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Pro-Palestinian demands ignore plight of Wits students



While thousands of University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) students in residences in Braamfontein have no water or electricity, a hoard of anti-Israel protesters made written demands on Tuesday, 7 May, that the university’s leadership focus on anti-Israel measures.

The Wits University Palestine Action Committee (WUPAC) and the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC), along with several other internal Wits bodies, and “concerned individual members of the Wits community” went to the university to hand over the letter publicly to Vice Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi and Council Chairperson Isaac Shongwe, which they described as “putting Wits on notice”.

“We find this aggressive stance to be particularly insensitive, as presently, thousands of students living in Braamfontein residences are experiencing a power and water crisis,” says South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) Wits Chairperson Dani Frankel regarding the letter of demand.

The demands include that Wits doesn’t employ “members of staff who are active members of pro-Israeli Zionist organisations and former members of the Israeli military forces”, and that “the university must allow for the free expression of Palestine solidarity activities on its campuses. This includes preventing the deliberate disruption of the annual Israeli Apartheid Week by organisations such as the South African Union of Jewish Students.” The letter called for Wits to “allow its campuses to become sites of Palestinian solidarity”.

“Instead of choosing to uplift, contribute, and be active in the Wits community, these parties have instead chosen to promote hate against Jewish students, thinly veiled behind the guise of ‘anti-Zionism’,” says Frankel. “In contrast, SAUJS, in collaboration with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies [SAJBD], provided 7 000 meals to those in need over the past weekend as part of our ongoing efforts to support students in need.”

The Israel-hating groups called for “full disclosure regarding Wits’ relations with Israeli and Israel-aligned institutions and companies; a public position in solidarity with Palestine; the adoption of a BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions]-aligned position regarding procurement, investment, and collaboration; sincere reflection on the meaning of academic freedom; and an end to the censorship and intimidation of pro-Palestinian activists and activities on campus.”

Wits Senior Communications Officer Buhle Zima told the SA Jewish Report, “The university can confirm that student groups handed over a memorandum to university executives. The memorandum will be reviewed, and the university will respond to the students in due course. The event was peaceful.”

The letter comes after relative quiet from pro-Palestinian activists on the university’s campus. However, on 7 October 2023, the Wits PSC released a statement supporting the barbaric atrocities that Hamas committed that day, saying, “We applaud the resilience of the Palestinians as they defend their land, families, and human rights.”

On 11 October, it called for protests “in support of Palestinian resistance” outside the United States consulate in Sandton and the Jewish community centre in Cape Town. Since 7 October, it has stated multiple times that “resistance isn’t terrorism”. On 25 March, WUPAC, the Wits PSC and South African Jews for a Free Palestine posted an image calling for intifada.

Says Frankel, “SAUJS views the handing over of the letter of demand as hypocritical and hate-filled. Since the atrocities of 7 October, SAUJS has helped ensure that Wits campus remains one of the safest campuses for Jewish students across the world in spite of the constant attempts by the PSC, WUPAC and others to inflame tensions and incite conflict. The only possible outcome of their approach is to make the lives of both Jewish students and other students on campus, who are dealing with significant challenges, incrementally more difficult.

“Further, we find their demands, which including the adoption of BDS principles and practices, to be evidence of this hateful agenda,” he says. “BDS is regarded as antisemitic in its practices due to its unjust targeting of Jewish business and organisations. A further demand is calling into question an OrCam MyEye device, which was donated by the Israeli ambassador and is used in the Wits Disability Rights Unit to help visually impaired students obtain the higher education to which they are entitled.

“SAUJS remains steadfast in its directive to ensure the safety of all Jewish students on campus and their ability to remain proud of their Judaism,” says Frankel. “We uphold the values of tolerance and mutual respect for our fellow students, and would hope that other societies would prioritise the promotion of peace rather than disharmony.”

The letter was handed over by Gazan professor Haidar Eid, who is a founding member of International BDS National Committee and Palestine Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI); Saleh Hijazi from the International BDS Committee based in Ramallah; and members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

During the handover, a small group of protesters gathered for a rally at the Wits Great Hall. Many proudly held signs displaying vulgar language. The Wits Student Representative Council publicly endorsed the letter, and said it would bring the demands to the university’s senate.

Says Frankel, “The university responded well. There was a lot of security on the scene, and the dean of students was there to receive the letter, but he didn’t really engage with them. So not much happened on the ground during the day. We had a normal day on campus as usual, which is what we strive for.”

South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Director Wendy Kahn says, “The anti-Israel statements emanating from the PSC and its allies have gained little traction with university students in South Africa. Given that none of the protests or petitions at Wits or UCT refer to the hostages, whose release is the quickest and surest way to end the war in Gaza, the motivations of those supporting these actions are suspect.

“Attempts to demonise ‘Zionists’ shows how little these students understand about what it means to be a Zionist, and their attempts to bully universities into abandoning the principles of fairness, protection of minorities, and academic freedom in favour of meaningless gestures must be resisted. All the protests on campuses across the globe have done nothing to ease the suffering of all those affected by this war, and have served only to divide universities, disrupt the academic programme to no effect, and place Jewish students’ safety at risk.

“We trust that our students and university leadership will stand up to the attempts to bully by these Hamas apologists, and will ensure that our campuses aren’t manipulated for their political objectives.”

South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) Chairperson Rowan Polovin said, “Academic freedom is a non-negotiable pillar of world-class education and a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution. The SAZF vehemently opposes any calls for academic boycotts of Israeli institutions as such discriminatory actions undermine the core principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas essential for intellectual growth and scientific advancement. Boycotting Israeli research partnerships and technologies would deprive universities like Wits of valuable educational and research opportunities, and set a dangerous precedent of political interference in academia.

“We believe universities should foster open dialogue, collaboration, and intellectual diversity,” says Polovin. “Indeed, Israeli universities are among the most diverse in the world, with Jewish and Arab students studying alongside each other. Attempts to isolate Israeli institutions based on political ideology are antithetical to these values, and will stifle innovation, hinder progress, and divide the academic community. The widespread use of Israeli technology in devices and platforms integral to modern academic life at Wits and other institutions also highlights the hypocrisy of singling out Israel.”

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  1. Gary

    May 9, 2024 at 5:00 pm

    Universities round the world- like the South African government – have been fully captured by the Satanic evil of Radical Islam and the hard left! An unholy axis of evil!

  2. yitzchak

    May 10, 2024 at 12:24 pm

    What! No electricity nor water??!!! In BraamFONTEIN?
    Let’s first blame the Zionists and their Israeeli lapdogs for producing this scenario.

    But wait…There’s no water or electricity in Sandton….One more colonialist conspiracy against
    the beleaguered samoosa and samble brigade of Marlboro Gardens…now renamed Balmoron weeds farm.
    I think the Hummus factory overloaded the system and it was further overloaded when the generators collapsed.

    Meanwhile with all the Satin in The Suburbs, the chaleria in the Hammanskraal water system is no problem since everybody is washing in imported alpine water which they can afford.

    What about our monotheistic collaborators set up a chilli bite stand at Wits to support the nearby student citizenry of Braamfontein with a balanced diet (hallal of course as certified by the Beth Din of Braamfontein)

    To quote Rudyard Kipling:

    Beast is beast
    and west is west
    and never the chrain on meat!

    Time to flood the Rafah tunnels with added skunk spray.

    Viva Israel Viva, a Mandla.Mababuye…May they all come home and strong Yom Hatsamaut.

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