Levelling, reducing tension on campus battlefields
The Rhodes fiasco, what it cost them and who left after our exposé. The rise of toxic anti-Zionism, followed by the fall of a once-revered university, has all the makings of a thriller. Over 3 years it involved institutional spying on Jews & illicit use of public funds to bash Israel. After determined attempts by some Jewish leaders to leave it alone & those of a brave few to fight & conquer, Rhodes’ devastating & very expensive defeat, loss of leadership & huge losses of Jewish donor funding, proved a lesson to institutions with more intellect at the helm.
Most read story of all time on JR Online
The re-telling of the momentous events that led to the fall, deeper fall and ultimate toppling of a regime at Rhodes University that allowed, and, many pundits would say, encouraged anti-Israel bias and outright racism towards Jewish staff and students, is not required. It already appears on the pages of this website in detail.
A five word headline quote from one of the heroes of this tawdry tale, past national president of the SAJBD, the Cape Chamber of Commerce, one of SA’s leading labour attorneys and now DA MP and deputy shadow minister for labour, Michael Bagraim (Pictured right) – a former Rhodian himself – sums it all up: a Jewish staffer had been “targeted for her Zionist affiliations”.
What had emerged in a report by a Jewish leadership delegation sent in April 2013 to investigate complaints by Jewish students and staff on campus unravelled into a sorry tale of Jews and Zionists being persecuted at Rhodes. It took a former mayor, the SAZF, a website and a handful of heroes backed by a determined lawyer to ensure Rhodes paid for their failure of stakeholders.
In-depth investigations by the author over 18 months showed how Rhodes had – also illicitly it turned out – been using institutional funds to back BDS, Israel Apartheid Week and other anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish activities on campus.
It also cost Rhodes millions in current and future donor funding from Jewish sources!
Top read of all time
In all, over twelve months, some 56 CONTENT ITEMS were posted on Rhodes’ anti-Israeli activities. They continue to be read regularly. In 2014 alone they were read over 25 000 times and resulted in over 300 user-posted comments.
To better understand the extent of the damage to Rhodes’ reputation, both locally and globally, do a Google search of three words: Rhodes Jewish Report. The remarkable outcome is a whopping
423 000 results – in other words web pages where it has been posted, and that is only those in which which include the SAJR’s name. The story has been re-posted by campuses and mainstream media around the world – and almost every Jewish media outlet globally.
Wits & UCT too
Over the same period, for example, 98 CONTENT ITEMS ON WITS were posted. While the earlier posts illustrate an almost anarchic situation where student hooligans tried their utmost to act as Rhodes did, the vast majority cover the period after newly-appointed VC Prof Adam Habib entered the picture.
No great lover of Israel in his personal capacity, Prof Habib took charge with a no-nonsense approach that quickly reminded the student community and outside forces such as BDS and Cosatu who was in charge of the campus.
The evolving Rhodes’ fiasco, no doubt, informed some of Prof Habib’s decisions and he went on to ensure that Wits was a campus where Jewish students and staffers could feel safe and at home.
Similarly, were Jewish Report Online users to search through the 34 CONTENT ITEMS ON UCT they would find out how UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price, too, has stamped out anti-Israel hooliganism on his campus over the past two years.
In essence, this was Larissa’s tale
“One of the reasons I wanted to tell the story in my own words was because I wanted to make clear that Rhodes is not an institution full of scoundrels,” Larissa Klazinga (Pictured RIGHT) told the SA Jewish Report Online. “There are a lot of very good people there who stood by me,” she said, adamant that her version of the story be published first.
01 Oct 2013: RHODES DEBATE ISSUE LEAVES UNANSWERED QUESTIONS – Rhodes was unable to decide how to proceed after SA Jewry declined to participate in a campus debate. Rhodes subsequently cancelled the debate. The topic: “Israel is an apartheid state” by ANT KATZ
01 Oct 2013: CONCERN OVER ANTI-JEWISH ACTION ON CAMPUSES – Since ‘94 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 – an op-ed by CHUCK VOLPE
30 Dec 2014: THE STORY THE BOARD DIDN’T WANT READ – Originally published on April 25 2013 on MyShtetl under the headline “Rhodes’ anti-Israel shocker”, the story was read over 13 000 times on that (now defunct) website, had numerous angry comments posted and was widely quoted. It also resisted all attempts at being pulled; started the migration of donor funds to the institution and initiated several investigations that led to embarrassing findings and senior staffers leaving, retiring early or simply resigning
01 Jan 2014: RHODES UNIVERSITY: NOT A HOME FOR ALL – Larissa’s tale in her own words – all-time #2 read on website with over 10 000 direct reads. Many comments and link to download in a PDF format – by LARISSA KLAZINGA.
