Jewish students take moral high ground at the University of Capetown

BDS supporters gather for anti-Israel incitement at South African university.

BDS (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The annual “Israel Apartheid Week” hate fest was held at the University of Cape Town (UCT) this month. This poisonous event occurs, with the university’s consent and cooperation, at the most strategic and high-traffic location on campus, and is designed to beguile impressionable students into the vile world of anti-Israel hostility. It is characterized by an atmosphere of antisemitism, hatred, intimidation and propaganda, and it is left to a brave Jewish minority on campus to stand up for Israel and Jewish identity.
The UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF), a pressure group aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and that organizes IAW, erected a large wall at the center of the university’s Jammie Plaza and spray-painted the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This made it absolutely clear to anyone who might have doubted it that this radical group and its allies call for the extermination of the Jewish state. It is coded hate speech that falls outside the ambit of hate speech law, and the University of Cape Town thus permits it under the banner of freedom of speech.
The university also appears to tolerate incitement, since there will likely be no repercussions for the chanting of the slogan “One settler, one bullet” at the aggressive anti-Israel rally held during the week. A settler, to the PSF and their allies, is any Jew who lives within any part of Israel, not just the West Bank. It is part of group’s magical transformation of Jews seeking to live in their historic homeland into “colonialists” and “settlers,” and twisting of history.
It is part of their desperate attempt to steal South Africa’s apartheid legacy away from those who suffered under it, and paint Israel as an apartheid state that is inherently evil and as a consequence should cease to exist. They will appropriate any in-vogue language representing evil and label Israel the archetype of it. In the past year, this has been the notion of white supremacy, and Israel has thus been depicted as a white-supremacist state. Next year it will no doubt be whatever other hateful term is currently in fashion.
The PSF also resurfaced a ceremonial Israeli flag that was stolen from the South African Zionist Federation during its Independence Day celebration at the university theater in 2017. They desecrated the flag with the spray-painted slogans “Blood on your hands” and “Apartheid state.” This aggressive and malicious act is consistent with the unlawful and intimidatory tactics of an organization that believes that hatred, bullying and bigotry is an acceptable means of engagement. The South Africa Police Service came onto campus and confiscated the stolen flag from the PSF and an investigation is currently underway.
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), in contrast, put on a courageous defense of Israel and the Jewish people during the week, and engaged in dialogue and candor with any student that approached them. They succeeded in showing many students that discussion and engagement is the way forward, and not the persistent hatred, intolerance and harassment that emanates from the anti-Israel campaigners. SAUJS gave strength and support to the minority group of Jewish students on campus that they represent, many of whom feel intimidated during the week and hesitate to identify openly as Jews on campus throughout the year as a result.
By witnessing SAUJS being present and active during the week, Jewish students took comfort and encouragement in the knowledge that there is an organization on campus defending their identity, their inherent connection with Israel, and their rights as a minority group on campus and in South Africa. Jewish students will not get such comfort from UCT management, which has shown an unwillingness to enforce its own rules on the protection of such rights on campus, and has engaged ineptly with the Jewish community over these concerns. The way UCT deals with these issues going forward alongside ongoing Israeli boycott campaigns tainting the institution will likely determine the future of Jewish participation at the university.
It is always a difficult time for Jews when their identity is questioned and undermined, but our proud Jews at UCT prevailed and maintained the moral high ground. UCT ought to cancel events like this, which have nothing to do with championing freedom of speech but rather with manipulating it for mendacious purposes, create a climate of antisemitism, and do significant harm to good relations between students on campus. Either way, the Jews have shown an exceptional ability throughout history to prevail over their enemies and excel in spite of them, and nothing on Jammie Plaza is about to change that.
The author is the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (Cape Council), and a recipient of the World Zionist Organization’s Herzl Award.