Rhodes pays dearly for anti-Zionist stand
Startling picture of anti-Israel bias & outright racism towards Jewish staff & students emerged in a report by a Jewish leadership delegation sent in April to investigate complaints on campus. Read how Jews & Zionists are persecuted at Rhodes. It took an ex-Mayor, the SAZF, a website & some heroes backed by a determined lawyer to ensure Rhodes paid for their atrocious HR failure. It also cost Rhodes millions in present & future donor funding to boot.
JEWS UNWELCOME AT RHODES UNIVERSITY
“Targeted for her Zionist
This emphatic statement was made by Michael ‘Bags’ Bagraim, one of SA’s top specialist labour lawyers and the immediate past president of the SAJBD – after he had reached a settlement on behalf of Jewish Rhodes staffer Larissa Klazinga last month.
A startling picture of anti-Israel bias and outright racism towards Jewish staff and students at Rhodes emerged in a report after a six-person Jewish leadership delegation went to Grahamstown in April to investigate complaints from the campus.
Larissa Klazinga’s story is about an almost two-year-long saga that speaks to the anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli culture that pervades the hallowed halls of Rhodes University (pictured at right) in Grahamstown.
Larissa endured the first year alone and the past eight months with considerable assistance from community organisations – and which ended ‘happily’ at the end of November with Rhodes paying a “considerable” amount for their failures.
LARISSA’S TALE is one that she has chosen to write herself. “One of the reasons I wanted to tell the story in my own words was because I wanted to make clear that Rhodes is not an institution full of scoundrels,” Larissa told the SAJR Online. “There are a lot of very good people there who stood by me. Someone like Susan, who is an attorney, and many others,” she said.
Her story is well worth reading, maybe before one reads any further – but this is a complex story which has the makings of a best-seller – if ever there was one. It is a multi-layered matza pudding packed full of good guys and rogues, deep deceit, a deep-seated anti-Israel culture on the campus which has become a toxic environment for Zionist supporters – both Jewish and Christian. “I am serious when I say to Jewish parents: Don’t send your kids to Rhodes,” says Larissa of her alma mater where she worked for over a decade.
Some of the spice in this real-life drama includes:
“It’s been a great victory,” said Bags (pictured at right) who represented Larissa together with advocate Izak Smuts SC. The university had raised a laundry list of disciplinary charges but, says Bags, “all of them came to naught.”
Bags told SAJR Online that Klazinga was “relieved at the outcome, and extremely satisfied that it is over. She was targeted for her Zionist affiliations,” said Bags, a Cape Town-based specialist labour lawyer (and immediate past president of the SAJBD). Charges included “wearing a pro-Israel t-shirt and displaying an Israeli flag on her office door,” he told Jewish Report.
Rhodes has been plagued by a series of charges of anti-Israel sentiments since March, when charges of racism were also mooted against students putting up pro-Israel posters on campus. The matter was referred to the university’s Fairness Forum which found the posters were protected by freedom of speech and no charges were laid.
2012 witch hunt – where it all started
In LARISSA’S TALE, she writes of “a nine month battle to get Rhodes to take action against what emerged later to be a BDS-sanctioned witch-hunt involving senior academics and extending to the head of BDS National (Muhammed Desai).” SAJR Online has seen some of the e-mail correspondence referred to.
In an e-mail carrying the subject line: “CONFIDENTIAL Research” just prior to IAW 2012, a member of BDS-SA in Joburg advises students and some staffers that she has been tasked with a pre-emptive attempt to “lodge a formal complaint to Rhodes University” by collating anti-Larissa information over the IAW week. The recipients include “Rhodes staff members” and the organisers of IAW 2012, including the son of the Vice-Chancellor. Hussein Badat, and BDSA-SA head Muhammed Desai.
“I am currently doing research into pressing issues that have been made apparent in the Dean of Students Office at Rhodes University. These issues concern the ways in which Larissa Klazinga has been administrating and managing students, student events and student life in a bias, oppressive and politically dangerous manner.
“What I am looking for is feedback and evidence in any medium: written, verbal, video. I would like to collect data and people’s personal experiences on this matter in order to lodge a formal complaint to Rhodes University,” says the writer, whose name is known to SAJR Online.
“If you would like to make a formal statement, that would be extremely helpful ‐ otherwise any other ideas, examples or evidence would be most useful. This is a HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL MATTER. Please treat it as such. Please send me details of any other people who you think would be willing to participate,” she concludes.
In another e-mail, the off-campus BDS-SA spy-boss tells the recipients exactly what to look for and how to report back to her. “After months of requests and finally with the help of my Union Representative,” writes Larissa, “I was able to secure a conviction against the author of the original anti-Israel email in October 2012.” However, she says: “To date no action has been taken (by Rhodes) to address the BDS witch-hunt.”
Ex-Mayor’s tough fight to be allowed to go
Klazinga originally contact the SAJBD in Cape Town for assistance. This was referred to SAZF Cape Council president Jonathan Silke who, in turn, referred the matter to Joburg-based Likud-SA chair Leon Reich whom he felt would be the most knowledgeable person to attend to it. Reich sat on the Rhodes Council for ten years during his time as a City Councillor and Mayor of Grahamstown.
The reason for the matter being bounced around between the Fed and the Board was most likely that it one of those issues where their mandates overlap, said Reich afterwards. Broadly put, the Fed’s role is to oversee the relationship between SA Jewry and the State of Israel – while the Board’s is to oversee the relationship between SA Jewry and SA society as a whole.
In mid-April, Likud’s Leon Reich (pictured at right) sent MyShtetl a copy of a comprehensive report by David Saks. Over the following week the report was discussed with Larissa who expressed grave concerns about an article being published, fearing for her job and it was agreed to expunge her name and some other statements from the report for her protection as well others. At this stage nobody had been charged for anything by Rhodes.
