

As WIZO women we have the privilege of leading the charge. Not only are we grooming future leaders but we are educating our global community. Wearing our identity proudly and unapologetically in our name, we WIZO Wonder Women continue to live up to our tenet we care, we share and we dare.

Let us heed the call to arms. Let facts, truth and pride be our weapons of choice.

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Je Suis Juif. I am a Jew. 

A WIZO Woman’s right to choose

This blog currently appears in the Time of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-wizo-womans-right-to-choose/

For over 90 years, the Women’s Zionist Organisation (WIZO) has been a pioneering movement. At a time when women were not allowed to be part of the organized Zionist movement a group of feisty ladies decided that if we could not join them, we would start one of our own. And so WIZO was born. Since its inception, WIZO has been all about empowering women. We have empowered women to be suffragettes because women deserved the right to vote. Don’t we also deserve the right of choice? We hold consultative status at the United Nations on UNICEF and ECOSOC, no small feat for a Zionist organization, we hold leadership positions in major Jewish organisations and we have empowered women from minority communities, many of them victims of domestic violence to be leaders. We have created leaders, entrepreneurs and trailblazers of women’s rights.  This is in addition to the tremendous work we do to improve the lives of women and children in Israel.

WIZO is all about empowerment, including the right to make informed choices, including on issues of sexuality.

It would appear that there are some that have gotten their knickers in a knot over the screening of the movie “50 Shades of Grey” as part of a WIZO fundraiser. As WIZO women we defend your choice to see the movie. Or not.

This is a worldwide event and is happening at the request of our WIZO Aviv’s who have recognized that the movie, predicted to break box office records, will attract our target membership who are more than happy to show their support for our work while enjoying a highly anticipated chick flick. It is hardly a trip to the local strip joint or purveyor of porn. Tickets to these global fundraisers are sold out and have attracted women from all sectors of society.

If the sexual proclivities of Christian Grey are not your thing, you have a choice not to see the movie. To try and tarnish the reputation of a premier woman’s movement who does outstanding work by going to the press to create controversy is mean spirited. I assume that those casting disparity have read the books. They will also know that any sex that takes place between the characters is consensual and by a fictitious character who makes her own choices and does not propagate or endorse violence against women. The women who choose to see the movie know exactly what it is about.

As WIZO women we respect the rights of our sisters to make choices that suit their individual needs, be they religious, political, intellectual or even sexual. It is a sad day when the same respect is not afforded to us.

I agree with Laurienne Baitz, World WIZO AVIV representative. At a time when women are being persecuted in countries where they cannot show their faces, vote, own property or even drive a car, is a fundraiser based around a sexy movie really the issue we should be talking about?

Let us respect a WIZO Woman’s right to choose.

Rolene Marks

Deputy Chairperson: Organisation and Tourism Division

World WIZO

A time to scream

More than 70 years after the Holocaust, a cruel and barbaric evil has surfaced. There is no depth to their depravity and their medieval methods of torture and murder are becoming more and more atrocious. They are so depraved that not even Al Qaeda want to be associated with them. In a recent interview with members of the world’s previous first ranked terror organization, Al Qaeda terrorists described their fear of the Islamic State (Daesh).

Nobody is immune from their evil clutches, not aid workers, not journalists and not even their co-religionists. They are more sophisticated than their counterparts, understanding the power of social media and good video editing and their poster boy, Jihadi John, a citizen of the United Kingdom understands the veracity of clear communication in English. In short, they are terrifying.

The horrific irony is that these execution videos or sick snuff films are becoming recruitment calls and thousands around the world are signing up to become members of this gang of terror.

They have marched through the Middle East on their mission of mayhem, slaughtering Yazidis, crucifying Christians, including children, beheading journalists and aid workers and leaving a trail of death in their wake.

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Cartoon courtesy of RAFO

They are a dangerous enemy because they are not an army we can meet on a battlefield or easily identify. They hide, like faceless cowards behind their balaclavas and masks.

