Professor of propaganda
An associate professor of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Family Medicine used a university WhatsApp group with his interns to propagate the following anti-Israel view.
On 19 May, Professor Shabir Moosa posted a discredited and inaccurate video to the Family Medicine WhatsApp group with the note, “Watch this! Where is our condemnation? Zionists cheer burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The story behind this is linked to Yom Yerushalayim, the annual celebration of the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1948, Jordanian forces attacked and illegally occupied Jerusalem in defiance of the United Nations partition plan declaring Jerusalem an international city.
Having captured the Old City, Jordan ethnically cleansed the walled city of its Jewish inhabitants, confiscated Jewish land, and built toilet latrines along the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site. Jews were forbidden from praying at their most sacred sanctuary, the retaining wall of the Temple complex that had housed both the First and Second Temples.
In 1967, after Jordan attacked Israel during the Six-Day War, the Israel Defense Forces won back the city, bringing the Western Wall back into Jewish hands.
Ever since, tens of thousands of Jews gather at the Western Wall complex every year, singing, dancing, and celebrating the unification of the city.
This year, Yom Yerushalayim coincided with Laylatul Qadr (Night of Power) which, by Muslim tradition, marks the time that the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It also coincided with commemorations after Quds Day, marked on the last Friday of Ramadan, the day declared by the Ayatollah of Iran as a day for the liberation of Jerusalem.
On Monday, 10 May, thousands of Palestinian youth gathered on the Temple Mount, attacking a police post and hurling rocks from the Temple Mount toward a road south of the compound. Police entered the compound, where violent clashes took place between the two sides. The BBC reported that protesters hurled stones at the police at Damascus Gate in the Old City, and officers responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons. In response to these events, Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist military dictatorship which rules the Gaza strip, unleashed a barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem, igniting a war between the two adversaries.
Amidst these clashed on the Temple Mount, Palestinians fired fireworks, one setting a tree ablaze in the Al-Aqsa complex.
Film crews capturing the singing and dancing for Yom Yerushalayim panned up to see a tree ablaze on the Temple Mount. Pro-Palestinian activists, not wanting to miss an opportunity, utilised these images claiming that the exuberant crowd singing and dancing at the Western Wall were, in fact, cheering the “burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
It was this that Moosa used on WhatsApp. Junior doctors on the WhatsApp group brought this post to the attention of the SA Jewish Report because they believe Moosa had abused his position of authority over them by foisting his own and inaccurate views over them as his subordinates.
They believed Moosa had deliberately made medical interns, who didn’t agree with his position, intimidated and uncomfortable.
As the non-executive chairperson of the SA Jewish Report, I contacted Moosa that day, explaining how this had been reported to me, and the inaccuracy of it.
“By sending this fabricated information to this group, by stirring racial and religious hatred, you have deeply offended many of your students and acted completely inappropriately,” I wrote.
I said I wanted to give him an opportunity to apologise before we ran the story. Instead, he denied he was spreading propaganda and misinformation, and justified his call.
“The fire was on the platform,” he wrote. “Whatever the nature of the fire, the dancing was completely inappropriate given the fire. The singing also spoke volumes about the dancing. My question was simple, ‘Just how does anybody justify this? Where is the universal condemnation?’ This isn’t just any mosque. It’s the third holy space of Muslims across the world!” I want peace and tolerance! If you don’t condemn that dancing and singing, then it will be you that is stirring racial and religious hatred. I urge you to publish this response in its entirety.”
I replied that clearly, the professor didn’t want to promote “peace and tolerance”. If he did, he would have no problem correcting his own inaccuracies.
“How can anyone but a propagandist not understand that the celebrations below have happened every year since the liberation of the Western Wall in 1967. What you have done is spread a false narrative stoking religious and racial intolerance and hatred,” I wrote. “It’s quite clear that you don’t want peace and tolerance as you describe as you have been given the opportunity to correct your error, yet you persist as a cheap peddler of lies, misinformation, and hatred. More importantly, you have abused your position on a work group to do this – you have embarrassed your students by your actions.”
The professor has now posed my photo on his propaganda page. Of course, by posting my photo and phone number without permission, Moosa committed a criminal offence in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act.
On the page, he wrote, “I refused to be cowed by his bullying.”
Maybe that’s the same sort of bullying that he attempted to impose on his interns, over whom he lauded his propaganda?
Meanwhile, given Moosa’s approach, I reported him to Wits Medical School and requested disciplinary action against him. I can’t help thinking that our doctors deserve a better education, and certainly better educators.
Howard Sackstein is the chairperson of the SA Jewish Report.