01 Jan 2014: RHODES PAYS DEARLY FOR ANTI-ZIONIST STAND – Read how Jews and Zionists were persecuted at Rhodes and how it took the teaming up of a former mayor, the SAZF, a journalist/publisher, a small band of brave Zionists on campus (not all Jewish) and several other heroes – backed by a determined legal team and some angry alumni – to ensure Rhodes paid for their atrocious failure – by ANT KATZ
LEFT: Rhodes campus with former VC Badat inset
02 Jan 2014: The CHARGE SHEET PDF – against Larissa had 15 charges (7 relate to religion or religious politics) and 18 further “points of discussion” of which nine related to Israel. The term “Israel” is expressed 10 times on the charge sheet. VC denied knowledge of it and tore it up the same evening
08 Jan 2014: THE AFTERMATH – The then-eight-week-old Jewish Report website had over 10 000 reads in just five days, with readers logging in at a rate of up to 400 per hour, from a single story gone viral. “Granted, it is not every day that Rhodes tries to fire a Jewish staffer for being pro-Zionist & gay, or that such staggering revelations about BDS would emerge,” we wrote at the time. “BUT THIS WEEK THERE IS A LOT MORE TO REPORT” wrote ANT KATZ, and there sure was.
29 Jan 2014: RHODES U RESPONDS TO JEWISH REPORT – Rhodes’ VC posted a lengthy response to the story. Badat and other key role-players at Rhodes were contacted for comment before the publication of the story relating to the dismissal of a Jewish staffer. Dr Badat refused to do so at the time. Their response was posted without comment, other than to say: “SA Jewish Report considers numerous portions of the Rhodes response defamatory and substantially inaccurate. SAJR holds a significant trove of documents that prove that what was published was correct – and that the Rhodes response is evasive, erroneous and does not level any specific allegations of inaccuracy.” By DR SALEEM BADAT
19 March 2014: BDS ON THE BACK FOOT AFTER IRONIC IAW – At Rhodes, where much of the trouble started last year, the anti-Israel lobby found themselves choked of funding & only managed to hold a small event. “Rhodes was very good,” agrees SAUJS’ national chairman, Ariela Carno, “we were the only people who had a presence there.” SAUJS’ Cape chairman even managed to get BDS posters removed and SAUJS’ posters put up! By ANT KATZ
01 April 2014: HIDDEN AGENDA OF ‘ISRAELI APARTHEID WEEK’ – Senior Rhodes lecturer & active Christian Zionist submitted this “most interesting letter” from a “politics student on the recent Israeli Apartheid Week held at Rhodes.” The letter was given to Pino Suliman, one of three Israeli students who supported the SA Union of Jewish Students during IAW at Rhodes – which flopped badly. By MARK WOODLAND
Stories in this series of Top Reads 2015:
- 13 Jan 2016: RHODES EXPOSÉ – TOP READ STORY OF ALL TIME
- 06 Jan 2016: BOTCHED BRIS LED TO 2015’s MOST VIRAL READ
- 04 Jan 2016: 2015’s TOP NEWSMAKER DIGS IN AND OPENS UP
- 01 Jan 2016: SHABBOS PROJECT, 3 STEPS TO GLOBAL REACH
- 28 Dec 2015:THE RISE OF JEWISH RIGHT-WING TERRORISTS
- 27 Dec 2015: #1 KRAWITZ STORY HAS HAD 11 736 READS
- 22 Dec 2015:TOP-READS AND ISSUES ON JR ONLINE IN 2015
03 Sept 2014: ACTING RHODES VC ACCUSED OF ‘HATRED OF JEWS’ – Having dispensed with the old order, acting vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela stood accused by alumnus LINDA GORDON of making statements so “one-sided and inflammatory”, and “evidently fuelled by a baseless and unsubstantiated hatred of Jews. “I take umbrage at the stance by the university…” she told him off.