Last night they released their footage of the execution of Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh. A devout Sunni Muslim, al-Kasasbeh was burnt alive while being held in a cage. I have not and don’t need to watch the footage – I can hear his screams.

No, you will not see links to the video of al-Kasasbeh’s execution here or still photography pictures. I will not be complicit in giving Daesh the media coverage they crave. Their victims die torturous deaths and the trauma for their loved ones is unimaginable.

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Vigil held for Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh

Last week we commemorated 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Day.  The tears and the painful memories which are forever embedded in our hearts and in our consciousness flowed freely.

To coincide with this, the BBC held an hour long debate on whether or not it is time to lay the Holocaust to rest. The link is included below.

This is offensive on SO many levels. Anti-Semitism is reaching alarming levels around the world and once again, Jews are fleeing Europe. Holocaust Survivor, Roman Kent’s plea “Do not let our past become our children’s future” cut to the very heart of me.  This is why we talk about the Holocaust. This is why we endeavor to educate. When we took that vow NEVER AGAIN, we promised Roman Kent, we promised our family members we lost, we promised the victims of the Holocaust we will never let it happen again. We promised future generations that we will create a better world for them.

More than 70 years after the Holocaust can we really say we learnt anything? In Rwanda and Cambodia, in the former Yugoslavia and in the Ukraine and across the Middle East, genocide and mass murder has resurfaced.

We are not dealing with the issues. We use words like “militant” or “extremist” to describe these murderous barbarians. Let us call them what they are. They are terrorists. Until we call it what it is, we will never be able to defeat them.

World leaders cannot make speeches filled with sound bites or send famed folk singers to sing kumbaya as a gesture of goodwill to the victims.

Enough is enough. We owe it to Roman Kent and the victims of the Holocaust, the Yazidis, Christians who are being slaughtered the people of Rwanda, Cambodia and other genocides to give them the voice they never had. ISIS and their ilk are the Nazis of this era and they need to be defeated for once and for all.

We cannot let NEVER AGAIN become AGAIN AND AGAIN. It is a time to scream.

When the pen is mightier than the sword

How does one put into words the outrage and hurt we feel at the slaughter of innocents in Paris this past week that included journalists, police and members of the French Jewish community? Anger, pain and a deep and profound sorrow. The journalists at satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo  were slaughtered because they represented our right to free speech and expression, a tenet valued as a fundamental value of a democratic society. Police were murdered because they uphold the law that is based on Western values.

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Cartoon courtesy of  RAFO

And four were murdered simply because they were Jewish. Their lives ended while shopping for last minute Shabbat provisions by a terrorist who gleefully admitted that he targeted them because they were Jewish.

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The Victims of the terror attack on Hyper Cacher, a kosher Supermarket in Paris.

Israel and France share the same democratic, Western values.

As Israelis we understand the veracity and trauma of terror that can hit anytime. As Jews we understand persecution and how it feels to be victims of hatred. The rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world makes this threat all the more real.

As someone  who makes a living sharing my opinion, which is sometimes less than well received, news that colleagues in my profession paid the ultimate price for what we value highly (and sometimes take for granted) which is our freedom of speech and expression was at once,  sobering and frightening.

Those of us who work in the field of Israel advocacy are no strangers to views that contravene ours. Sometimes these opinions even border on hate speech. We are used to cartoons that depict us in the most vile, anti-Semitic and stereotypical fashion. Social media has added a different dimension and Facebook trolls and Twitter twits have discovered an effective way of ensuring that their hate invective has a rapid and viral soapbox. We have dealt with all of the above by using the legal options available to us or by strongly worded letters and op-eds and the occasional meme but never a hail of bullets and carnage.

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, elements of South African society appealed to the leadership to silence me ahead of my impending visit. They were told in no uncertain terms that restricting my freedom of expression was against their constitution. While I respect their right to vehemently disagree with me, my answer is to take to the airwaves and the internet and keep on writing. That is my constitutional and inalienable right.