The story was originally published on 25 April on MyShtetl under the headline RHODES ANTI-ISRAEL SHOCKER! and has been read over 13,000 times and had numerous angry comments posted by members of the Jewish community. Both the writer and Reich received several calls from members of the SAJBD in Joburg and PE within hours of its publication – asking that the story be removed from the website. It was not. David Saks’ request that his report not be referred to as “The Saks Report” was accommodated and Rabbi Silberhaft, who had chaired the meeting, requested that his picture not be used. This, too, was promptly replaced with a Rhodes campus picture.
No fewer than six members of the national executive committee of the SAJBD and senior staffers expressed objection to the publication of the story to the writer, then MyShtetl’s publisher and/or Reich.
At the same time, several academic and administrative staffers and students at Rhodes, both Jews and Christian Zionist, supported the publication of the story.
The publication of the story also had the full support of Michael Bagraim, the immediate past president of the SAJBD.
Positive response for Jewry, negative for Rhodes
There can be little doubt that the publication of this story had immense ramifications – but they all seem to have positive.
After the case was settled in November, Bags sent the following note to Reich: “Dear Leon, Now that the Rhodes University dismissal case has finally cleared I can give you some feedback as to what was the catalyst in us being involved in this litigation. We saw your online report with regard to the problems at Rhodes University. On receipt of that information I, being a graduate of Rhodes University, tried to contact some of the individuals I know on the staff to find out exactly what was going on.
“Your report was spot on and alerted us to the fact that Ms Klazinga had been treated both unfairly in labour law and unfairly in terms of our equality in labour legislation. I contacted Adv. Izak Smuts SC who agreed to help us in this matter at a much reduced payment rate. Izak Smuts who is an old friend of yours charged us about a tenth of his normal. The litigation was a 100% successful. Well done in highlighting this issue in public. Keep up your good work,” wrote Bagraim (pictured right).
Leon Reich says he is delighted for Larissa now that she is free of the stress and has been awarded compensation. “Let this be our lesson to all anti-Semites,” he says, “that you if you attack Jews or Israel without cause, there will be a price to pay!”
Another spin-off of the story was that it was read by at least one highly respected businessman in the community who had earmarked a substantial amount of funds for Rhodes. The funds were first put on hold after he had read the article. This led him to making further enquiries and, eventually, to terminate the funding and redirect it to an Israeli institution.
Yet another Jewish alumnus of Rhodes refused to speak at the annual Joburg fundraiser in last month after the story was brought to his attention. Leon Reich and a senior Rhodes academic staffer persuaded Rhodes alumni Graeme Joffe to withdraw from a Joburg fundraising event that was scheduled for October due to the university’s anti-Zionist stance.
Other community members have agreed to discuss the matter with the many local and international donors. One of the single largest donors to Rhodes is believed to be the Ackerman Family Foundation.
Rhodes’ failed case of racism against Larissa & partner
During IAW 2013, a number of people with Jewish and Zionist leanings downloaded some posters from the US group pro-Israel StandWithUs which they stuck up on campus in retaliation to the attack on Israel.
The posters showed people who had been publically hung in Muslim countries for being gay and “apparently intended to expose Muslim homophobia have provoked the anger of Rhodes University staff members, students and alumni, who say they are racist and xenophobic,” said article by Victoria John MAIL & GUARDIAN on31 May 2013.
The full page story – Outrage over ‘homophobia’ posters – sub-headed “Rhodes students and staff are livid after ‘racist, xenophobic’ posters were displayed on campus – Rhodes was quoted as being devastated that their plans to prosecute Larissa’s partner for displaying pro-Israeli posters during IAW had failed.PICTURED RIGHT: another view of a StandWithUs poster, SAJR Online has intentionally blurred part of it
This led to a 98-strong group signing an open letter to VC Badat deploring the university’s Fairness Forum’s decision that the posters were acceptable “on the basis of free speech.” The letter clearly had a dig at Zionists by describing the photos as depicting “deceased people of Semitic origin.”
The letter called for a “university-wide forum adjudicated by the office of the VC where the posters can be placed on public view” and all views on their acceptability can be aired.
Rhodes had agreed to this, according to the M&G. Deputy vice-Chancellor for student affairs Sizwe Mabizela told the MAG that Constitutional limits on freedom of expression do not permit “advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion.
Rhodes’ threat to disband Fairness Forum
Mabizela also said that Rhodes was going to review “the role and purpose of (their own) Fairness Forum in due course.” He also said that action over a student who apparently put the posters up, and the fact that a staff member was also allegedly involved, “shall follow due process.”
He was, of course, referring to Larissa (who denies any part of putting up the posters) and her partner Charlene, at the time a student.
The 98 signatories said “the selective choice of countries” referred to was problematic because “the posters target entire national groups and by implication their religion.”
Non-signatory staffer responded
While no one has publicly claimed responsibility for putting up the posters a staff member, who said he was not involved, and asked the M&G not to be named, said: “I didn’t see anything factually incorrect https://www.sajr.co.za/images/default-source/People/klazinger-home.jpeg” />“Every time I asked what was happening I was told that that the investigation was ongoing,” she says.
“I understood that my every move was being watched. I felt like I couldn’t perform my job properly.”
“Now to introduce myself: while I’m certain we all agree that labels are for boxes not people, for the purposes of this story, permit me to use broad strokes: I’m a hearing-impaired Jewish lesbian vegetarian with a bi-racial Xhosa fiancé (nobody panic – she’s converting)” Read LARISSA’S TALE in her own words.
She was then booked off work for a while in April and May for “stress related leave on the advice of my psychologist supported with the appropriate certificates,” she explains. She says she had the sick leave days due.
The formal CHARGE SHEET would eventually include 15 specified charges and a further 18 issues – the vast majority of both being related to pro-Israel activities – which, said the charge sheet “will be canvassed at the hearing.” The charges ranged from “behaving in a sexually provocative manner in public” to causing “considerable discomfort to student leaders” and being “untruthful with the Head of Division.” The charge sheet is signed by HR director Sarah Fisher and copied to the Dean of Students Dr Viv de Klerk.