10 Sept 2014: RHODES IS HOTBED OF ANTI-ISRAEL ACTIVITY – SAUJS, Jewish & Christian Zionist students & staff at Rhodes express concern over deteriorating situation where anti-Israeli resolution was rejected by the Senate last week. “Jewish students keep their heads down & don’t advertise their religious affiliation,” said SAUJS’ national chairman, Ariela Carno this week. During Operation Protective Edge the campus once again became ground-zero for anti-Israeli activities. SEE VIDEO of a supposed impartial debate on the Media and Gaza. By ANT KATZ
- Related read: FRIEDMAN, GORDON & USERS FIGHT IT OUT published over the past week, Victor Gordon and Prof Steven Friedman have been exchanging letters in SAJR and users have piled in with comments too.
- Related read: SENATE’S ‘NO!’ TO ANTI-ISRAELI RESOLUTION – PUBLISHED TODAY! It took three days of relentless pursuit by Jewish Report before Rhodes would admit that the resolution had been tabled before Senate. Read the full Resolution that was tabled.
How it all came to an end
Larissa Klazinga, the Jewish staffer who was at the heart of the matter, received a substantial (undisclosed) pay-out from the once austere university – after the Jewish media and leading communal lawyers gave of their time to crack open the case.
Very substantial sponsorships and grants have been withdrawn from Rhodes over the incidents. BDS members were sanctioned for operating spying activities against Klazinga and six senior Rhodes staffers, including the VC and a department head left within months of Jewish Report Online’s publication of the exposé on January 1 2014.
Why publish on January 1? Because that was the date that the “shut-up” clause expired, Klazinga had left the campus and was safely resettled far, far away from Grahamstown.
On the positive side…
Although the BDS-inspired anti-Israel and anti-Semitic antics on campuses between 2012 and 2014 may seem tame compared to the present #FeesMustFall world, they were considered very serious at the time.
Jewish students were afraid to fill in the “Religion” field on Rhodes application forms and over half of them wrote “none” – while similarly dangerous environments for Jewish youth were evolving on several other campuses.
During early 2014, the VCs at both Wits and UCT adopted no-nonsense approaches to ensure to the best of their abilities that their Jewish students felt safe on their campuses. Wits, in particular, faced threats of the loss of substantial donor funding unless they complied. Rhodes are still trying to retrieve Jewish donors and fund-raisers they lost.
While tens of thousands of words were written on the subject on Jewish Report’s pages and online over 2014, much has had to be left unsaid – in the best interests of the community’s future relations on campuses.
After reading the stories highlighted here, users will realise how toxic the Rhodes campus has become for Jewish students – and why many, even observant Jewish students, chose not to disclose their religion to fellow students.
Couple caught in crossfire of attempted mall robbery
A young couple attempted to flee the scene of a botched armed robbery at Melrose Arch on Easter Monday, only to get caught in a hail of bullets.
Today, Brandon Regenbaum, 27, lies in hospital in a serious but stable condition under heavy sedation following a five-hour long operation to reconstruct his jaw and repair his mouth. He was shot in the face after robbers hastily fled the upmarket lifestyle mall where they had tried unsuccessfully to rob Elegance Jewellers.
His girlfriend of three years, Lorian Blechman, 25, witnessed the whole scene and luckily escaped unharmed.
The couple, who were due to leave for a holiday in Umhlanga Rocks that day, met for breakfast at Tashas. They left the mall in separate vehicles and found themselves unwittingly in the middle of a gun battle between fleeing suspects and the mall’s security guards.
“The robbers were running towards the Virgin Active Gym. We quickly took a different exit to avoid them, it was scary,” said Blechman.
They beckoned to each other to take an alternative exit near the Daytona shop in a bid to dodge the fleeing suspects. To their horror, they were then confronted by the robbers – who had made it to their escape vehicles – further down the road on Athol/Oaklands Drive in the direction of the N1 highway.
