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Israel condemns racial abuse of African students




“These are not the values of Israel,” said the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan. He, together with Uri Ariel, the Israeli minister of agriculture and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs have made their consternation heard internationally.

Fifteen South Sudanese students – in Israel as part of a government programme to study agriculture – were kicked out of an Israeli community after residents claimed they would bring “rape, murder and break ins”.

They have since been relocated. The South Sudanese students were housed in the community of Avshalom, near Israel’s borders with Egypt and the Gaza strip. They have been studying in Israel as part of a government programme under the auspices of the Ashkelon Academic College. The 15 students arrived in Israel a few days ago as part of a larger group of 80 from South Sudan.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, they are part of a flagship project of a number of government ministries, led by the foreign and agricultural ministries. Foreign students learn about things like drip irrigation, and the use of greenhouses. The idea is that they take this knowledge back to their respective communities.

Haaretz reported that some of the residents of the small community in Eshkol Regional Council demanded that the 15 students be removed. Residents there blocked their entry into the community, and hurled racial abuse at them demanding that they be sent elsewhere.

Some residents apparently threatened to hold protests until the students were removed. WhatsApp messages from a small group of local residents, obtained by Haaretz, include hurtful statements such as, “As far as I’m concerned, they are animals, rapists, human trash. Their place is not here.”

The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS) in South Africa this week used the incident to stir emotion and tension at a pro-Palestine seminar held in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Muhammad Desai, the co-founder of BDS-SA, lambasted Israel, accusing it of being racist.

He told a large crowd of Congress of South African Students that “racism is prevalent in Israeli society”. Israel was taking “our people” on these “free propaganda trips to Israel” in order to “recruit collaborators”, but it “backfired” with this latest incident.

According to reports, the regional college moved the students to a different community within the regional council, Kibbutz Ein HaShlosha. The director of external study programmes at the college, Dikla Abutbul told Haaretz: “There’s no point trying to make this sound better than it is. The bottom line is that the way this was handled was wrong and disrespectful.”

Said Keinan, “This matter received immediate condemnation from the minister of agriculture and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our values are shown by the programme itself, bringing thousands from Africa to Israel for expertise sharing and collaboration.

“As representatives of Israel in South Africa, we would further like to emphasise the importance of co-operation with the African continent, assuring that Israel’s values are to increase diversity, respect, collaboration, and understanding between our peoples.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that it was in direct contact with the academic centre to ensure that the students from South Sudan are treated well and in accordance with Israel’s laws and values.”

In a statement, the ministry said, “We will not allow discrimination [against] the students of this programme.” It said it was important to note that the programme brought 4 000 students from around the world for a year of study and internship in Israel.

“The programme has been running for 20 years. Last year, 20 participants from South Sudan successfully finished the programme. This year, Israel is hosting 80 interns from South Sudan.

“The ministry views this co-operation with developing countries as extremely important. The interns return to their countries to become important representatives of the State of Israel, and contribute to strengthening the relationship between the countries,” according to the statement.

Agriculture Minister Ariel said, “This is unacceptable and severe behaviour. They are our guests, and we must treat them with respect”, pointing out that the matter would be thoroughly investigated.

Rowan Polovin, the Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, Cape Council, said, “In light of recent racist and untoward statements by a few Israeli residents in Avshalom aimed at the South Sudanese students attending an internship programme, the South African Zionist Federation and our affiliate organisations, strongly condemn this incident, and any other form of racism.

“This behaviour and these remarks are completely unacceptable, and go against our values of respect and tolerance of all people. Just like we harshly condemn the recent racist and damaging comments by Adam Catzavelos, and Julius Malema, so too do we condemn this recent incident. Sadly, racism is a worldwide epidemic, and needs to be addressed globally.

“Further to that, we condemn the local reporting and distortion of this matter. These continuous attempts to extract information to support a clear bias against Israel are a deliberate ploy to paint Israel, and only Israel, in the worst possible light.

“Racism in any form and in any place needs to be addressed with urgency in order to build societies that are open to learning, engaging, and respecting every other human being,” said Polovin.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ray Szyst

    Aug 31, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    ‘See Likud MK Oren Hazan.

    "Hazan insulted Africans, saying they “had no culture”. He went on to say that Israel should stop African refugees from having children."

    Is this a trend?’

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