Even when she returned to work she was unable to find out what she was being investigated for. “A charge sheet was finally given to me on 7 June and I was told that I needed to be ready to defend myself a week later!”
Larissa immediately contacted Chuck Volpe, who is the Board’s representative for the Eastern Cape who put her in contact with Michael Bagraim in Cape Town. She also sent a RESPONDING DOCUMENT to the charges.
“Chuck was very helpful and supportive and had been briefing the Board and providing me with advice for months,” she says as she had anticipated that charges would be brought. She had even liaised with Bags before 7 June. Larissa sent the charge sheet to Bags who told her he would not be able to attend on 14 June, but would get advocate Izak Smuts to appear on his behalf.
Bags takes up the cudgels
Michael Bagraim chuckles when referring to the four-page CHARGE SHEET that was served on Larissa. “The charges were amorphous and not identifiable,” he says. There were 15 defined charges and a further 18 issues which “will be canvassed at the hearing” said the letter which was signed by Rhodes’ HR director, Sarah Fisher, and copied to the Dean of Students Dr Viv de Klerk.
The ‘amorphous’ charges Bags referred to ranged from “behaving in a sexually provocative manner in public” to causing “considerable discomfort to student leaders” and being “untruthful with the Head of Division.” Bags laughs again.
RIGHT: “I’m so proud to be able to be here with my partner to say publically that we stand with Israel, the only country in the Middle East that supports the rights of women and gay people” said Charlene Donald, driver of the bakkie renamed “the Zionator’ for the parade. Flying the Israeli flag would only have served to infuriate the anti-Zionist element on campur further. Read LARISSA’S TALE in her own words.
“You can’t charge someone for walking down the main street holding their partner’s hand,” he says. He also says you can’t expect someone to respond to a charge like “you caused someone discomfort.” He says a charge sheet must specify the details of the charge so the accused can prepare a defence.
Larissa told the Jewish Report that when she discussed the charge sheet with HR director Sarah Fisher she was assured it was drawn up by Rhodes’ attorneys. Fisher herself had not been briefed on the matter – only received the charges, asked to put them on a letterhead and sign it.
“We immediately requested further and better particulars and we said that we presumed a postponement would be in order to allow us time to prepare,” Bags told the JR Online. “My office then got a phone call and we were told that the charges could be discussed at the hearing. We were also told Larissa was only allowed internal representation,” he says.
“I told them that I disagreed,” he says, and he therefore sent Izak Smuts along on 7 June to ask for further particulars and to get a postponement.
Larissa continues the story
When Larissa and Izak walked into the hearing on 7 June, they found Rhodes prepared with their big guns. They had appointed an external chair for the hearing – a common practice but only when a hearing may lead to a dismissal – and to prosecute the case was Rhodes’ external attorney, Brin Brody of Wheeldon, Rushmere & Cole.
The first thing that happened after the introductions had taken place, says Larissa, was that “Brin asked if the chair would step out of room.” Larissa and Izak were somewhat confused but had no objection. As soon as they were alone, Larissa told Jewish Report, “Brin offered me an amount of money to walk away.” Due to her agreement of non-disclosure of financial matters Larissa could not say what the ‘amount of money’ was. But she did say it was a surprisingly substantial amount.
She promptly told them that there was no way she would entertain any settlement. “I wanted my day in court,” she says. The chair than came back in and a date was set to reconvene two weeks later. She would have her day in court, with Bags at her side.
“When Izak said that he was there representing Michael Bagraim,” says Larissa, “it seemed to change everything. Until then, I think they thought I would admit guilt and take their offer,” she said.
Enter Susan Smailes
After the adjournment of the hearing, says Larissa, Susan Smailes, who is vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat’s director of special projects and herself a lawyer, told Larissa that “she was going to speak to the VC because she felt things had gone badly wrong somewhere.
“The VC and deputy-VC invited me to tea at 5pm – together with Susan Smales,” explains Larissa. She wasn’t sure what to expect. She certainly couldn’t have foreseen what would happen over tea, that’s for sure.
“They told me that the case would be completely ‘aborted’ according to the VC and that I should take some time off.” Just like that! Larissa says that Dr Badat said he was so appalled at the charge sheet and the manner in which the matter had been handled, that he dismissed the entire case.
Not only that, says Larissa, but Dr Badat told her that to avoid any discomfort, Larissa would “report to Susan Smales until a settlement could be reached.” He also suggested she take a few days leave.
LEFT: The Rhodes campus
“As it happened,” says Larissa, “I had already applied for annual leave so I was given three days of so-called special leave” added to it.
It seemed that VC Dr Badat had, by all accounts, acted very quickly and admirably to address the situation once it was brought to his attention.
When Jewish Report contacted him for a comment and pointed out his apparent commendable action, the VC was originally prepared to talk. But, once asked why, then, an immediate process began to negotiate a “shut-up” package and why the matter was not handed off to the human resources department for the normal grievance and/or disciplinary measures to be followed, Badat changed tone. This was a complex matter, he said, and he was on holiday. He was not prepared to comment now, but he invited SAJR Online to contact his office in the new year and he would be prepared to discuss the matter further, he said.
Jewish Report also tried to ask about whether the VC had authorised Rhodes’ attorney, Brin Brody, to make a substantial offer to Klazinga earlier on 14 June if she would walk away. But, before the question could be completed, Dr Badat had terminated the call.
Both Bags and Larissa say that while she was within her rights to continue working for Rhodes, the relationship between herself and her line managers had deteriorated to the extent that she just wanted out. It was therefore agreed by all parties that Susan Smales and Bags would negotiate a departure package.
“When I came back to work about a month afterwards, it seemed that there hadn’t been any communications (from the VC) with Roger and Viv regarding the reporting lines,” which was difficult for her.