The couple could see the suspects’ vehicles in their review mirrors, so they instinctively swerved out of the way to allow them to speed past. There were loud gunshots, after which Blechman noticed Regenbaum wasn’t driving. She frantically called him to ask why.
He told her, “Babe I love you, but I’ve been shot and I’m going to die.”
Traumatised and still in shock, Blechman told the SA Jewish Report that she jumped out of her car and ran to him.
Speaking from hospital, she said, “There was blood and glass everywhere, and he was in a lot of pain. He told me he was dying. I remember pulling up his hand brake,” she said.
A young Jewish couple walking their baby immediately called Hatzolah, which arrived a few minutes later. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, another witness helped Blechman to make several calls to family. She told Blechman to keep talking to Regenbaum.
“I told Brandon that help was on the way. I told him his mother and brother were coming. I asked him where I could find his Discovery medical card. I told him general things like he was going to be okay, to stay with me, to stay awake. I told him to count how long it would take me in seconds to run to my car 10m away to get my keys,” she said.
Blechman called her father, who was already in Harrismith en route to Umhlanga Rocks where they were supposed to meet later.
Regenbaum’s father, Clifford, was in Plettenberg Bay on holiday when he received the call telling him his son had been shot.
“I was shocked,” he told the SA Jewish Report.
He believes his son was shot by the robbers who may have mistaken him for a security guard in hot pursuit.
“He drives a bakkie with our company name on the side which looks like a security vehicle and even has hazard lights. The robbers had already seen him leaving Melrose Arch, and I think believed him to be a security guard. I honestly believe they tried to kill him,” he said.
“It has been a stressful, worrying time. He will recover, but it will take time. I’m angry at this senseless shooting of innocent people. My son could have died. These robbers have no respect for human life. I don’t know what there is to learn from this.”
Gauteng police spokesperson Kay Makhubele told the SA Jewish Report, “Police are investigating a case of attempted business robbery and attempted murder which occurred at Melrose Arch.
“It is alleged that an unknown number of suspects driving in two cars, an Audi Q7 and a Ford Ranger, were in a shootout with security guards after they were intercepted before the business robbery,” Makhubele said. “A man who was driving his car [Regenbaum] was shot and injured during the incident. Nothing was taken from the shop.”
While doctors have told the family the operation was successful, Regenbaum will have his jaw wired for seven weeks, and won’t be able to talk or eat solid food.
“It will be a long road to recovery,” said Blechman.
“It’s a miracle Brandon survived. It’s also freaky that we were in separate cars. If I had been with him on the passenger side of the car, I might not be here today. I was running late. Brandon needed to fetch his siddur and tefillin to assist my father with a minyan on holiday, as he is saying kaddish for my zaida who passed away last year. I believe my zaida was watching over us,” she said.
Police ask that anyone with information contact 0860 010 111.
Israeli company turns SA water from toxic to drinkable
An Israeli company is assisting local government authorities to transform toxic water to healthy drinking water in what could be a game-changer for South Africa as a water-scarce country.
The company, BlueGreen Water Technologies, is a world leader in eradicating toxic algae from water sources, and has offered its expertise to South Africa.
With a branch in South Africa, the company started working at Setumo Dam on the Molopo River in North West province earlier this month. The project is in collaboration with Sedibeng Water, the company overseen by the Department of Water and Sanitation.
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from Germany where he is currently based, BlueGreen Water Technologies Chief Executive Eyal Harel said, “Toxic algae blooms are like a ‘global pandemic’ of bacteria. They infest bodies of water, and when that population of bacteria explodes, it makes the water toxic. You can’t use that water for drinking or recreation, it depreciates property, it makes that body of water too hostile for other life forms, and it creates health and economic problems.”
The company believes in the value of all people having access to quality drinking water, Harel said, and it’s doing the work in South Africa on humanitarian grounds. “At the Setumo Dam, it’s more like lots of bacteria with a bit of water in between. But half a million people rely on it for drinking water. We came to help get good quality drinking water to these communities.” Local government departments and officials had been “extremely helpful … everyone is working together”, Harel said. “Even in this time of pandemic and reduced budgets, they are doing an excellent job.”
