Jewish Israel advocate shot and killed in Johannesburg, South Africa
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Jewish Israel advocate shot and killed in Johannesburg, South Africa

(JTA) — An outspoken Jewish advocate for Israel was shot and killed at his workplace in South Africa by unidentified gunmen who left behind his car, wallet and cellphone.

Sergio Kowensky, the chairman of the Likud South Africa Jewish group, was gunned down Tuesday in a southern suburb of Johannesburg at his air-conditioning firm, according to the South African Jewish Report. The shots, fired at around noon, alerted workers in his factory and others in surrounding businesses.

“The initial fears were that this could have been the work of anti-Israel fanatics, given that Kowensky spent his entire life dedicated to Zionist ideals, with an intense passion for the well-being of the State of Israel,” the newspaper wrote. But with the investigation into Kowensky’s death only in its initial phases, the story said, his slaying could be “just another senseless act of urban violence on the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg.”

Kowensky, 67, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, grew up in the small town of Moisés Ville in the province of Santa Fe, which was founded by Eastern European and Russian Jews escaping persecution in 1889.

He is survived by his wife, Alison, and their three children, aged 32-42.

His killing closely followed warnings by representatives of South Africa’s Jewish community who said they are seeing an uptick in anti-Semitic rhetoric in real life and on social media.

“Over the past 24 hours, a flurry of viciously antisemitic and threatening attacks have been made against South African Jews, both on social media and in direct face-to-face encounters,” the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies said in a statement last week.

Passengers awaiting their suitcases from an El Al flight into South Africa were called  “wicked Jews” at the airport by a man who ranted against them from across a luggage belt at O.R. Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg. Also, a mural with a German flag and a swastika was painted this week on a Johannesburg wall.

Separately, another Jewish South African, Jeffrey Zetler, a 62-year-old strawberry farmer, was stabbed to death in an alleged robbery June 23 near Stellenbosch, a city 31 miles east of Cape Town. Zetler was at the Mooiberge strawberry farm when he was killed.