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The South African Cape Times newspaper features the response to calls for me to be silenced during Operation Protective Edge – and gets the next post wrong!

To allow ourselves to be intimidated by those who scorn our Western value system is to bow to terrorism. Artists draw your truth, writers share your views! We owe it to those who were murdered in France and to everyone who has been killed by virtue of their opinion or religious affiliation to speak on their behalf.

For us as Jews, these terror attacks are deeply personal. We are a nation that feels the pain of every person slaughtered by terrorists deeply. We are all responsible for each other and at this time we mourn and embrace the families of the victims in our hearts.

Today we laid Yohan Cohen z”l, Yoav Hattab z”l, Phillipe Braham z”l and Francois-Michel Saaba z”l,  to eternal rest in the peaceful hills of Jerusalem. We have buried too many, far too many victims of terror. This is not the way we want to bring Jews home to Israel. Making Aliyah, coming home to our ancestral home should be a joyous occasion. For many, this is not the case. A global tsunami of hatred is forcing them to leave the countries that they feel deeply rooted in, despite a strong love and connection to Israel. Whatever reasons anyone decides to call Israel home, we welcome you with open arms.

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Solidarity – “I am a Jew”. Proudly!

To the victims of these appalling attacks, you are always in our hearts and we will do our best to honour your memories by expressing ourselves or celebrating our Jewish and Zionist identities.

To the mourners, may you be comforted and find healing and strength.

May the pen forever be mightier than the sword. Je Suis Charlie. Je Suis Juif. Am Yisrael Chai.

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This week’s commemorative cover of Charlie Hebdo.

We are taking our power back!

This blog post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-are-taking-our-power-back/

I don’t know about you but I am angry. Anti-Semitism has reached alarming levels on a global scale that we have not seen since pre-World War 2 and some of the invective is worthy of Der Sturmer circa 1938. From the United States to South Africa, France to Australia, Jews are being singled out for persecution.  Facebook has become a battlefield where the lines have become clearly demarcated and many can claim losing life-long “friends” due to differing opinions. Twitter has brought the worst out in twits who tweet nasty. Some twit called me “a bimbo who should change my handle to occupier Barbie”. Hey, I have been called worse! It is merely symptomatic of something far more nefarious.

I have a message for all the haters and intolerators (dig my rhyming skills? Yes, I know it is not an actual word but hey, creative licence!) and it goes something like this:

To those who say we as Jews have no right to a country of our own I say, we are taking our power back

To those who say that we have no right to organize ourselves politically and call it Zionism, I say we are taking our power back.

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To those who call for our destruction, we take our power back.

To those who are outraged at our audacity to defend ourselves, we take our power back.

To those who call our army and security forces “war criminal” and “baby killer”, we take our power back.

To those who intimidate and threaten our Muslim, Druze, Christian and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel, we take our power back.

To those who intimidate and threaten our many non-Jewish supporters around the world, we take our power back.

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To those who get hysterical because we don’t rack up those high casualty numbers in a time of war, we take our power back.

To those world bodies and organisations who focus their attention on the State of Israel and pass a disproportionate (yup, I used THAT word) amount of resolutions against us, we take our power back.

To those who call Israel an Apartheid state, negating the suffering of the millions of South Africans who lived under this heinous regime, we take our power back.

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To those who think that chanting hate speech at protest rallies intimidates and shames us, we are taking our power back.

To those who draw a moral equivalence between Israel and terror organisations, we are taking our power back.

To those who call for Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestment, causing more harm than good to the Palestinian people, who you purport to help, we are taking our power back.

To those who try to camouflage their ill-disguised hatred behind the concept of human rights, you are transparent and we take our power back.

To those who take their anger and hatred out on Jewish community members across the world in museums, synagogues and schools, we are taking our power back.

And finally, to the world media who can’t be bothered to fact check, provide balanced coverage or would rather turn a complicated situation into sensationalistic tabloid style journalism in order to get those ratings, I hold you responsible for a lot of the insanity we are experiencing right now. We take our power back!