He said the condition of the dam meant it was impossible to treat it from the ground, so they have had to deploy helicopters to distribute product from the air. “This is the first operation of its kind in the world. It’s new for us too, and requires lots of co-ordination with government officials, water boards, and locals.”
The company describes its products as “floating, slow-release formulations of market-approved algaecides designed to prevent the intensification of cyanobacterial toxic blooms in freshwater bodies [also known as ‘blue green algae’]”.
Harel said he was motivated to work with water as “water touches all people, no matter their differences.” With 22 March being ‘World Water Day’, he emphasises that “two billion people around the world only have access to poor quality water. About 99.9% is left untreated, and people think there is nothing they can do. We want to educate decision-makers that this isn’t the case anymore. Lakes can be treated, even much bigger lakes than Setumo Dam. In addition, algae blooms can actually be prevented.”
Harel got married in Cape Town, and was there during the height of the drought in 2018.
“I remember the term ‘Day Zero’, and how frightening it was,” he said, pointing out that drought also contributes to algae blooms because with less water, “pollution concentrates and bacteria grows. It becomes even more toxic, less liquid, and makes the existing problem much worse. That could be the reason Setumo Dam was in such appalling condition.”
The company also assisted Roodepoort Dam, reducing toxic levels of algae in the water two weeks before a rowing competition in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit. However, Harel said Setumo Dam was in much worse shape. “It’s first and foremost a drinking water source,” he said. “It’s in a rural area that borders Botswana, and the communities are about as poor as it gets. So it’s our small way of helping.”
He emphasises that the company is “completely non-political” and is simply trying to reach out to areas where it knows there is an acute problem. It has even reached out to other Middle Eastern countries that aren’t friendly to Israel. “We aren’t here to make a political stand but a humanitarian one, and any human-rights organisation should understand that.
“Part of our agenda is to empower local communities to take responsibility for their local water source. We come as guests,” he says. “In all likelihood, if the dam isn’t maintained, it will go back to the way it was. So, our ultimate goal is to train local communities to be able to assess water conditions. They will be the ‘boots on the ground’ and raise the flag that there is a problem. We work with real-time remote sensing capabilities and satellite imagery to assess conditions in the lake, so they will be part of that process.
“We have established good relationships with the government. It sees the problem for what it is, and is taking a long-term approach. We are totally committed to improving water quality in South Africa, and we see the same from government.”
The company’s director of operations in South Africa, Jurgens van Loggerenberg, told the SA Jewish Report that he had worked in water-treatment processes throughout South Africa for the past 20 years.
“Over the past two decades, I’ve seen a decline in the management of infrastructure and water quality. It’s a big problem as it affects people’s lives. So, when I saw BlueGreen’s technology and what it could mean for the improvement of water quality, I was fascinated.” He joined the company soon afterwards.
He believes the technology could “be a game-changer for South Africa. Toxic bacteria means that humans suffer. And it’s never been looked at this way before. Water has been treated only at the treatment facility. I don’t think the team has ever treated water of this poor quality before, but it has a strong strategy. We have the support of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, and the Department of Water and Sanitation. They are standing behind it. They believe in the technology and what it can do for the environment. They know it can help them achieve their goals.
“One thing we observed is that there are so many shops in the area that sell bottled water,” he said. “The day the community can open the tap and have safe drinking water will be a big day for the country.”
Wits protest an education in activism
“When I look back to my youth in years to come, I don’t want to have to tell my children I was one of the people who kept to the side and stayed silent. I want to tell them that as a white, Jewish woman in a democratic South Africa, I led.”
So says Gabi Farber, a student activist who, together with other Jewish youth, has committed herself to the fight against financial and academic exclusion at South African universities.
They join a growing movement of university students who in recent weeks embarked on a nationwide protest over tuition fees with demands including the allocation of funding for excluded students and a zero fee increase for the 2021 academic year.
Farber, the legal and policy officer of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), has been integrally involved in the protest.
“We have been on the ground every day,” she told the SA Jewish Report. “Walking through the streets of Braamfontein creating mass awareness about the students’ financial-exclusion crisis.”
Following the shutdown of various campuses, violence has escalated in the past few days, with police responding to demonstrations with rubber bullets, stun grenades, and teargas, and arresting protesting students in Braamfontein. A bystander, Mthokozisi Nthumba, was tragically shot and killed by police last week.