This led to a few months of acrimony says Larissa. “It became progressively more difficult. Susan and Bags did the negotiations – at some point I met with Susan directly – I consider her a good friend and we work well together. That wasn’t acrimonious at all, just frustrating because it took so long,” she told Jewish Report afterwards.
“Susan (Smales) was adamant that neither the VC nor the deputy-VC had seen the charge sheet beforehand,” says Larissa. She herself believes they were aware of the goings-on, “but I don’t think they were aware of exactly what (the charge sheet) contained.”
Larissa decides to tell her own tale
“One of the reasons I wanted to tell the story in my own words was because I wanted to make clear that Rhodes is not an institution full of scoundrels,” Larissa told the SAJR Online. “There are a lot of very good people there who stood by me. Someone like Susan, who is an attorney, and many others,” she said.
“If there is just one hero in this story,” says Larissa, “I would say it was Susan, who acted with integrity under very difficult circumstances.”
But Leon Reich believes that Larissa herself was the hero. “She was very brave,” he told Jewish Report. “She had no financial backing and couldn’t afford to lose her job – and still she took on Rhodes. The atmosphere in the office was very difficult for her, she was being asked to assist with IAW issues and she refused,” he said.
Bags, on the other hand, thinks Leon Reich was the hero for putting the story in the public domain – against all odds.
Practicing Jews afraid to disclose their religion
Little wonder, then, that a Rhodes staffer who spoke to Jewish Report last week only on condition of anonymity, said he had complained to management in an email earlier this year that he knew of some “Jewish students who leave the Religion question blank on their enrolment documents” for fear of discrimination.
In his email, the staffer was asking Rhodes to ensure that the “toxic environment” for Jewish and Christian Zionists on campus was dealt with.
Larissa showed SAJR Online an email conversation she had to endure in March 2012 to illustrate this toxic environment caused by anti-Zionists who are not sanctioned for their actions.
RIGHT: Larissa and Charlene had mustered all the Jewish and Zionist members on Campus to show publically in an Intertnational parade that they stood proudly behind Israel
At 09h33 on 12 March 2012, almost two years ago and in the heat of IAW 2012, a research associate whose name is known to SAJR Online addressed an email to Larissa and another person whom he believed to also be a Zionist:
“As a Rhodes University staff member I am extremely uncomfortable knowing that some of my colleagues flaunt allegiance to ideologies such as racism and ethnic cleansing which are criminalised in South Africa. I can only imagine that you are misinformed of the situation in Palestine/Israel,” wrote the research associate.
He copied the correspondence to Dean of Students Vivian de Klerk, who was Larissa’s boss, and to an Andrew Buckland, the Drama Dept. Head Of Department. Neither senior staffers appear to have intervened in any way (which later forced Larissa to initiate a succesful charge herself).
The writer attempts to direct the two Zionists to sources where he tells them they will see for themselves what crimes Israel is committing and he ends his e-mail thus: “Please reconsider your alignment with ideologies many of us here in South Africa, plus millions of decent folk from around the world, fought hard to eradicate and finally to criminalise. Apartheid is a crime against humanity.”
At 10h32 the same morning, Larissa promptly responded to the writer, telling him she has no idea of the other ‘accused’ party’s position on Israel “and will allow him to respond in his own right.” She also adds that she will “be seeking legal advice about the rest of your email.”
Barely an hour after it all began, the research associate’s reply comes to Larissa. By now, he has clearly established that the other party he had accused is not is not a Jew or a Zionist. “May I remind you that this is not America, or Israel for that matter, and you may find the courts here rather less sympathetic to your cause than you seem to think,” he tells Larissa. “And thank you for clarifying the matter of Mr Haxton, who is UNDERSTANDABLY UPSET AT BEING ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR ILK.” (All capitalisation and bold type by the editor)
Financial impropriety in funding IAW questioned
Some members of Rhodes academic staff who are pro-Israel supporters have expressed concern about the funding of IAW since March, particularly in relation to the Dean of Students’ (DOS) office. Jewish Report has been corresponding with two of them since June and established that both have been liaising with the deputy-Dean Roger Adams – who has now moved to UCT.
Adams had responded to one of the men’s e-mails in April confirming that an amount of money had been allocated to the IAW event. He subsequently denied to the other sleuth In September that the DOS has not allocated any funding to the event. When the second sleuth sent a copy of Adams’ April correspondence confirming the allocation of funds to IAW, Adams explained that while the DOS office had initially intended to make a grant, it had later decided not to.
One staffer wrote to the DOS in March expressing appreciation for the difficulties they had “especially considering the prominent role of the VC’s son in IAW.” But, he said, on behalf of the Jewish students on campus he asked the DOS to appeal to the SCR’s better nature and allow all views on the Israel/Palestine issue to be “aired without fear or favour.”
Senior staff don’t sympathise with Israel
Adams responded that he had spoken with Jewish students: “I did also mention to the students that it is probably not untrue that sympathy in “senior” circles of the university, although not official, may sway more towards the Palestinian cause as is the case with our national government – that is our national reality and this may inform our office’s assessment of the scale to which something like the IAW is controversial. You may want to debate this, and “our office may want to review whether funding of the IAW is a good idea at all.”
Adams writes that he believed mediation (between pro-and anti-Israel groups) would be constructive “but I suspect that the charge laid would have to be dealt with first.” The charge he was referring to was the racism issue but no charge was ever laid as far as Jewish Report can establish.
Second staff sleuth responds…
Roger Adams, after telling the second senior academic staffer that no funds were given to IAW 2013, was challenged with his own earlier e-mail.
“Although a notion prevailed to offer funding to the IAW organizers at some stage,” responded Adams, “…no money was given in the end.
“As far as senior management and their sympathies are concerned I was merely speculating based on what seems to prevail in mainstream politics in the country and I had no particular individuals in mind… But I would admit that maybe it was not my place to make this speculation and I will certainly be more careful in future.”