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We will stand up against you at protests and rallies. We will wear our religious insignia proudly. We will call our name Zionist. We will proudly purchase and support Israeli industry. We will use every platform at our disposal to fight your invective. We have learnt from our historical experience and the hideous double standard that is applied to us at the expense of those who deserve the attention we receive.

A large part of taking your power back is just showing up. This is why it is important to be armed with facts and disseminate and speak them as far and as often as possible.  We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.

You detractors, you haters, you intolerators, you genteel anti-Semites, you out and loud hatemongers – you do not have the power you think you have to intimidate and hurt us.

We have taken our power back.

Saying thank you to our soldiers with AWIS

How does one say thank you to the thousands of brave young men and women of the IDF who work night and day to ensure that we are safe and sound?

It is no secret that every Israeli regards our soldiers as our children and after a tumultuous and traumatic summer, it has become even more of an imperative to show our gratitude.

Enter AWIS. AWIS or the Association for the Well-being of Israel’s Soldiers is an international, non-profit, humanitarian organization founded by David Ben Gurion in 1942. The organization is dedicated to looking after the mental and physical well-being of Israel’s soldiers and volunteers work tirelessly to provide for Israel’s protectors.

I was absolutely delighted to join the English Speaking Branch as they spent the day dedicating several clubhouses on bases around the country.

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The first to arrive and the last to leave. This describes the Transport Corps, who keep our army moving. The men (and yes, there are women!) who are responsible for heavy vehicle transportation and for ensuring that our troops get to where they need to go. They are the unsung heroes, carrying the army on their backs. Literally! From tanks to troops, the transport corps ensures that our soldiers and heavy duty vehicles like tanks get to where they need to be safely and efficiently. AWIS volunteer,  Ian Waldbaum, pictured below, proudly dedicated the clubhouse for these hard-working troops.

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 Volunteer Ian Waldbaum inaugurates club house 

“Providing our young men and women soldiers with some form of sanctuary and sense of family, in and around the battlefield, is a crucial enterprise that requires our sustained and specific attention. Our branch was formed more than 30 years ago to raise funds dedicated to providing extra comforts, in their off duty hours,  for all our soldiers in the army, navy, air force and border police bases throughout Israel. Though the funds are solely under our administration our branch finances only projects that are requested by the IDF through AWIS Head Office,” says Chairman Cecil Shevil.

Our next stop was Kalandiya crossing and the Erez battalion. These brave men and women monitor the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank. Often maligned by the foreign press, these courageous soldiers, often on their feet for 24 hours in a row, have stopped countless attempted terror attacks on Israeli civilians. Speaking to them and hearing their individual stories was both awe-inspiring and a reminder of the daily threats our country faces.

In excess of 5000 terror attacks have been prevented this year!

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Warning sign for Israelis

After a lunch that would have put a yiddisher mama to shame, a second clubhouse was dedicated where these soldiers could relax, play a little pool and unwind after a tense day.

The soldiers who serve in the Erez battalion are combat soldiers but they still find time to volunteer with children and Holocaust survivors and giving them a facility that will help them unwind is a great way to say thank you.

The unique essence of AWIS is the spirit of its members, volunteers and donors – providing the young men and women in the IDF with a genuine sense of care and love.

Last stop for the day was the Ordinance corps. Many of the soldiers on this base come from lower socio-economic communities.  A brand new clubhouse was dedicated and the group was warmly welcomed by the base commander who thanked the group, reiterating how a simple room to relax in goes a long way to make these soldiers feel special and appreciated. The clubhouses go a long way to uplifting their moral.

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Ordinance Corp Base Commander says thank you

Saying thank you to those who give their all for us to ensure our safety and security is priceless and the gratitude is palpable.

