Thursday, June 29, 2017

Court Upholds Masuku Hate Speech Finding

Here's a blast from the past. Back in 2009, I started following the case of one Bongani Masuku, at that time International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Masuku was under fire for a bevy of antisemitic statements, virtually all of which were in the context of Palestinian solidarity work, but which kicked off when he stated that he wanted to "convey a message to the Jews of [South Africa]." Other highlights included:
  • Referring to Zionists as "belong[ing] to the era of their Friend Hitler"
  • Contending that "every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our broathers (sic) and sisters in Palestine," and
  • Expressing his view that "Jews are arrogant, not from being told by any Palestinian, but from what I saw myself."
Lovely. In any event, various South African Jews complained and received a judgment from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that Masuku's comments constituted antisemitic hate speech -- a ruling which caused COSATU to go absolutely ballistic. Since Masuku refused the SAHRC's order that he apologize, the case headed off to Equality Court in December 2009 -- and that was the last I heard of it.

Until today. The Equality Court issued its verdict, and it found against Masuku on all counts (you can read the opinion here). It unequivocally found that its comments were hate speech, were functionally targeted at Jews, and were unprotected by freedom of expression.* It again ordered him to make an unconditional apology, as well as (with COSATU) paying full litigation costs. It even went out of its way to specifically reject the expert testimony offered in support of Masuku as "partisan" in character and unreliable.

From what I can tell, this is probably not the last stage -- there still can be more appeals, and one doubts that COSATU or Masuku have come this far just to give up and apologize to the damn Jews. But right now, this is a major win for the South African Jewish community, and a huge loss for all those who seek to excuse even naked antisemitism by draping it in the cloak of "criticism of Israel."

* As I have observed previously, South Africa has very different standards regarding free speech compared to the US -- the former allows proscriptions against hate speech, the latter does not. In general, I prefer the US model, but insofar as this is a South African court applying South African law that debate is not germane.

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