Says Farber, “The first few days were scary. The police were out of control, and you could see they didn’t know what they were doing, shooting rubber bullets directly at people without giving time to disperse. A grenade landed on my foot and burst my eardrums. It was dangerous.
“The media suggests there are hundreds of us and that the protestors are violent. In reality, it’s very calm on the ground, and there aren’t too many of us.”
The police have calmed down in recent days, Farber says, and those responsible for Nthumba’s death were due to attend a hearing on Wednesday, 17 March.
“I couldn’t let [the police brutality] turn me away though,” she says. “There are risks when you’re fighting for change. What’s scarier to me would be doing nothing at a time like this.”
Natanya Porter and Benjamin Atie have also been actively involved.
“On Monday, there were about 50 protestors, and we were chanting and singing peacefully in the street,” recounts Porter, South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) officer at Wits’ education campus. “Suddenly, the police arrived in hippos [armed vehicles] and water-cannon trucks as if there were thousands of us burning down Braamfontein. They used a disproportionate amount of force.”
Beyond active involvement in the protest, Porter and Atie have also been involved in assisting students arrested by police, providing them with snacks and support while they awaited trial last week.
“There was no reason for their arrest,” Porter says. “We believe that the police just grabbed whoever was in a protest t-shirt and who was slowest at running away. In the end, the magistrate dismissed the case.
“As an education student, I believe that it’s a right not a privilege. I don’t think it’s fair for education to be available only to the few who can afford it. I’m heartbroken and shocked at the way the police responded.
“A total of 8 142 Wits University students are financially excluded,” says Atie, SAUJS Wits chairperson. “This means that these students passed last year in spite of all its challenges, but aren’t being allowed to return because they are in debt to the university.
“As Jews, this issue speaks to us because we have always placed a major focus on education and supporting the impoverished. It’s our responsibility to assist these students in whatever way we can.”
Indeed, the role played by the young Jewish activists has raised the profile of the fees issue within the broader Jewish community, says political analyst and former SRC activist Jamie Mighti.
“We have to be cognisant living in South Africa that there are challenges to upward social mobility, including historic poverty and exclusion,” he says. “One of the recognised ways to lift oneself up is through education. The Jewish community is world renowned for prioritising the value of education.
“To see young people like this stand in the gap with other students and use their voices reminds one of the roles played by Jews in fighting apartheid. The Jewish community will look back at this moment and say this was the birth of South African leaders and the re-emergence of Jewish activism within the broader South African conversation.”
Former SAUJS Wits chairperson, Yanir Grindler, stresses that more Jewish students need to get involved. “I’m left with a sense of anger towards the broader Jewish student population,” he says. “It has been so difficult to get them involved. A minority of Jewish students have been there on a consistent basis alongside Gabi protesting with the students. The rest are quite disconnected because they feel it doesn’t really affect them. That’s naïve, because it does.”
Farber, Porter, and Atie agree that more Jewish students need to play their part.
Says Atie, “One of the biggest criticisms we receive at SAUJS is that we come across as a union which cares only about Israel and Jews and not the larger South African community. It’s this perception of Jews that enables anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric to enter the halls of parliament and academic circles of South Africa. Only by involving ourselves in the struggle of the larger South Africa can we begin to change this perspective.”
Many academics agree that the plight of financially excluded students must be addressed.
“There are multiple stories in and around the protests,” says Bonita Meyersfeld, a professor at Wits Law School. “Do I think they’re legitimate? Absolutely. The commercial reality demands a creative and imaginative rethinking, but that’s true of the country as a whole. My experience with the first Fees Must Fall movement showed me that students are desperate.
“Ignoring that pain or painting all protestors with the same brush of judgement and intolerance will never solve the problem.”
Barry Dwolatzky, emeritus professor of engineering at Wits, attests that the contribution each graduate makes far exceeds the cost of educating them. “The debate isn’t between students and university management,” he says. “It’s one between all of us and our government.
“Universities don’t have the resources to solve the problem in the long run. All they can do is apply a band aid here and there in the hope of managing the short-term situation. The future of South Africa depends on how well we support education.”
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