At the opening of this year’s “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW), former President Kgalema Motlanthe warned the BDS organisers of the event against allowing antisemitism to creep into their campaign: “Antisemitic actions couched in the language of human rights, and disguised by its discourse cannot be countenanced. Such actions not only undermine the humanity of a people, and entrench a painful history, but also serve to undermine our commitment to principled and moral action. It is crucial that the struggle for human rights and an end to oppression be absolutely severed from such religious intolerance and bigotry.”
Sheila Barsel, if her article in last week’s issue of this paper is anything to go by, dogmatically refutes this warning. Instead, she adheres firmly to the belief that there is nothing antisemitic about the BDS organisation, nor its IAW campaign. Such a claim, she feels, is not `accurate’.
In the interests of providing Ms Barsel with an ‘accurate’ picture, I will share with her with an on-the-ground perspective of what actually takes place as a result of activities of this nature. The reality is that BDS campaigns, by their inflammatory, extremist nature, routinely result in ugly forms of intimidation and Jew hatred.
When an Israeli Jazz quartet played at the Wits Great Hall in 2013, BDS protesters outside sang `Dubula I’Juda’ (Shoot the Jew). BDS national coordinator Mohammed Desai’sreaction was to defend the slogan, adding that “The whole idea of antisemitism is blown out of proportion.”
The BDS Woolworths campaign achieved little more than intimidation of shoppers and staff, a looted store in Pretoria and a pigs head being placed on a `kosher meat shelf’ in a Woolworths store in Sea Point.
When BDS hosted plane hijacker Leila Khalid at the Durban University of Technology, the next morning protesters called for Jewish students to be “deregistered” (i.e. expelled) from the University.
There are recurrent calls for boycotts against Jewish businesses in South Africa. Just to clarify, Ms Barsel, not Israeli companies, but companies founded or headed by Jewish South Africans, people who have created countless jobs and worked hard to build up our economy. BDS calls to boycott these (and only these) businesses bring back painful reminders of our past.
Eleven years ago, BDS conceptualised their flagship programme IAW, which became their annual platform to instigate hatred not just against Israel but against Jewish South Africans - the great majority - who support and identify with it. Suffice it to say that this eleven-year vendetta has done nothing to further peace efforts between the Palestinians and Israelis. Its only `success’ has been to polarise fellow South Africans and threaten, intimidate and incite hatred towards SA Jewry.
Back in 2009, at one of the first IAW events, Cosatu’s Bongani Masuku threatened Jewish students and their families in a lecture hall at Wits University. His case is currently in the Equality Court. In 2013, Wits Jewish students were called `F***ing Jews and F***ing Kikes on the library lawns, the same year that PSC and BDS activists forcibly broke up a recital by an Israeli pianist at the university and threatened members of the audience.
BDS protesters outside the Zionist Federation Conference during IAW in 2015 were videoed chanting, “Go back to your land. Go to Israel. Voetsak. We will kill you” towards Jewish people”.
In view of all this, please forgive us, Ms Barsal, if we aren’t comforted by your assurances that this is merely an ‘absurd accusation’.
As anticipated, IAW 2017 played itself out as all its predecessors did. Since Ms Barsel was not on Wits campus during this time, I will fill her in on what transpired. PSC students aggressively and violently tried to shut down any discourse that deviated from their own narrow messaging. When Arab Israeli student Yahya Mahamed tried to share his personal experiences they cut the cable for the sound system and violently stormed the SAUJS demarcated area where he was speaking, shouting him down. Surely, such an affront to freedom of speech and the values of academic engagement should be condemned by anyone who values our Constitution?
In view of Ms Barsel’s assertion that “the accusation [of antisemitism] is irrational”, it behooves her to view some of the video footage recording what transpired last week. I would be more than happy to send her the relevant links. Amongst other things, they feature one IAW supporter goose-stepping and making stiff-arm Nazi salutes while mimicking a Hitler-style moustache, as well as another who informed Jewish students that the reason why people wanted to kill Jews was “because they don’t behave when they are in other people’s countries.”
Sheila Barsel writes that she is “proud to be associated with Israel Apartheid Week”. In view of everything that has happened around this event, the inevitable question arises: What is it exactly that she feels so proud of?