Adams speaks to Jewish Report
Deputy Dean of Students Roger Adams was most obliging when approached by Jewish Report. In Larissa’s Tale, she writes about him removing a printed copy of an Israeli flag on her office door: “I could not have been more wrong. I returned the next day to find the page removed and shoved under my door with a note written on the back by Roger Adams, the deputy Dean of Students, asking me to discuss the matter with him immediately.”
Adams’ response: “I thought based on previous political positions taken that my actions were not controversial. That is fairly accurate – it was a politicised sticker.” Adams said it wasn’t just a flag but had a political message on it as well. “Its intention was to espouse a political position. We wouldn’t allow an ANC or DA flag on our doors,” he explained, (in the DOS office) “we must be welcoming to any kind. It was not because it was an Israeli flag, it was political.”
Larissa writes: “I arrived at his office wearing an IDF shirt and was instructed to remove it and not wear any ‘military or pro-Israel’ clothing to work. I was told that using my office to further a political position was inappropriate and I was instructed not to make any public statements in support of Israel.” Asked about this by Jewish report, Adams said: “Once again it was with general reference to anything militarised.” With regard to Larissa saying she has worn the same clothing before, Adams agreed. “We were tolerant of it before,” he says, “but when things became heated we thought such things may become provocative.”
Financial impropriety rears head again
Larissa writes: “IAW 2013 was more of the same, with the Dean of Students’ Office offering to sponsor IAW events at the invitation of Roger Adams.” This question caused Adams to pause for some time. He then said he “did not liaise with (Larissa) about IAW this year at all because of problems they had encountered last year.” He then used the exact words SAJR Online had seen on his e-mail: “There was a notion of giving, but it never happened.”
Again, Adams repeated that in any event he had especially not discussed anything financial related to IAW with Larissa this year.
Jewish Report respectfully explained to Adams that it had a copy of an e-mail thread between him and Klazinga on 5 March to this effect. He insisted it couldn’t be so. And so we read to him from it (greetings excluded):
Roger Adams to Camilita Naiker 5 March 2013 12:20 Subject: RE: Israeli Apartheid Week – “Thanks you for your proposal. Our office will contribute R1500 towards your event.”
Roger Adams to Larissa Klazinga 5 March 2013 12:34 Subject: FW: Israeli Apartheid Week – “Larissa ‐ FYI. Their full ask was for R2700.”
Larissa Klazinga to Roger Adams 5 March 2013 13:42 Subject: RE: Israeli Apartheid Week – “Hi Roger, is it coming out of event sponsorship or awareness? I didn’t budget for this so if it’s coming out of awareness I need to cut somewhere else. Let me know.”
Roger Adams to Larissa Klazinga 5 March 2013 13:47 Subject: RE: Israeli Apartheid Week – “Yes please cut somewhere else. I was presuming that we should be fine given that we were well underspent on your budget last year due to the SP t‐shirt windfall. Please send me a copy of the budget.”
Larissa Klazinga to Roger Adams 5 March 2013 13:59 Subject: RE: Israeli Apartheid Week – “Please could you send me the final budget allocation I ended up with so that I can fiddle with it. I didn’t work on the budget submission last, you all the hard graft there so I don’t have a final amount and have been working on a guestimate from previous years. Is Israeli Apartheid week to become one of our annual awareness weeks?”
Roger Adams to Larissa Klazinga 5 March 2013 16:56 Subject: RE: Israeli Apartheid Week – “Let’s take IAW as an ad-hoc event that we decide on annually and see where it goes. Our office will not get involved with running it.”
Roger Adams told Jewish Report last week that “no money was given – that I am pretty sure of.”
Asked whether any monies were transferred, Klazinga explained to the JR Online that she had sent the paperwork but that as she didn’t physically make the payments she couldn’t say for sure one way or the other.
Anti-Israel inter-staff e-mail attacks
IAW 2013 turned out to be disastrous for Rhodes. Apart from the Dean of Students’ failed disciplinary charges against Klazinga, Rhodes had also tried to lay charges of racism against students who put up pro-Israel posters on campus after complaints by a pro-Palestinian group. The case was presented to a Rhodes’ Fairness Forum which found that there was no charge to answer.
There had also been persistent rumours since the beginning of December on the Rhodes campus that Dean of Students Dr Viv de Klerk had either left Rhodes’ employ, or planned to take early retirement.
Approached for comment by Jewish Report on both the story and on her status, Dr de Klerk said she had no comment to make. Jewish Report then offered to send her a draft of the article by e-mail with some questions. “I would prefer not make a comment at all,” she said emphatically
The ‘unterste shura’
“The reality of the situation,” says Michael ‘Bags’ Bagraim, one of the country’s top labour lawyers who acted for Larissa talking about the charge sheet, “is that they were basically saying we are finding you guilty of Zionism and homosexuality.” He said that the “performance issues were tacked on to make the other charges sustainable.” Hence the “laundry-list” of charges.
Bags points out that “the cornerstone of (Larissa’s) job was to assist the Dean of Students to craft policies” that would assist to sensitise students to people of other “cultures, races, religions, sexual orientations, and so on. And then they try to dismiss her for being Zionist and homosexual!” he exclaims.
Fed chair Avrom Krengel, left, supported Reich’s efforts but when the Board didn’t follow up, says Reich, the Fed had relegated their power to the SAJBD – THE STORY THE BOARD DIDN’T WANT YOU TO READ
Nobody expected the job to be easy, says Bags. “Some people will never accept these things,” he says about the type of differences Larissa had to resolve. “Islam doesn’t accept either,” he said. And frum Jews or Orthodox Christians wouldn’t accept being gay. But that was precisely what Larissa was employed to deal with, says Bags, not changing people but changing their perceptions and tolerance of others.
The matter was eventually settled and Larissa is “extremely happy and satisfied with the outcome,” says Bags. “Under the circumstances, it was the very best outcome I could have hoped for,” says Larissa.
So, what’s really happening at Rhodes?
