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SAUJS emerges victorious after extremist backlash



A small faction of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) released an unofficial statement this week condemning an agreement between the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) and the Student’s Representative Council (SRC) of the University of Pretoria (UP or Tuks) to work together as “an appalling and disgusting decision”.

Amidst a new working relationship between SAUJS and Tuks SRC, these few extremists were trying to preserve the previous hostile environment for Jewish students on campus.

“The Zionist lobby in South Africa intends to funnel money into UP as it was in Wits [the University of the Witwatersrand] three years ago – money covered in the blood of Palestinians,” the SASCO splinter group said.

The SRC and SAUJS planned to raise funds together for needy students, but the statement called the fundraising effort a “masked bribe, in the name of gaining more funds”. It called for a boycott of the SRC until it ceased relations with SAUJS and “acknowledged their mistake in working with supremacist agendas”.

The statement has been described as a desperate reaction to a new era of campus relations. “At the beginning of the year, I decided to start a relationship with the SRC as Tuks hasn’t always been a friendly place for Jewish students on campus,” says Tuks SAUJS Chairperson Sasha Said. “I met the SRC and at the end of the meeting, it took a vote, and two thirds voted in favour of working with SAUJS for the first time.”

Said explains that SAUJS had offered to help the SRC with fundraising to assist needy students who couldn’t afford to register for their studies or pay for student accommodation, and to collect stationery for them.

But this was quickly undermined when the small, unofficial faction of SASCO released its statement. Said was assured that it was only a small minority of SASCO that believed these comments, and it wasn’t an official statement.

But it led to a knock-on effect, with the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) at Tuks releasing a similarly extreme official statement condemning the SRC and SAUJS partnership. This was followed by another statement from the Black Management Forum Student Chapter, calling the decision “dishonourable”.

Said points out that the three statements “tried to define what being Jewish and Zionist means. They were telling us who we are, and combating Jewish students just because we believe the Jewish people deserve a Jewish state. They are being discriminatory because they want Jewish students to be excluded.”

She released an official statement from SAUJS, saying that it was “appalled by the bigoted diatribe against our students”. She was responding to the PSC letter, as the SASCO statement wasn’t official.

“We further reject with contempt its racist and discriminatory call for the SRC to break off relations with SAUJS. Those who are against [this] are clearly putting their own political agenda ahead of the welfare of our students.”

In addition, “The SRC constitution states that all student entities are entitled to equal protection and no structure may unfairly discriminate against anyone,” she wrote. “We call on all societies at UP to work together for the benefit of our campus.”

Milton Shain, an antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town says, “This faction of SASCO should reflect upon its use of a well-worn antisemitic trope – the use of money for bribery. One wonders what the real motivation is for their views. Could it be simple Jew hatred?”

“The ideology of Zionism has been mangled,” he said. “Zionism refers to the national liberation of the Jewish people. No more, no less. Support for that project, that is to say, acceptance of the state of Israel, isn’t outlawed in South Africa. Indeed, the African National Congress has called for a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. In that sense, it supports the Zionist idea. It seems to me that these students wish to undo history. They have every right to criticise the actions of Israel, but cannot in principle condemn a university society that supports the Zionist idea.”

However, only good things emerged from the furore. First, Said was assured that it was only a small, minority faction of SASCO that released the statement, that the relationship between SAUJS and the SRC still stood, and they would continue to work together to fundraise for needy students. Second, “our allies in Action SA stood with us, and another political party has also asked to work with us”, Said adds.

Said, who is in her second year of a social work degree majoring in criminology, says that Israeli Apartheid Week in 2022 was a particularly hostile time for Jewish students at Tuks, and she hoped that this year there would be “co-operation between all societies on campus”.

South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Chairperson Professor Karen Milner said, “We’re encouraged by the fact that SAUJS continues to develop relationships with student bodies. We’re hopeful that SAUJS UP will continue to work with the SRC, and that it won’t be bullied by the PSC, which wishes to further its own narrow, bigoted agenda at the expense of improving students’ lives.”

South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) National Chairperson Rowan Polovin says, “The SAZF notes the wildly discriminatory and racist comments issued by the PSC at UP condemning the SRC for working alongside SAUJS. This couldn’t be more racist and discriminatory, as SRCs are fundamentally constituted to represent the views of the student body which in South Africa includes students of Jewish faith, heritage, and culture. To prevent the SRC from working with SAUJS would constitute a degree of racial discrimination experienced only during apartheid.

“The SAZF affirms that Jewish students have a right to access and work alongside their constitutionally mandated SRCs, and any deviation from this would constitute an abuse of these rights,” he says. “The SAZF calls on the PSC to end its hostility towards Israel, and requests that the UP SRC proceeds to take a de-hyphenated approach to the conflict to ensure that students aren’t racially profiled and discriminated against due to their affiliation to Judaism or the state of Israel.”

SAUJS national political officer and former Wits legal officer, Gabi Farber, says, “All those organisations [who released negative statements] have never engaged with a Jew or a Zionist. They’ve just been told what we are and what we stand for. And so, when you engage with them, they have these misconceptions, and it’s about proving them wrong, not only with facts but with actions. It’s about engaging and unlearning from both sides about who we are and connecting as people.”

Said “has courage, and is doing something not done previously at Tuks,” she says. “She’s an inspiration to me, other Jewish students, and the Jewish community, who should aspire to have her strength, bravery, and ability to work with people, even those who previously didn’t want to engage.”

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  1. Monique Levine

    Mar 2, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    My husband was admitted to a hospital in Pretoria this week. When asked to fill in the section “religion”, he put in Jewish. None of the nurses knew what Jewish or a Jew was. It is definitely a small but vocal minority pushing the anti-Jewish agenda.

  2. Muhammed

    Mar 3, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    why is everyone who doesn’t agree with the Israeli bruhs labelled as an extremist lol. Oh look at those dudes who don’t want funding from people siding with a neo-apartheid state. Yep they gotta be extremists.
    But my name is muhammed so the biased dudes already heard bin ladens voice reading this. Anyway the sausages needa quit victimising themselves and understand where the disagreement is coming from and acknowledge that it’s not extreme to not side with them

  3. Jessica

    Mar 4, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    SASCO and the PSC’s appalling and disgusting antisemitism perfectly parrots that of their bedfellows, the BDS-aligned criminal syndicate called “The ANC and alliance partners.”

  4. Gary

    Mar 5, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    Because labeling Israel a Neo=Apartheid State shows you are a Hamas supporting extremist Muhammed

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