The Jewish Report Editorial

Israel Apartheid Week 2019: a damp squib

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Every year for more than a decade, universities begin their countdown to Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) when the academic year begins. This week, it is the 15th such dreaded week on campuses around the country.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Apr 04, 2019

For young Jewish university students, it is always something they look forward to with a touch of excitement and a whole lot of trepidation. Just what will Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa and their student supporters, the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), do to make their lives on campus uncomfortable? Will the Jewish students be badgered and harassed? Will there be anti-Semitic graffiti plastered over the campus? Will they be humiliated by anti-Israel activists? Will they be mocked for their views on Israel?

Suffice to say, for Jewish students and their parents, this is rarely a fun time. It is stressful and worrying because we never really know what will happen, and it takes so little to ignite an aggressive hatefest. We have seen it before.

What is clear from IAW in the past is that the anti-Israel lobby will do and say whatever it can to make Israel look as bad as possible. It is all about making Israel look like an apartheid state (as the name clarifies).

The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) – and its expert guests brought out for assistance – do what they can to promote discussions and debate around the Jewish state. In this, they attempt to bring clarity and reason to the misinformation that the anti-Israel lobby is putting out there. It is rarely an easy conversation or debate. More often than not, it has become heated, ugly, and openly hostile.

In 2017, the then national chairperson of SAUJS, Gabriel Zollman, told the SA Jewish Report from the University of the Witwatersrand’s campus: “We are experiencing the brunt of clear hatred, but our students have been unwavering in their commitment. It is hard to tell what will transpire in the rest of the week, but it is clear that PSC do not endorse our camp’s legitimacy. They do not respect our students. They are wantonly damaging our displays and have damaged our banners.”

Last year on the Wits campus, students affiliated with the PSC spray-painted hateful graffiti around the university. The government has somehow endorsed the IAW over the past two years by allowing ministers or ANC honchos to speak at BDS IAW rallies.

So, Israel Apartheid Week 2019 dawned on the day after the first anniversary of the “Great March of Return”, which led to the death of more than 50 Palestinians on the Gaza border. When this happened in 2018, there was widespread condemnation of Israel in South Africa, particularly from Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu and some ANC leaders.

So, understandably, we were expecting the worst, both on the Gaza border to Israel and on our campuses. In fact, news last week was that all schools in Gaza were to be closed on Saturday to get as many children to the border as possible. That didn’t bode well for the anniversary protest.

However, despite tens of thousands of Palestinians amassing on the Gaza border, it was comparatively calm.

And back here, we were holding our proverbial breath for trouble on campuses this week, what with IAW almost coinciding with the anniversary.

There was another factor that had the potential to add to the volatility of IAW, and that was the University of Cape Town’s council voting last weekend on the senate’s proposed boycott of Israeli universities. There was potential for much anger, what with the council sending the proposal back to the senate.

But what was expected didn’t happen.

There was very little publicity for IAW events or protests, which was unusual. In fact, other than a press release saying IAW was going to focus on a pan-African front against Israel, there was little hype.

On both sides, this was the case. No great speakers coming out to draw the crowds. No government ministers holding forth about his or her support for or against Israel.

As I write this on Wednesday, when arguably IAW is almost halfway done, the much anticipated and feared event has turned out to be a damp squib. It was so very quiet on the campuses. It was as if – and I stand to be corrected – people have become bored with this annual hatefest in which nobody wins.

It appeared over this first half of the week that IAW was old and tired, and literally died a quiet but uneventful death.

There didn’t seem much anger, enthusiasm, or passion.

Why? I cannot tell you.

I have kept expecting something to change. I kept asking what is going on.

Perhaps it is Israel’s ceasefire agreement, or even sheer disorganisation. I guess there could be many reasons. I don’t know.

Whatever it is, it does seem to bode well for an on-campus ceasefire and focus on important things like studying and working together towards a happy campus life.

I guess the fat lady has yet to sing, as we have a few more days to go before the end of IAW. But I, for one, have stopped holding my breath and am hugely relieved.

Shabbat Shalom!


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