SAJR Online will take up the VC’s offer to have a more in depth discussion in the new year. There are certainly more questions than answers and no doubt that Jewish and Christian Zionists on campus, students, staff and faculty have a genuine concern about what they perceive as prejudice against them.
The informal, internal financial investigation continues to see if public money has been allocated to IAW. Donor losses are substantial and it would seem that inflamed Jewish alumni are determined to gather others OF THEIR ILK to try and encourage more donors to shift their funding. And, of course, there is the question of the legal costs and settlement to Larissa.
But there is also a loss of know-how with rumours of more looming. The Dean of Students’ office has lost two key personnel and there are rumours that Dean Dr Viv de Klerk is considering taking early retirement. Word has it that Dr Badat is short-listed for a position at UWC in Cape Town.
Where to now for Jews at Rhodes…?
LARISSA’S TALE in her own words on SAJR Online
THE STORY THE BOARD DIDN’T WANT YOU TO READ on SAJR Online
OUTRAGE OVER ‘HOMOPHOBIA’ POSTERS on M&G Online
New Miss SA caught in anti-Israel crossfire
Newly crowned Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, is looking forward to taking part in the Miss Universe pageant later this year despite the sinister forces trying to prevent her from going to Israel, where the competition is to be held.
The graceful beauty has found herself in the middle of controversy just a few days into her reign following calls by local anti-Israel lobbyists to boycott the 70th Miss Universe competition, due to be held in Eilat in December.
The 24-year-old Bachelor of Law graduate from the University of Pretoria is bracing herself for further calls by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions activists as the glittering pageant draws closer.
This week she told the SA Jewish Report that the Miss South Africa pageant had transformed her life and she looked forward to repeating this at Miss Universe.
“I found it empowering with so many positive things to take away from it. I also met nine other talented and wonderful fellow Miss South Africa 2021 sisters who made the journey so incredibly amazing. I look forward to repeating this at the Miss Universe pageant in December – to challenge myself once again, to learn and to meet women from around the globe who want to give back.”
She said she wouldn’t be the woman she is today had it not been for the women who had invested in her. “It’s only natural that I pay it forward. I aspire to be an empowered woman who inspires other women.”
Mswane was crowned Miss South Africa on Saturday, 16 October, at the Grand Arena, GrandWest, in Cape Town. Calls for her to boycott the Miss Universe pageant started even before she took possession of her new car or settled into the luxurious Miss SA Sandton apartment.
The Miss South Africa organisation said it wouldn’t get involved in a “political war of words”.
Stephanie Weil, the managing director of Nine Squared Communications & Events, which owns the rights to Miss South Africa, told the SA Jewish Report she had nothing further to say.
Mswane who comes from the rural village of KwaSokhulu in Richards Bay in KwaZulu Natal is an inspiring role model. She said she hoped to make an impact on unemployment through her initiative #BeReady, which offers services and training to youth to equip them to start their own enterprises.
Last week, Mandla Mandela, the grandson of the late former president, Nelson Mandela, called on Mswane to snub the Miss Universe competition.
In a statement that he shared on Instagram, Mandela accused Israel of being an apartheid state and claimed the country “violates the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people and commits crimes against humanity”.
He called on countries to “bolster efforts” to isolate Israel and cut all ties, and urged all African countries to withdraw from the Miss Universe pageant.
Former Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, criticised Mandela’s calls for a boycott in a video posted on various social media platforms.
“All I can say is: how dare you?” Idan said in the clip, addressing Mandela. “How dare you, as a man, try to tell an organisation for women and women empowerment what to do? This is an opportunity that millions of women dream of having, to go on the world stage and represent their people, their nation, and their culture. Not governments, not politics, and definitely not your political agenda.”
Idan also criticised Mandela for using the term “apartheid” to “attack Israel”, arguing that the word has been used against Israel by “radical Islamists, terrorist organisations, and the Iranian regime, all of whom hate women and women’s rights”.
“Please allow Miss South Africa to go and experience Israel up close, on the ground, and let her be the judge for herself,” she said. “I’m positive, just like me, she will be shocked to see that the Israeli government consists of Muslims, Jews, Arabs, [and] Christians. Those people not only get to vote on policies, but they’re also part of the Knesset, have political parties, and some of them are even Israeli ambassadors to the world.”
Idan concluded her video by telling Mswane, “I hope that you will enjoy your trip, and learn not only about Israel, but about other beautiful countries. This is what the Miss Universe pageant is about.”
Idan, who is Muslim and was the first Miss Iraq in 45 years, received death threats and was forced to leave her home after posting a selfie on Instagram with former Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant with the caption “Peace and love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.”
Mandela responded to Idan’s video with another rambling statement in which he questioned her “blind spot” support for Israel and her “lack of moral fibre” and asked, “Don’t Palestinian women also have human rights?”
Idan told The Algemeiner, “I’d like to warn beauty queens to prepare for an army of bots that will probably harass their social media posts while they’re in Israel with hashtags ‘end the occupation’ and ‘free Palestine’. They shouldn’t worry, those aren’t even real people but fake accounts used by a few propagandists to intimidate them. This is a cheap tactic to silence them. Just keep doing what you are doing. Stay confidently beautiful.”
Reeva Forman, the honorary life vice-president of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), said Mandela shouldn’t be allowed to undermine the empowerment of South African women. “He must cease his attempts to undermine the empowerment of women, to harness it for his long-standing hateful anti-Israel agenda,” said this former model and 1983 Businesswoman of the Year.
Forman said his call to boycott the pageant “should be dismissed as eroding the aspirations of South African women who wish to shine on the international stage”.
The SAZF said that Israel regularly hosted international sporting and cultural events, including Eurovision and the Giro d’Italia, and that more countries in the region are signing peace agreements. “Furthermore, FIFA has recently spoken of hosting the World Cup in the country. Israel is a thriving multicultural democracy, and accusations that it’s similar to the former South African government are beyond ridiculous. In fact, one of Israel’s recent entrants to Miss Universe is a woman of Ethiopian descent,” the statement read.
