I have no illusions about `Israel Apartheid Week’ (IAW) being an antisemitic hatefest with BDS and their cohorts dressing up as human rights activists and using this platform to spew hatred against SA Jewry.
What struck us this year was how hard the BDS folk tried to convince the public that IAW wasn’t antisemitic. It was definitely a case of `the lady protesteth too much’. One of the opeds on this theme, which appeared in the Sunday Tribune on the eve of IAW, was by SA Jews for a Free Palestine activist Sheila Barsel, who dogmatically dismissed our claims of antisemitism as being not `accurate’.
I wrote a response, which appeared in the same paper the following week, in the interests of providing Ms Barsel with an `accurate’ picture of the realities on the ground. This made clear that in reality BDS campaigns, by their inflammatory, extremist nature, routinely result in ugly forms of intimidation and Jew hatred.
It wasn’t hard for me to quote lists of antisemitic incidents that BDS campaigns had resulted in. There was the chanting of Dubula I’Juda (Shoot the Jew) outside the Great Hall where Israeli musicians were playing. I filled her in on the pig’s head that was put on a ‘kosher shelf’ at Woolworths following the BDS boycott campaign. I let her know that the morning after BDS hosted plane hijacker Leila Khalid at the Durban University of Technology, there were calls to “deregister” (i.e. expel) Jewish students. I briefed her on the frequent calls to boycott Jewish business in SA.
Ms Barsel should know, I pointed out, how in the 11 years of BDS’s flagship programme IAW, it had achieved little beyond instigating hatred against Jewish South Africans. Suffice to say that it had done nothing to further peace efforts between Palestinians and Israelis. Its only `success’ had 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 on Wits campus. 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 audience members.
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”.
I questioned whether in view of all this, whether Ms Barsal would forgive me for not being comforted by her assurances that this ours was merely an ‘absurd accusation’.
I then filled her in on how IAW 2017 played itself, since I had spent the week on Wits campus. I briefed her on how PSC students aggressively 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
In view of Ms Barsel’s assertion that “the accusation [of antisemitism] is irrational”, I offered to show her video footage of what had transpired during the week, including one IAW supporter goose-stepping and making stiff-arm Nazi salutes while mimicking a Hitler-style moustache, and 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.”
I also shared with her Former President Motlanthe’s words to BDS organisers of IAW, warning them 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”.
In conclusion, I referred to Ms Barsel’s assertion that she was “proud to be associated with Israel Apartheid Week”. In view of everything that has happened around this event, I asked, what exactly it was that she felt so proud of?