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SAUJS call for ‘heal over hate’ snubbed

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A lone, chained student from the University of Pretoria (Tuks) stood with her mouth taped shut and fake blood smeared on her face in front of a peaceful South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) mural promoting dialogue over hate.

Israel haters defaced the mural by daubing red paint under it with the words “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free”. The student held a poster which asked, “How are we supposed to talk when our voices have been silenced?”

It demonstrated anti-Israel activists’ unwillingness to engage in dialogue during Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) this week in spite of SAUJS’ attempt to offer an olive branch and encourage conversation about the Middle East conflict.

Though IAW had a fairly muted start, Tuks upped the ante. South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) posted a video of a Tuks student chanting “F*** America and F*** Israel!” accompanied by some cheers.

SAFI tweeted, “Just in case you thought this was about Palestinian rights, they clarified that ‘apartheid week’ is about hate – and of course disrespecting the victims of SA apartheid.”

The “Heal over Hate” mural at Tuks organised by SAUJS was vandalised on the first day of IAW.

In reaction, SAFI posted on Instagram, “Instead of embracing [the mural], the anti-Israel bigot defaced it with calls to destroy Israel. Hate will never lead to healing.”

At the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) erected a panelled wall with “#FreePalestine” spray-painted across it, where it held workshops.

According to Joshua Norman, Wits SAUJS events officer, “Their numbers don’t seem to be as large as previous years, possibly because of this year’s approach of having two separate spaces on campus, one for SAUJS and one for the PSC.”

Meanwhile at Wits, offers of beer were heard coming from the SAUJS camp, eager to promote healthy dialogue and debate.

A colourful invitation was sent out on social media by members of SAUJS saying, “Don’t spread fear, have a beer, heal over hate.” The student body called on students to join them for a chat saying, “Conflict isn’t resolved through hostility and fear mongering campaigns. When we sit down and have a beer with each other, we choose to heal our divides rather than exemplify hate. We choose to unify and in this way, we bring peace. We heal by talking not by hating.”

Wendy Kahn, the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said, “Over the decade of this toxic campaign, there have been recurrent issues of antisemitism and threats against Jewish students. We therefore work closely with the students in monitoring and preparing for this unfortunate IAW week. Fortunately, over the past few years, our students have prepared outstanding counter campaigns that have presented excellent narratives about South African Jewry and Israel, and where required, have pointed out the antisemitic nature of the BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement]. Having been at Wits on Tuesday [22 March], it was encouraging to see the SAUJS voice and messaging being the dominant one.”

For Jewish students, being on campus during IAW can mean two things – either displaying your Judaism proudly, yarmulkes, and Magen Davids out for all the world to see, or hiding it, wearing caps and tucking in your tzitzit to avoid confrontation.

This year, SAUJS worked alongside StandWithUs, an international non-profit organisation that educates worldwide on Israel and antisemitism. Together, they created this year’s “Heal over Hate” campaign.

A tent outside Wits’ Chamber of Mines building sported tables filled with t-shirts, bracelets, yarmulkes, and booklets about Israel’s history and the reality of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

SAUJS National Chairperson Ben Atie commented that “the point of the week has always been about giving students who know nothing the opportunity to get educated, ask questions, and learn about Israel and Zionism”. SAUJS representatives and delegates from StandWithUs scattered themselves around the outside of the tent, starting conversations with students who wanted to know more about Israel. Many of them knew only buzzwords like “Israel-Palestine conflict” or “Israel apartheid”.

Noa Raman, the director of partnerships at StandWithUs, said the organisation’s aim was to “support SAUJS students and strategise about the most successful campaign not only to counter anti-Israel rhetoric, but also to raise awareness about Israel. The team of StandWithUs delegates includes Druze, Moroccan, Brazilian ,and Jerusalemite Israelis, to name a few. This is in order to expose the diversity within Israeli culture, to showcase the reality of Israelis.”

Raman said that after two years of IAW online, they hoped this year’s face-to-face connections could help humanise Israel. “Bringing a smile is most important. Israel will still exist after IAW, so this is really about strengthening the pro-Israel community in South Africa and highlighting that there’s more to the story than meets the eye.”

Norman was one of the SAUJS representatives educating students using visual aids, pamphlets, and a friendly attitude. “Most students have been willing to engage,” Norman said. “We’re yet to have someone come here and spread hate. I’m really grateful that I have the platform to educate myself and my fellow students on something that forms such a large part of my Jewish identity.”

The point of this week for Jewish students, according to Atie, is to show them that they can be proud of who they are, that “it’s okay to be Zionist on campus”, and to promote a pro-Israel message.

Wits has a daily schedule with activities such as “Don’t spread fear, have a beer”, yoga workshops, and shoe drives. The University of Cape Town is holding its annual “Spread hummus, not hate” campaign, and both universities will have the opportunity to hear from the 2017 Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, who has taken a public pro-Israel stance.

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