Forman said that Israel had also actively been involved in the fight against gender-based violence in South Africa, supporting women’s shelters and organisations teaching young girls how to defend themselves against attack.
“Mandla Mandela is no poster child for women’s rights, specifically his well-publicised failure to honour his commitments to previous relationships, along with other public indiscretions. We encourage Mandla to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, who visited Israel himself and brought home a message of peace and dialogue to all concerned,” she said.
A giant has fallen: the passing of John Moshal
Though he hailed from the smaller Jewish community of Durban, the impact of philanthropist and communal patriarch John Moshal was felt across the length and breadth of the South African Jewish community. His death at the age of 81 in London on Tuesday, 26 October, is an unquantifiable loss, but he leaves a legacy that will reverberate across generations and around the world.
While he cared deeply for all Jews and the wider community, his passing will be most keenly felt in the KwaZulu-Natal Jewish community. It was in Durban that he was born on 30 March 1940, and where he committed himself to a lifetime of service, becoming honorary life president of the Council of KwaZulu-Natal Jewry.
Born John Hillel Moshal, he was educated at Durban Preparatory School and Durban High School (DHS) and the University of Natal, where he graduated in chemical engineering. “More than 100 years ago, John’s father, Max, and my father, Phil, were at DHS together,” says Roger Ellison. “A generation later [1953 to 1957], John and I were also at DHS together, closely followed three years later by my brother Brian and John’s brother Brian.”
“He would always refer to the Moshal family legacy, which started when his family first arrived in South Africa in the late 1800s,” says Durban resident Alana Baranov, who had the honour of working on a book about the Moshal family. “The book was called Setting a Quiet Example, and that’s such a great way to describe John,” she says.
“He would always tell me that the word ‘Moshal’ translates to the word ‘example’, and that he was proud of the legacy of his uncle, Sol, who in his day was the doyen of the community. John really wanted to mirror his life, and walk in his and his ancestor’s footsteps,” says Baranov.
Moshal started Control Logic, and built it into the largest industrial electronics company in South Africa. He sold 50% to Engelhard Industries and this share passed to Anglo American Corporation. In 1984, he sold out completely and moved on to his other interests. His business activities were many and varied, allowing him to pursue the philanthropy that was so central to his ethos.
Community member Cheryl Unterslak says, “John came from very humble beginnings, and would refer to himself as a ‘simple engineer’. He always fought injustice, backed the underdog, and disliked bullies of any kind, be it at school, the pulpit, in community affairs, and in general.”
“He always stressed that he was a team with [his wife] Anna, and that the family did everything together as a team,” says Baranov. “He named the family trust JAKAMaR, after each family member: John, Anna, Karyn, Anthony, Martin, and Richard.”
Through this humanitarian foundation, he established a number of upliftment projects around the world. These included Chiva Africa, which provided HIV/Aids training for local health professionals; the Moshal Scholarship Programme, which has provided hundreds of full scholarships to needy students; the importing of refurbished computers and their distribution to disadvantaged KwaZulu-Natal schools; DIVOTE, which rehabilitates victims of terrorism in Israel; and assisting homeless, abandoned, and abused Jewish children in the Ukraine through the Tikva project.
Unterslak worked with Moshal on a number of causes, including DIVOTE, Talmud Torah, and the PJ Library. “When he started DIVOTE, his goal was to be able to give every Jewish person in South Africa the opportunity to support victims of terror in Israel. John could have done all his chesed for the families on his own, but he chose to be able to give everyone the opportunity.
“John cared deeply for all the Jewish children in the KwaZulu-Natal region and since 2005, regardless of what school they were in, ensured that they would be able to receive Jewish education,” she says. “He believed passionately that Jewish education should start as young as possible, and that one had to give a child the opportunity to know what it is to be a Jew, including the rich history of the Jewish community of KwaZulu-Natal. He remembered his lessons at the Talmud Torah classes in Durban, and had an old sepia photograph wearing a Talmud Torah blazer, from which the logo that we use for Talmud Torah emanated.”
Baranov says “John was proud of the fact that his office in his later decades was his childhood home that bought and restored to its former glory. He would spend his days when he was living in Durban in his office, surrounded by the memories of his childhood and family.”
His interests and passions were wide and varied. “He had the most amazing rock and gemstone collection that he could talk about for hours!” says Baranov. “He also had an incredible collection of watches. What was also surprising for a chemical engineer was that he really loved the ancient texts from ancient Rome and Greece, and he read a lot of that.”
Affectionately known as the “corporate grandfather” of the business world, “he always had time to listen to everyone who came to him for business or community advice”, says Unterslak. “John always said that he was there ‘to put oil on the squeak’. And he did that in abundance! He changed people’s lives, and treated everyone the same no matter if they were head of a corporation, a school child, or a beggar.
“John kept notes from every single meeting,” she says. “In those notebooks, some of his enormous generosity is recorded. He was a giant of a man, an absolute tzaddik. His legacy in the Durban Jewish community, the South African Jewish community, and the greater community in South Africa and overseas is enormous. John always said that he didn’t like to invest in brick and mortar, and I know that the legacy he built is much, much greater than any structure.”
“John was always so proud of Anna, and they were a great team,” Unterslak says. “He got an enormous amount of naches, happiness, and pride from all his children and grandchildren. The whole family continues his legacy.”
“He would always tell me his favourite quote from Pirkei Avot: ‘It’s not for us to complete the task, but neither can we step aside from it’,” says Baranov. “He would speak about how his family would travel ‘below the radar’, but ‘when we leave, we leave a world of good in our wake’. That’s really what he embodied.”
Conman made SA Jewish community part of scam
In late May 2021, the South African Jewish community was feeling especially vulnerable after weeks of anti-Israel sentiment. So, when an Israeli newspaper reported that a man with seemingly strong influence had threatened to pull funding from South Africa if President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t dial back the anti-Israel rhetoric, many members of the community shared the news.