You can make a difference in the lives of Israel’s soldiers who are on active duty. Here is how you can contribute:

  • Annual fundraising efforts are mainly centered on the Calendar project, the 120-club Annual Draw, Gift Cards, Gift Certificates and of course, private donations in Israel and abroad.
  • The private donations are usually made to celebrate a simcha such as Bar mitzvoth, Weddings and Anniversaries (Silver, Golden and even Diamond!). On some occasions, sadly, in memory of loved ones and legacies from Estates.

100% of the donated monies are utilized for the specific project and donors are then invited to officially “open” their clubhouse together with their family and friends. Contributors are taken on trips to the bases when clubhouses are dedicated to see what is done with their contributions.  It is always an emotional occasion to witness the grateful thanks and appreciation of all the young soldiers on the base – very worthwhile as everyone comes away from these trips with a great sense of pride and pleasure for what is being provided for our boys and girls who protect us 24/7.

The funds of the English Speaking Branch of AWIS fundraising are allocated at the request of the Head Office of AWIS and we are proud to have been involved in many projects throughout our beautiful little country – furnishing and refurbishing clubhouses; equipping sports facilities; allocating funds for needy soldiers and their families at chaggim; scholarships for post-army study, etc.

For more information and donations, contact Ian Waldbaum at: ianwald@gmail.com

Swine fever!

Beware of swine flu – it seems to be a contagious disease!

Several weeks ago, members of COSAS, the Council of South African Students placed a pig’s head in what they thought was the Kosher meat section of Woolworth’s Sea Point store. Turn out in their infinite stupidity, they had placed it in the Halaal section but then again, this bunch have never been famous for their cerebral prowess.

Hate speech, much like swine flu, seems to be a contagious disease. This is a disease that is spreading like wildfire throughout the world. South Africa is not immune. Over the last few months social media sites on Facebook and Twitter have been infested with the kind of comments that would not have been out of place in Germany circa 1938 and many of the perpetrators are linked to government departments and  political parties. We have had the illustrious Rene Smit, social media manager of the ANC Western Cape branch posting “Hitler was right” and now DIRCO (Department of International Relations) employee, Rudi van Vuuren, who has enjoyed diplomatic postings to Helsinki and Damascus is the latest little piggy who is going to market.

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Cartoon courtesy of RAFO

Van Vuuren was caught tweeting this gem yesterday that appeared on the South African Friends of Palestine page:

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I know the very definition of diplomacy is telling someone to go to hell and making sure they enjoy the ride but this is beyond reprehensible. Hiding behind the excuse “well he was tweeting/commenting in his private capacity” is just not going to cut the mustard. Anti-Semitism is rising to alarming levels around the world and has arrived in South Africa. South Africa boasts a Constitution that protects the rights of minority communities and since the fall of Apartheid has been an example of conflict resolution but the lack of sanction on officials that feel like they have free reign on social media to spout their hate invective has transported the Rainbow nation back in time. It is a flagrant abuse of office to use social media platforms to bring their latent anti-Semitic tendencies to the fore.

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It seems as if it is open season to say whatever you want to against the Jewish community with very few repercussions. It is time for ordinary South Africans who are sick and tired of the Middle East taking preference over pressing issues in their country to say enough is enough. It is time for ordinary South Africans who fought long and hard to triumph over the dark past of the country to say enough is enough. Enough of the hatred. Enough of the abuse of office. Enough.

It is time for ordinary South Africans to say that the Jewish community are just as much a stripe in the Rainbow Nation as any other and any hate invective against them will not be tolerated.

This particular strain of swine flu has to be stopped from spreading at all costs before the epidemic gets out of hand and starts to manifest violent symptoms.

“We received information from an online organisation called ‘SpotlightingSA’ which combats Antisemitism and false narratives concerning Israel. Spotlighting primarily focuses on South Africa but deals with the same issues in the UK and Australia. Spotlighting is a grassroots initiative which also monitors Antisemitism and holds individuals accountable for racism, bias, bigotry and above all Antisemitism. Spotlighting is an independent organisation unaffiliated to any organisation or political agenda”.