Dialogue, not hate, will ‘give peace wings’
By ARIELA CARNO, national chair, SA Union of Jewish Students
As university students our primary duty is to use to our privileged experience of attending a tertiary institution to make our world a better place. In this special arena we are given the opportunity to listen, debate, enquire, think and forge the ideas that will drive tomorrow’s generation.
Unfortunately these values, all of which are guaranteed by our Constitution, are at risk of being undermined by extremists when it comes to debates around the Middle East. Every year the so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW) operates to create tension on campuses across our country.
IAW organisers have staged marches which include swastikas, have disrupted concerts at some campuses, chanted “Shoot the Jew” at others and have been found guilty by the South African Human Rights Commission of promoting hate speech.
By making the claim that Israel is analogous to apartheid South Africa, these extremists are an insult to the very real Struggle that the South African people underwent to get their freedom.
More than this, the analogy is false and in fact South Africans were fighting for the very political system that Israel operates under, namely democracy.
Israel has regular free and fair elections, where all the citizens are entitled to vote, a parliament where there are representatives from a all religions, colours and creeds, including Jewish, Arabs, Muslims and Christians. It has a free press, an independent judiciary and an entrenched rule of law.
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. South Africa is the youngest democracy in Africa and the two countries share a lot in common.
For these reasons the definition of “apartheid and a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party” simply does not apply. None of the features which we associate with this abhorrent system are even imaginable in Israel; no pass laws, no separate amenities, no Immorality Ac, etc.
What does apply is that Israel is at war with many of its neighbours in the Arab world who simply do not want to accept its historical, national, biblical and international law-supported right to exist.
In last few days the fundamentalist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, fired missiles – some imported from Iran – into Israel, some into civilian areas. This is a direct international human rights violation and a war crime.
In the midst of all this conflict it is important that we as South Africans use the example we gave to the world of sitting down and discussing our differences. Instead of promoting a constructive dialogue regarding how a two-state solution can be reached in the Middle East, IAW incites hatred, violence and anti-Semitism.
I am not saying that there are no issues in the Middle East, or that differences of opinion are not desirable. Creating a week of hate, however, doesn’t solve any problems, it merely incites more hatred and violence and the cycle continues.
Every year on campus, many students dread this infamous week because during it they feel that it provides a platform where criticisms evolve into discrimination. Hence this year the South African Union of Jewish Students ran a campaign called “Give Peace Wings”.
Participants engaged in talks about peace building, about genocide prevention, about relations between Israelis and Palestinians, about interfaith dialogue and collaborated to create folded paper “peace doves” that were everywhere on campus.
In the spirit of constructive dialogue, we implore all students not to fall prey to the myth that hating those with a different opinion to yours is the only way to solve a conflict.
In the words of Nelson Mandela: “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”. So, don’t be misled by the rhetoric, rather join SAUJS in “giving peace wings”.