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Rhodes debate issue leaves unanswered questions

Ant Katz' exclusive story appeared in the SAJR on 16 Sept 2013. Rhodes was set to decid how to proceed after SA Jewry declined to participate in a campus debate. Rhodes subsequently cancelled the debate.
by ANT KATZ | Oct 01, 2013

The Rhodes University Chancellery had, by Friday last week, not yet decided how to proceed after the Jewish community declined to participate in a campus debate scheduled for this week Tuesday evening on the motion “Israel is an apartheid state”.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr Sizwe Mabizela, told Jewish Report “that the committee is currently in discussions about a way forward” and that he would only be able to comment further on the matter once a decision had been taken.

As reported last week, Mabizela had invited Prof David Rosenberg, associate professor of management accounting and finance, two days prior to Rosh Hashanah to participate in the debate which was scheduled for the day before Succot. The format of the debate was to include two teams of three, each comprising a Rhodes faculty member (for which they had earmarked Rosenberg), one person external to Rhodes (which they had asked the SAJBD to recommend) and a Rhodes student (who had not been identified yet).

Debating in favour of the motion

The invitation mentioned that Prof Steven Friedman, Nina Butler and Prof Robert van Niekerk would be the “team debating in favour of the motion”.

After Rosenberg and the Board (supported by all major communal Zionist organisations) declined to participate, the Chancellery went into a week of “committee discussions about a way forward” which was still ongoing last Friday.

Mabizela has promised to respond once a decision is taken and was aware Jewish Report went to press two days early this week (Monday) due to Succot - but had not responded by the deadline as to whether the debate would still take place. Friedman also did not respond to questions from Jewish Report.

Questions are being asked as to why the sudden decision was taken to hold this debate. Rosenberg has recently persuaded Rhodes alumni Graeme Joffe to withdraw from a Johannesburg fundraising event that was scheduled for next month, due to what he believes is the university’s anti-Zionist stance and has been asking questions regarding Rhodes’ funding of Rhodes’ 2013 Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).

Rosenberg told Jewish Report that “proceeding with the debate on the topic they have foisted upon us would be foolhardy”. He has been looking for a “smoking gun” in his quest to prove that Rhodes inappropriately diverted funds to support IAW 2013 and believes he has found it.

Rodsenberg's next steps

Rosenberg plans to write to the chairman of the Rhodes Council, Mr Justice Jos Jones this week “bringing to his attention… governance issues and the suppression of academic freedom at the university which has brought the university into disrepute.”

Jewish Report has seen copies of documents that form the basis of Rosenberg’s evidence. Rosenberg is being supported by other faculty-members. Their case is partly based on correspondence from a senior administrator (whose name is known to Jewish Report) which they say proved that Rhodes had paid towards the costs of IAW, a claim that the University has denied.

Jewish Report’s attempts to contact the Chancellery for comment have been unsuccessful.

Pro-Zionism writer Steve Apfel said last week that South African Jewry’s participating in this particular debate “would be tantamount to presenting the BDS crowd with a 'get out of jail free card'. On this certainty it seems that Jewish leadership is at one.”

Get-out-of-Jail-Free card

Retired academic and Zionism scribe, Capetonian Mike Berger, said: “The BDS crowd should not be given the first round by default by choosing the debate topic.” He suggests finding a more “balanced” topic.

 Zionist activist and chairman of Likud-SA, Leon Reich, quotes Martin Luther King in a letter to Jewish Report saying “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” and… must be eradicated.

“The control of public funds creates its own responsibility and the assumption that leadership, trust, integrity and responsibility are interwoven with the use of public funds, says Reich.

He is determined to assist in getting to the bottom of the IAW financing issue. “The management of the university are clearly anti-Semites and they have failed to consider the reputational damage they have caused,” he says.

“There are important financial consequences such as loss of students and donors and those responsible for the loss of funding which will ensue could be held personally responsible for such losses.”

Also weighing in is pro-Israel writer Victor Gordon, who suggests the following question be posed to Rhodes management: “If Israel is recognised by Freedom House - the highly respected think tank established in the late 1940s by Eleanor Roosevelt - as a true democracy, how is it possible to simultaneously practise apartheid? 

“Democracy and apartheid are anathema and in direct conflict as political ideologies; they cannot possibly co-exist.”

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