Story-ideas-1011172

How IAW travesty became ‘Israel Awareness Week’

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Jewish students are at the coalface of defending Israel, particularly during the infamous Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Apr 11, 2019

Confronted by a barrage of manipulative and mendacious propaganda, and in spite of often being subjected to vicious abuse, they have consistently responded with dignity and restraint. While IAW supporters aggressively shut down dialogue, the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) scrupulously promotes it. While the other side routinely resorts to threats and crude insults, not infrequently crossing over into overt anti-Semitism and physical disruption, SAUJS has been disciplined and law-abiding. Whereas IAW is about fostering hatred and anger, SAUJS has promoted the values of dialogue and education.

At this time, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation work closely with SAUJS, and assist where required, such as in liaising with the universities to ensure that all abide by the relevant codes of conduct. Barring one or two exceptions, this year was largely free of the kind of ugly confrontations that IAW proponents have engineered in the past.

SAUJS’s approach is clearly bearing fruit. Whereas initially, it struggled to make itself heard amidst all the rhetoric and intimidation, over time, it has increasingly been able to hold its own and eventually reduce IAW events to something of a sideshow. The average uncommitted student appears more responsive to an approach that emphasises civilized dialogue and education as opposed to lack of debate with the sole purpose of demonising and delegitimising the other side.

Something new during IAW this year was the Congress of South African Trade Union’s picket outside the SAJBD’s Cape offices on the grounds that South African Jewry must be pressurised into ceasing support for Israel. The demonstration itself was a non-event, with fewer than thirty protestors taking part, although it is a concern that our community should have been targeted in the first place.

For our part, we denounced this crude attempt to treat local Jewry as if it is collectively answerable for the alleged actions of a foreign country.

Delusions over downgrade

In regard to the long-running embassy downgrade saga, last week’s events were less positive.

Speaking to the South African Institute of International Affairs, Lindiwe Sisulu, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation declared, inter alia, that the downgrade was now being implemented, and the South African ambassador to Israel would not be replaced.

We are following up with the government to obtain more clarity, noting that such statements roundly contradict President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent assurances to our community that government was looking to “play a constructive role [in the Middle East] that will bring all parties together”.

Our press release reiterated our core arguments against a downgrade, while pointing out that such policy changes cannot simply be declared by a minister, but first have to be discussed by Parliament and then ratified by Cabinet.

•     Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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