A misinformed public

BDS campaigns in S. Africa disregarded criterion apart from links to Israel; Lead universities on path of "lawlessness".

Anti-Israel protestors in South Africa 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
Anti-Israel protestors in South Africa 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
On the evening of March 12, Israeli-born pianist Dr. Yossi Reshef’s performance in front of a full auditorium at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa, was savagely disrupted and abruptly ended after about 60 anti-Israel protesters, including members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Wits Student Representative Council and the Muslim Students Association repeatedly broke into the hall.
Reshef is a world-renowned pianist, now residing in Berlin. He has performed all over the world, including in Britain, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Spain, Russia and the US. He and his entourage had to endure a hostile “silent protest” on their way into the hall through a restive and hostile crowd. A lecturer from the Wits Music Department was pushed and kicked as he attempted to enter the concert hall. Apparently, while security was focused on preventing unruly protesters from obtaining entry into the hall, they succeeded in gaining entry through a fire exit, carrying vuvuzelas, and started to attack the Steinway piano.
In the ensuing chaos, Reshef and several ambassadors in the audience were immediately evacuated by their security personnel. Apparently five members of the Wits SRC that were present in the audience failed to take any measures to stop the chaos, and an anonymous eyewitness is on record as stating that the vice-president of the Wits SRC cheered and encouraged the mayhem.
This event should be viewed in the broader context that has engendered a culture of excluding all Israelis or even Israeli-born visitors from South African campuses. By participating in practices reminiscent of the Judenrein policies of Nazi Germany, our universities have lost their moral high ground as they can no longer claim to be bastions of free speech.
Last year Prof. Jeffrey Kantor, an Israeli, was invited to a sociology conference at the University of Cape Town. As he was about to start his address as part of a panel discussion, a certain Prof. Peter Alexander from the University of Johannesburg interjected, demanding that if Kantor wished to proceed, he should first apologize for the atrocities and human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel. When the Israeli professor refused, Alexander, supported by many of his peers, called on the audience to boycott the lecture, and everyone in the audience vacated the lecture hall, leaving only the Israeli professor and the sound technician.
What these two victims of boycott share is their association with Israel. The boycotters have dehumanized and debased them on that criterion only. Their values, political ideologies and beliefs are irrelevant. They are condemned for being Israeli. They have convinced themselves that the nation of Israel, like apartheid, is a crime against humanity and must be exorcised from the planet. That is the danger of this apartheid analogy. Good people, the best among us, are condemned because of their place of birth. For Jews, the wounds of our history, of being hounded because of being born Jewish, are still too fresh. These Israelis, not coincidentally, are Jewish.
WHAT WE share in common with other societies that target minorities is a widespread approval and sanctioning of these sentiments in South Africa; to attack anything Israeli, products, people, organizations and symbols. This license to target Israel flows from decisions to bestow legitimacy to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign by the ANC at its policy conference in Gallagher Estate in June 2012 and subsequently at Mangaung in December.
Leading up to these policy decisions, the rhetoric emanating from the Tripartite Alliance partners, particularly from Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, became increasingly shrill and accusatory. Ever since Vavi’s call in January 2009 on “all trade unions, social movements, NGOs, religious organizations and academics to support and actively participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel,” he has at almost very public appearance lambasted and condemned Israel.
His vitriol, focusing on the alleged crimes of the Israeli government, demanded that Israel be excommunicated from the family of nations – his calls are a metaphor for Israel’s demise and destruction. So in November, during the lead-up to Mangaung, he called for “The intensification of the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement by refusing all and any association with the State of Israel and its agents of whatever form,” as well as for “intensified global marches,” “sit-ins in all Israeli embassies, and night vigils,” an “International Solidarity Conference” and more.
His partisan stance has opened the floodgates for hate speech to emanate from almost all bodies, organizations and NGOs affiliated with the Tripartite Alliance, including the ANC Youth League. The latest of these groups to unleash its vitriol is the South African Students Conference Gauteng, who issued the following statement; “We hail the heroic students of Wits for blocking the performance of the pianist Yossi Reshef who was sent by the Israeli embassy to disturb our 2013 Israeli Apartheid Week through performances geared to cover the murderous Israeli state.” They moreover claim that “this is a cheap and malicious trick by the Israeli lobby to undermine the solidarity work which South African students have been embarking on.”
This is nothing short of conspiracy theorizing, and is completely mendacious. Its members are not the “heroic students” they claim to be, but rather a lynch mob baying for Israeli blood.
They represent totalitarian forces, blind to reason, with no sense and understanding of the liberties that they enjoy on campuses, but deny to others.
They have been been emboldened by the likes of Zwelinzima Vavi with regard to the correctness of their cause, which gives them the confidence to threaten university authorities, lest any retributive steps be taken.
“We are aware of plans by the Wits management to intimidate students who participated in the protest through unwarranted inquiries and threats of suspensions and would like to warn them that the blood of many Palestinian children, mothers and fathers will be on their hands should any of the students be suspended.”
They have now threatened mass action, which is likely to lead to the university being made ungovernable. Caving in to the students will be an unmitigated disaster which will usher in a reign of lawlessness, disregard for university authorities and contempt for liberties and academic freedoms integral to the development of human endeavour. I implore university authorities to disallow any discrimination and sanctions against any person or country on all campuses and that they reaffirm their commitment to the rights of all to pursue knowledge and culture in a safe and conducive environment.
The writer is chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (Cape Council).