It’s war at UCT, but Jewish students rally
The University of Cape Town (UCT) has allowed the UCT Palestinian Solidarity Forum (UCT PSF) to express its support openly for terrorist organisations Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Hezbollah since the beginning of this year.
And early in the morning of 7 October, UCT PSF wrote “the time has come” on its Instagram stories, fully endorsing Hamas’ atrocities committed that day.
Since then, the university hasn’t said one word as the UCT PSF has continuously backed Hamas, both on its social media and on campus. Its Instagram stories continuously express support for Hamas, while at the same time denying its atrocities as fake news.
UCT PSF members have paraded and displayed Hamas and Hezbollah flags on campus, and one video showed them handing out what appeared to be stickers with the Hamas icon to students on campus.
Chabad on Campus Rabbi Nissen Goldman says he went past a UCT PSF gathering on 17 October and asked as many people as he could to denounce Hamas. “None of them said they did. They said, ‘Resistance by all means.’ I’m not sure why anyone is surprised. We should believe people when they talk.
“However, what’s maybe surprising – and you could even say unprecedented – is the way Jewish students have been coming together over the past week,” says Goldman. “It’s been the most beautiful thing to witness. In my seven years of Chabad on Campus, I’ve never seen Jewish students so proud, so strong, and so united as in the past week.”
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report in between printing posters of Israelis held hostage by Hamas to stick up on campus, South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) Western Cape Chairperson Erin Dodo says, “It’s been an absolute battle on campus. UCT PSF is incredibly radical, so it’s difficult for students to feel safe when they know people are actively supporting Hamas.” She says a couple of days after the Hamas attack, UCT PSF handed out doughnuts and sweets to students. “We were quite shocked as it was as if they were celebrating the atrocities.”
She says every time SAUJS posts on social media in support of Israelis, it’s trolled by extremists, saying things like, “You don’t know if babies were beheaded”, fighting what we know to be true.
UCT PSF also did this in its social media, sharing graphics that denied or made excuses for Hamas atrocities. One graphic showed Israeli soldiers with nappies on, with the words, “Western media: Hamas terrorist slaughter and behead 40 babies!” and then “The babies are here” with an arrow pointing to the soldiers.
“It’s been a grim time on campus,” says Dodo. “A lot of people haven’t been going to campus because it’s been such a dark and difficult time. But we’re not afraid.”
Throughout the year, the university has ignored the fact that UCT PSF was hosting terrorist guest speakers and displaying terrorist flags on campus. And, since 7 October, it has allowed the group’s support of terrorism to continue to fester.
“I’m not surprised,” says Dodo. “They have allowed UCT PSF to host talks, getting direct communication from these people, and allowed UCT to be a breeding area for this rhetoric. The university doesn’t care. What we have been trying to show it the whole year has come to fruition. There’s a real risk of people getting hurt, and it isn’t doing anything about it.”
She says SAUJS is “keeping everyone as safe as they can, ensuring that they feel like their voices are being heard” on all campuses. “At the moment, there’s only one narrative, and we’ll counter that.”
She doesn’t think people should be afraid about coming onto campus. “We can’t bend to their intimidation. This is as much our campus as anyone else’s. We need to have a strong and united front. I refuse to let our Jewish voices to be silenced. And if people rip down those posters of kidnapped hostages, I will put up five more.”
Professor Adam Mendelsohn, the director of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at UCT, says, “Before 7 October, it was possible – at a stretch – to interpret the presence of Hamas flags at PSF events as misguided foolishness. Some students, after all, are drawn to militant causes. They could conceivably be ignorant of Hamas’ appalling past. In an age of radicalism, doing so allowed them to play-act as resistance fighters. It need not be said that no such excuses can be made any more for anyone who carries a Hamas flag or supports its messaging.
“In reality, as the PSF has radicalised, it has become a marginal presence on campus,” he says. “Attendance at its events has been paltry. Many of the staff and students who previously orbited the group have drifted away. That might change in the next few weeks when Israel enters Gaza. UCT will need to think carefully about how to respond. There is a precedent – the notorious Flemming Rose episode [when the university chose to disinvite Rose because of fears that students could engage in violent protests against him] – for deciding that safety trumps free speech on campus.”
Daniel Bloch, the executive director of the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), says “The Cape SAJBD is disgusted and shocked at the way in which the UCT PSF has openly lauded and celebrated Hamas’ heinous, murderous attacks on innocent civilians. We’re calling on UCT to condemn these terrorist attacks and stop the UCT PSF from openly celebrating and showcasing the work of terrorist organisations.”
He says the Cape SAJBD engages continuously with the university. “We’ve sent emails, we’ve had meetings throughout the year, we’ve been talking to them about the display of terrorist flags, and have explained how the Hamas, Hezbollah, and PIJ flags are synonymous with or comparable to the Nazi flags, and how Jewish students in particular feel uneasy when they see these flags openly displayed.”
To Jewish students and parents, he says, “Voice your concerns. You have the right to go to UCT, to go to the very top, and voice your disgust. If any student feels unsafe, they can report anything to SAUJS or the Cape SAJBD antisemitism hotline. We can also assist students to get mental-health support.”
Meanwhile, Goldman says Jewish students have never been more proud of their Judaism. For example, “A student asked if we could say tehillim, so I put it in the group and 30 kids showed up. And then when we were finished, they were like, ‘Same time tomorrow?’ and I said ‘Wow, okay.’ And they haven’t stopped coming, every single day. The boys want to wrap tefillin, the girls are asking for Shabbos candles. Students are putting up mezuzot. We’re really seeing Jewish pride.
“Solidarity with Israel is skyrocketing,” he says. “I’ve never seen it in my life before. We had an incredible solidarity Shabbos.” He shared messages from numerous students expressing their gratitude that they could come together for Shabbat after such a difficult week. “And at Stellenbosch University, more than 40 Jewish students came together for a prayer service. They were lining up to give to charity, to do a mitzvah, to fight this war on the spiritual front. These kids are on the frontline, and they’re showing up for duty.”