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Op-eds

Students’ peace activism deserves our support

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
In the early weeks of each academic year, Jewish university students are confronted with the annual travesty known as Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). The event, which is replicated at universities the world over, seeks to demonise and delegitimise the State of Israel in the most extravagant possible terms, with the aim of convincing the wider public that it should be shunned, boycotted and eventually driven out of existence altogether.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Mar 08, 2018

Preparing appropriate responses to this pernicious campaign has become a focus of the SA Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS). We will always support our students.

This year’s IAW events officially commence on Monday and will continue all week. For the second year running, the Palestinian Solidarity Committee at Wits University deceitfully launched its campaign a week early, in defiance of the university’s regulations.

Fortunately, the Wits administration acted decisively to stop this underhand behaviour, for which we commend them. We also appreciate the effort that has been made by the university to make adequate security arrangements for the duration of the week.

In an ideal world, universities should provide an environment that allows for a free and fair exchange of information and ideas. In practice, unfortunately, threats and intimidation, disruptions and blacklisting all too often result in a de facto censoring of unfashionable opinions. This is particularly true when it comes to challenging the radical anti-Israel narrative.

The strategy of the boycott lobby is to smear, sideline and, wherever possible, actively silence anyone who presents a contrary point of view. We saw this disgraceful scenario play out yet again at Wits and at the University of Cape Town last year, and should prepare ourselves for more of the same this time around.

As in past years, it is also very likely that anti-Israel demonstrations will spill over into overt acts of anti-Semitism. All this will be carefully monitored on the ground, and the Board of Deputies will be there for our students whenever the line is crossed.

We can be proud of our students for the courage and resolve they are showing in taking a stand against these bigoted attacks. Nor has their response been to resort to simple counter-invective. Rather, they have developed campaigns that emphasise the importance of dialogue, education and peace activism aimed at finding solutions.

“Dialogue, not Division” is the theme of this year’s SAUJS campaign. We feel confident that, as in the past, it is this rational, nuanced approach that will best resonate with the average student.

While the Israel question is always close to our hearts, we should bear in mind that for most South Africans it is, at best, a marginal issue. What the average citizen cares about is what’s being done to address real and immediate challenges affecting their livelihood, safety and future prospects.

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

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