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Concern over Anti-Jewish action on campuses

Since 1994 SA has worked hard to dissolve the institutions of race and heal wounds between communities. We have made huge strides but there is still much work to do writes CHUCK VOLPE in this Op-Ed piece
by CHUCK VOLPE | Oct 01, 2013

Chuck Volpe, Port Elizabeth

Anti-Jewish actions at two SA campuses are worrying

The harsh and confrontational history of race in South Africa needs no elaboration. Since 1994 South Africans have worked hard to dissolve the institutions of race and heal wounds between communities. We have made huge strides but there is still much work to do.

Schools and universities are key to fostering recuperation. Here young people integrate and learn to respect one another. Therefore when a well-respected university collaborates in an act of racial provocation, we have reason for concern.

Two recent events, one at Wits and one at Rhodes, bear comparison.

Wits witnessed what was arguably the most grievous expression of Jew-hatred this country has seen for 50 years. Outside the Great Hall where a talented Israeli jazz orchestra was giving a concert, protesters from the so-called BDS SA, raised the cry of “Shoot the Jew”. This war cry, a forerunner to countless pogroms and massacres of Jews in the past, can only have been intended to incite hatred and possibly violence.

Instead of apologising, Muhammed Desai the co-ordinator of BDS SA, accuses Jews of overreacting. This incident lays bare the character of BDS. It has little interest in justice; rather it seeks to denigrate Jews and the Jewish State and it employs the crude and vulgar tools of lies, slogans, slurs and incitement.

Thankfully, Wits Vice-Chancellor  Adam Habib condemned the statements and even attended the concert as part of promoting diversity on campus.

Now to an event about to take place at Rhodes University: Like Wits, Rhodes is an academic institution with a proud 100-year history and notably one which bears the same name as the internationally-renowned Rhodes scholarship.

The university has scheduled a debate for September 17, and invited the SAJBD to take part. The formulation of the motion - “Israel is an Apartheid State” - makes clear that this is no debate but a conclusion masquerading as a debate, and it point-blank insults Israel and Jews.

An analogy would be to invite the black community to join a debate entitled “Apartheid is a Figment of the Black imagination”. Such formulations which combine insult with a wish to humiliate, belong to the Nazi beer hall rather than an academic institution.

Rhodes’ setting up of this debate stands in exquisite irony to Allan Gray’s recent decision to give the University R12 million to set up the Allan Gray Institute for Ethical Leadership. Like charity, ethical leadership begins at home.

Recent research reveals that Jewish students on the Rhodes campus feel uncomfortable expressing their Jewishness; Jewish student numbers are 15 per cent of what they once were.

Rhodes,  like all universities, lives and dies by its reputation and funding. Its custodians should think twice about staging an event which not only offends 99 per cent of South African Jews, but runs counter to its own academic principles of fairness and justice.

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