But the message was from a sophisticated con-artist who was drawing the South African Jewish community into his web of deception. Now, another victim of the man who calls himself David E. Sassoon has come forward, telling the SA Jewish Report that Sassoon is a “sophisticated scammer” who plays on people’s emotions – even the emotions of an entire community – and uses them for his own game.
The man has come forward because of dynamics abroad. In June 2021, the Jewish Chronicle in the United Kingdom wrote an article describing Sassoon as “a conman who threatened South Africa” in his latest scam, following a number of articles it had written about him in the past.
Sassoon immediately tried to sue the Jewish Chronicle. But the SA Jewish Report understands that in mid-September, a Washington DC judge threw the lawsuit out, and Bruce Fein, the DC-based lawyer who brought the case against the Jewish Chronicle (and was on Sassoon’s board of directors), has parted company with Sassoon.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source says, “Don’t do business with the man who calls himself David E. Sassoon. We don’t know if that’s even his real name. He’s a sophisticated scam artist and fraudster. But we were blinded by him.”
In his letter, Sassoon said he would pull $40 million (R590 million) of investment in Johannesburg energy company Bluedrop and a further $50 billion (R737 billion) of investments in South Africa over the next five years if the South African government continued its “bias or hostility, especially based on false narratives, lies, and deception” about Israel. It sounded like solid support of the Jewish community, but beneath it was a shaky foundation.
First, the threat to Ramaphosa wasn’t reported in any media except one Israeli newspaper. In South Africa, journalists were reporting the opposite – that David E. Sassoon planned to invest in the country as well as in local start-up Bluedrop Energy. It appears both stories were fed to particular media outlets who took them at face value.
Another discrepancy was that Sassoon gave Ramaphosa a “deadline” of 20 May 2021 to respond to his threats, but on 26 May 2021, the South African media started reporting the opposite – that the Sassoon Group had approved $50 billion (R737 billion) for possible investment in South Africa over five years.
The South African Jewish community was therefore being used as a pawn in a wider game, with Jews around the world sharing extracts from Sassoon’s letter to Ramaphosa, as reported in the Israeli newspaper. The wider media was also drawn into Sassoon’s lies. News articles about his supposed investments in South Africa remain online today.
When the SA Jewish Report requested the full letter to Ramaphosa, it was filled with spelling and grammatical errors and emotional statements which didn’t add up. The letter also cited the address of Sassoon’s Tel Aviv branch. But when the SA Jewish Report checked this address, it was simply a place to rent a desk. One of the desks was rented by Einat Friedman who is described as “vice-president of public relations for J. Sassoon Group and the spokesperson for the Sassoon family and the Sassoon Family Continuation Trust”.
In his communication, Sassoon said he had bought 51% of “Friedman PR” for $25 million (R428 million), yet the PR company was operating from one desk in Tel Aviv. The source doesn’t know why Friedman’s company would collude with Sassoon, but he says that as far as he knows, they continue to work together.
“The thing is he blows up massive numbers, and when you convert that to rands, it comes to ridiculous amounts – like 30% to 40% of our GDP [gross domestic product],” says the source. “It’s almost like he was saying he was going to buy the country.”
While the source can only guess as to why Sassoon would want to draw the Jewish community into that narrative, he guesses it was one way for Sassoon to see how far he could go, and maybe even make it look like the Jewish community was supporting state capture or trying to control the government, in line with antisemitic tropes.
The source says Bluedrop Energy was introduced to Sassoon through a mutual associate. “He immediately made promises to invest. They found his website, which looked reliable, and saw that his board of directors had a lot of credible people. It also saw that there were issues regarding his reputation, as described by the Jewish Chronicle in the United Kingdom.”
While this was a “red flag”, the start-up believed that the people around Sassoon gave him enough credibility. “He also explained that he was from an ‘intelligence background’, and they don’t always do things ‘above board’,” says the source. “He sounds very educated and understands business, especially in the United States and international markets.”
Bluedrop Energy lost $48 000 (R823 382) to Sassoon, and never saw a cent of investment. “Bluedrop realised all was not as it seems when Sassoon started demanding that they make payments to him. He would get very angry, throwing his toys out of the cot.” The start-up was also made aware that he owed thousands to another company which had done feasibility studies on Bluedrop Energy for Sassoon. “This international company thought he was legitimate. It was a very elaborate scam.”
Though Bluedrop was already wary of Sassoon, it was his letter to Ramaphosa that made the start-up break ties with him. In an official statement, the company told the SA Jewish Report that “Bluedrop Energy is the one who terminated the contract with J. Sassoon Group. Bluedrop took serious exception to his threats and demeaning letter towards our president, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa. We tried hard to convince him to withdraw his letter addressed to President Ramaphosa, but these efforts were in vain. We support and respect all the recognised leaders and structures of the South African government.
“In addition, we took serious exception to Mr Sassoon’s disrespect for the South African media, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, and the South African Jewish community in general.”
The source says Sassoon wanted to write more letters to Ramaphosa, but Bluedrop stopped him. “The Jewish community in South Africa has its own leadership, and doesn’t need him to interfere,” he says.
The anonymous source believes Sassoon gets away with it because he seems to have a credible group of supporters on the board of his so-called company, who “allow him to hide behind their reputations”. Though he doesn’t know why upstanding and well-known members of society would allow Sassoon to use their names, he guesses that maybe they benefit from the arrangement.
Sassoon, he says, “lives off what he scams [from] people” and he may be working with his wife, Sharon Levy. “The United States government needs to call him to book because he uses it, knowing that the US has high standing in the international business community. He uses that in his scam.”
Meanwhile, the source says Bluedrop’s composite cylinder manufacturing plant project is still on track, and its official termination of the contract with J. Sassoon had no impact on the project. They are already in talks with reputable potential funders who have expressed interest in the project.”
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