/ 6 December 2023

Should support of an occupying force be considered hate speech?

David Teeger

According to Anton Harber’s op-ed on 30 November 2023 in the Daily Maverick, David Teeger’s remarks do not constitute hate speech and propaganda for war. 

Harber wrote: “Teeger, the schoolboy captain of the Proteas under-19 national cricket team, is being investigated because of remarks he made in support of the Israeli army after he won the Rising Star category at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards in Johannesburg. 

“… ‘I’m now the rising star, but the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel,’ he was reported to have said, ‘And I’d like to dedicate [my award] to the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora.’

“The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was quoted saying Teeger saw fit ‘to honour the genocidaires, rendering himself unfit to represent our country on the world cricketing stage’. 

“I am not going to go into the merits of Teeger’s views, other than to point out that he did not celebrate genocide or express a bloodthirsty desire for revenge — which may have taken him into the category of illegal hate speech.”

Reading Harber’s framing of Teeger’s comment as not celebrating genocide is obfuscating the issues of settler-colonialism and the ongoing occupation of Palestine with the current genocide of Gazans.

First, because Harber writes that “propaganda for war or incitement to violence” was not the case in Teeger’s message, “he (Teeger) did not celebrate genocide or express a bloodthirsty desire for revenge”, claiming that his remarks are innocent. How then do we read Teeger’s comment “the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel” as having nothing to do with the ongoing occupation and genocide of Palestinians?

When Teeger celebrates the soldier killing machine, he is sealing the fate of young Israelis serving in the Occupation Forces, many of whom are being traumatised by serving as foot soldiers in an ongoing genocide, “every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora”. 

There is ample evidence from organisations such as Breaking the Silence, which document the trauma of soldiers serving in the Israeli Occupation Forces. If you celebrate the soldier killing machine this can be read within the scope of propaganda for war. 

In this context, Teeger’s comments can be read as hate speech because they celebrate the annihilation of a people “by the state of Israel … so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora”. I am going to demonstrate this in relation to how Harber missed the point that Teeger’s remarks further the genocide of innocent Palestinians. 

Second, Harber as a journalist and scholar knows only too well that what we write and say must be put into context. Therefore, it is within the context of Teeger’s statement that his comments are not innocent but directly related to Zionists’ fear of losing a homeland post-Holocaust without any reflection on the settler-colonialism that has led to genocide of Palestinians.

Third, when is hate speech invoked? When it supports the killing of innocent people. 

On this matter, Anton, you missed the point, tragically. 

Here Harber writes: “If it came anywhere close to hate speech, one can see that this might breach the sporting code. But short of that, if they go after Teeger they would be signalling that their selection criteria will take into account whether a player has unpopular views on contentious subjects.

“I don’t agree with his view (and signed the letter from 700+ South African Jews calling for a ceasefire), but that does not stop me being deeply concerned that he should face official censure for what he said. I will defend his right to say what he wants to say.”

Last, Teeger’s remarks are not in the ambit of “unpopular views” because he is celebrating occupation by a settler-colonial state, “… the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel … the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora”.

Why are we afraid of official censure when we criticise a sporting personality who celebrates the soldier killing machine who is actively participating in genocide? German-American historian and philosopher Hannah Arendt brings home the point on the banality of evil. Evil is everyday ordinary and, if we do not call it out for what it is, remarks and support for such remarks are part of the banality of evil. 

Harber signing a letter calling for a ceasefire, as “good Jew”, does not exempt him from participating in the banality of evil. 

Moreover, Harber says “the Israel-Gaza war is a deeply divisive one”. “For who?” I ask. It is not deeply divisive when “war” is a euphemism for “a belligerent occupation”, according to Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on Palestine)? 

This is not a war. This is settler-colonial occupation that has been in operation for 75 years.