For the last few years, the Board has always had at least one – and usually several – cases before the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). This is not so much due to an upsurge in antisemitic hate speech as to the fact that the process of finalising a complaint, from the date it is lodged through to when a ruling has been made and formally signed off, is inevitably a lengthy one. In the interim, it is all but inevitable that further incidents will have occurred necessitating the laying of fresh complaints. In light of the mounting concern throughout our society over the prevalence of hate speech and the necessity of finding more effective ways to deal with it, it is hoped that institutions like the SAHRC will be given additional powers and resources to assist them in fulfilling their mandates.
In terms of how the SAHRC operates, provision is made for parties to a dispute to first come together, with the Commission acting in a facilitating capacity, with a view to coming to a mutually acceptable agreement. Only in the event of such a process either not being possible or failing to achieve this aim will the SAHRC consider the complaint and make a ruling. Last week the Board took part in a conciliation process concerning a complaint it laid just over a year ago, and fortunately, we had a satisfactory outcome. The individual concerned acknowledged without equivocation that the comments he had made were racist and offensive and expressed sincere regret for this. A formal letter of apology was subsequently received, which we have accepted. The SAHRC will shortly issue a statement recording the facts of the case and its outcome.
In cases where the other party clearly shows no remorse, nor a willingness to admit to any wrongdoing, it has been necessary for the Board to request the SAHRC to adjudicate on our complaint. Our preference, however, is always for our disputes to be resolved through conciliation; handing matters over to a judicial tribunal is a last, not a first resort.
What is true in terms of dealing with antisemitic incidents is perhaps even more so when it comes to resolving our own intra-communal disputes. As readers of this paper will be aware, we are currently wrestling with a particularly painful and divisive issue, namely the question of whether or not woman solo singers should be part of future Yom Hashoah ceremonies. Clearly this is a question, on which there are strongly-held opinions on all sides, that has to be resolved through respectful discussion and engagement. Unfortunately, we are seeing instead a tendency for people, both within and without the community, to rush to judgment without knowing the facts. The Board believes that the stance it has taken is reasonable and practical and that, if need be, it can be defended in a court of law. However, it would be very sad indeed if the matter were to end up in such a forum, rather than being dealt with by our own community working together.