S. African found guilty of inciting hatred against Jews to lead anti-Israel tour in UK
Israel prime example of
By JONNY PAUL, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN LONDON
A member of the South African trade union federation charged with inciting hatred against the Jewish community is the guest of the University College Union (UCU) this week, attending a forum to discuss the academic boycott against Israel and taking part in a UK university campus tour calling for sanctions and boycotts against Israel.
Last week, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) found Bongani Masuku, international secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), guilty of using inflammatory, threatening and insulting statements against the South African Jewish community after he made threats against Jewish businesses and supporters of Israel and pronouncements declaring that Jews who support Israel must leave the country.
The SAHRC upheld a list of complaints made by the South African Board of Deputies and declared that the statements made by Masuku were hate speech.
Attended by all the major advocates of a boycott of Israeli academia in the union, the UCU meeting on Saturday was called to strategize the boycott campaign, after the UCU passed a boycott motion at their conference in May.
A UCU spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that the meeting came out of the motion passed by the UCU at their conference in May and after a boycott motion reached the Trade Union Congress in September.
Asked if it was acceptable, in light of the South African findings, to give a platform to Masuku, the UCU spokesman stated that the sources were "not credible," suggesting the allegations against Masuku were unsubstantiated and speculative rumors circulating on the Internet.
"We don't comment on stuff doing the rounds on the Internet and in the blogosphere and never will," he told the Post.
When it was pointed out that last week the SAHRC upheld the complaints against Masuku, the spokesman said the ruling was made after Masuku was invited by the UCU. He added that the union would be happy to consider "anything that can be stood up with a credible source."
A copy of the SAHRC ruling and letter to Masuku was sent to the UCU, but union did not respond by press time.
"It is totally unacceptable if the UCU gives Bongani Masuku a platform to peddle his racist views as one of the guest speakers at the UCU funded boycott conference," said Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel, in a letter to UCU head Sally Hunt.
"The UCU is willing to sacrifice its anti-racist credibility to welcome and host a person who unashamedly, as an anti-racist and without a trace of irony, demands that his country's Jews be menaced. This is a perversion of the necessary and valid campaign for Palestinian rights and a perversion of anti-racism," said Engage, a group of left-leaning academics and union members active against the boycott.
Also attending the UCU meeting and campus tour is former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils, known for his outspoken anti-Zionist views - saying once that Israel makes apartheid "look like a picnic" - and calls to isolate and boycott Israel.
As minister for water affairs, Kasrils addressed a Palestinian solidarity conference in London in 2002 calling Israel a terrorist state.
"The repressed are demonized as terrorists to justify ever-greater violations of their rights. We have the absurdity that the victims are blamed for the violence meted out against them," he said.
"Both apartheid and Israel are prime examples of terrorist states blaming the victims."
In 2006, Kasrils, who is Jewish, co-authored a petition against Israel and said: "Israelis claim that they are the chosen people, the elect of God, and find a biblical justification for their racism and Zionist exclusivity."
Kasrils will join a host of anti-Israel activists to make the case for a boycott and sanctions against Israel at a number of university campuses next week.
Titled "Israel, the Palestinians and Apartheid: the case for sanctions and boycott," the first event took place at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies on Friday evening, organized by the school's Palestine Society, the only student society in the country professionally run by its student union.
The university events have been organized by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) with the fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the pro-Palestinian charity War on Want and the Scottish Trade Union Congress.
This week, the events will be at universities in Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow. Appearing with Kasrils and Masuku will be Qatar-born Omar Barghouti, founder of a group called the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Barghouti is currently studying at Tel Aviv University.
Other participants include Stephen Rose, an Open University lecturer, and Tom Hickey, a member of the National Executive Committee of the UCU. Both are major players in the boycott movement.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told The Jerusalem Post last week that they would be looking at War on Want's involvement. The charity has previously been warned by the commission about its political campaigning against Israel.
After claims on the War on Want Web site that it was funded by the Department for International Redevelopment (DfID), a DfID spokesman said: "DfID does not fund any War on Want projects including political activism. DFID supports a very large number of projects managed by civil society organizations through a variety of funding mechanisms.
"A small number are stand-alone projects run by War on Want, such as one supporting rural farmers in Brazil, which are aimed solely at improving the lives of some of the world's poorest people, and which have gone through a rigorous appraisal process."
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) expressed concern with the "extreme actions" of the events, saying they vilify and isolates Jewish and Israeli students.
"UJS has always supported moves to constructively engage with Israel and the Palestinians and will continue to oppose the extreme actions of those who desire the destruction of Israel," said Mark Wolfson, UJS's campaign director.
"UJS is concerned with the impact such actions have on Jewish and Israeli students which leads to the vilification and isolation of students. We repeatedly call on universities and student unions to fulfill their duty of care obligations, which - too often - they are failing to do."
However, Wolfson said it was the action of a minority and that most students prefer positive action to "simplistic and ineffective" responses.
"Despite the apparently considerable resources pumped into the 'Boycott Israel' campaign, students are voting in their droves to endorse positive action towards ameliorating this conflict, rather than simplistic and ineffective responses.
"Already, boycotts have failed at Edinburgh and Brighton universities, while a grassroots movement is growing at Sussex to oppose virulently anti-Israel elements in their students' union," he added.
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