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SAUJS wins award for using healing to fight hatred

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Fighting for Israel with healing rather than hate won the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) an international award at the end of last year.

SAUJS won the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) Israel Engagement Award on 29 December for fighting for Israel with a campaign titled “Heal over Hate” during Israeli Apartheid Week last year.

SAUJS representatives Kayla Diamond, Joshua Pimstein, Natanya Porter, and Joshua Norman who are all University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) students, were presented with a trophy during the WUJS congress at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel in Israel from 27 December to 1 January.

“We won because we showed the World Union of Jewish Students our determination, hard work, and passion for fighting antisemitism on campus,” says Diamond, the mental health officer of SAUJS’ national committee. “In doing so, we were able to unite all SAUJS constituents by creating a sense of Jewish pride.”

SAUJS’s campaign was about ensuring that Jewish students didn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable on university campuses, says Bethia Milner, the chairperson of SAUJS’ Wits committee. “We were able to combat the lies about Israel and ensure that Jewish students felt they had a place on campus,” Milner says. SAUJS openly supported Israel’s existence with information and support structures in place for Jewish students, and built relationships with political structures at universities.

“In taking an open and engaging approach, SAUJS turned Israeli Apartheid Week around,” Milner says. “The week became an opportunity to educate students about Israel rather than the hate fest it has sometimes been in the past.”

During the week, SAUJS was accompanied by Stand With Us delegates from Israel as well as the 2017 Miss Universe Iraq Sarah Idan, an advocate for Israel. “We promoted peace, and showed all students that we choose – and will always choose – to heal over hate,” Diamond says.

Idan spoke to Wits students as part of SAUJS’ campaign, says Pimstein, religious officer of SAUJS’ Wits committee.

“One way to fight antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment is by proudly practicing our Judaism and celebrating Jewish life in the country,” says Norman, Wits SAUJS social events officer. “Last year, in addition to our counter campaign during the vitriolic Israeli Apartheid Week, we held a megillah reading on campus, a party where about 200 Jewish students came together, and we pushed major outreach projects such as a pad drive to end period poverty on campus. That’s how we intend on moving forward – by giving back to the Jewish and broader South African community.”

Pimstein says SAUJS’ “Heal over Hate” campaign achieved its goal of almost completely nullifying Israeli Apartheid Week. “We also created some really good awareness of Israel and what’s actually going on.”

He says winning WUJS’ Israel Engagement Award is testament to the efforts of SAUJS and its impact on Jewish students. “It will definitely energise the team going forward in that the work we have done in the past and the work we will continue to do is obviously having a good effect on local students and raising the eyebrows of people around the world such as the Jewish Agency.”

SAUJS says it will continue to fight for Israel regardless of changes in the country’s government. “One of the pillars of the SAUJS involvement is ensuring that we advocate positively for Israel and fight the antisemitism and anti-Zionism out there,” Pimstein says. But he points out that “one of SAUJS’s goals for this year is to create a much stronger sense of Jewishness and Yiddishkeit on campuses so that we’re not only a political movement that fights for the state of Israel, we’re also a movement Jews feel a connection to and one which uplifts Jewish life on campus for all Jewish students”.

The location of the congress, attended by students from across the globe, was controversial, Diamond says. “The Dan Jerusalem Hotel sits past the Green Line. Everyone had different opinions about that.”

SAUJS, however, hasn’t taken a stance on this issue. “We’re proud of the fact that our members are heterogenous and have diverse opinions on every matter, including Israeli politics,” Diamond says.

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