SA Jewish students on frontline in fight for Israel

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
Last week the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) at the University of Cape Town, at the behest of the Palestine Solidarity Forum, hosted a debate on whether or not, UCT should sever its ties with Israeli academia.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Sep 07, 2017

This forms part of the latest campaign by so-called “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) activists to promote an academic boycott against Israel in this country.

A number of such initiatives have previously been attempted, to date without success. Similarly, academic boycotts around the world have likewise failed to make headway in getting universities to boycott Israel on an institutional level.

On the other hand, the nature of these campaigns has undeniably helped to foster a hostile, intimidatory atmosphere on campuses, against both Jewish students and faculty and visiting Israeli scholars. For that reason alone, they must be strenuously resisted whenever they arise.

Originally, only the Palestine Solidarity Forum was to have presented before the AFC, which meant that the committee would have been exposed solely to the pro-boycott perspective regarding this controversial, highly politicised question.

Eventually, and then only after much engagement with the organisers, it was agreed that SAUJS would also be able to present on the issue. On the day, its representatives by all accounts did a superb job. They were well-prepared and sure of their message.

The SAJBD and SAZF worked closely with the students in helping prepare their written submission and oral presentation, but when it came to the debate itself, it was they who had to go out there and argue the case.

Once again, our youth found themselves on the frontlines of fighting for Israel and once again they were not found wanting.

The very fact that such a discussion was taking place at all, was an affront to decency and common sense. No country’s academic institutions should be selectively targeted for boycotts, and certainly not at the behest of those with political agendas that have little if anything to do with human rights.

That Israel, the only Middle Eastern country where academic freedom is respected, should be targeted in this way, and that a proposal to outlaw any engagement with its scholars should be hosted by a forum ostensibly designed to uphold academic freedom, is something that even George Orwell would have struggled to imagine.

But as we have learned in the course of many bruising battles to counteract the anti-Israel propaganda tide, having facts and logic on your side is not always enough.

One has to recognise that the other side is not interested in intellectual debate on the Israeli-Palestinian question, indeed will try to suppress it at every opportunity, and that we ourselves must ensure that we are not sidelined or silenced.

Moving on, I can now report that the Board has formally laid a charge of hate speech against Black First Land First (BLF) leader Andile Mngxitama in the Johannesburg High Court, in this matter to function as an Equality Court.

We have on board an excellent legal team, comprising Attorney Ian Levitt and Advocates Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Anton Katz SC and Lawrence Hodes SC, to be assisted as and when required by our professional staff.

A summarised copy of the complaint can be found on our website (

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