A South Africa high court has ruled that condemning Israel is not considered as hate speech.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) this week delivered a judgment that elaborated on the meaning of “hate speech” as prohibited in the Equality Act.
The SCA judgement follows a long history of Israeli oppression against the Palestinian people.
The judgement references a dispute which arose in February and March 2009, but was prompted by the military action against the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government at the end of 2008. The conflict resulted in more than seven hundred deaths. The violence received worldwide attention.
A high-ranking trade union official, Bongani Masuku, condemned the actions of the Israeli army, ran a campaign to that effect and even held a protest march alongside the Palestine Solidarity Committee.
“We struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and Zionists who belong to the era of their Friend Hitler! We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine. 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,” Masuku said.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBOD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) supported the actions of the Israeli army. But notably, hundreds of South African Jews distanced themselves from this show of support.
This week, in deciding whether Masuku’s statements incited harm, the SCA considered the context within which the statements were made and found that the term “Zionism” refers at its core to support of a Jewish State in the Middle East. The term refers to a group of people that share a particular view, even a particular political view, which is not the same as, for example, the term "Jew" that clearly depicts a particular religion or ethnicity.
"The furthest one can take the matter", the SCA found, "is that because very many Zionists are Jewish and very many Jews may be Zionists, the two concepts may in some circumstances become blurred if care is not taken to distinguish between them."
"A court should not be hasty to conclude that because language is angry in tone or conveys hostility, it is therefore to be characterized as hate speech. Even if it has overtones of race and ethnicity," the Constitutional Court wrote.
Most South Africans have historically supported the Palestinians due to similarities between the Israeli occupation and South Africa’s apartheid era.
Anti-Apartheid hero and late President Nelson Mandela said in 1997 that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”