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Student courage, media cowardice

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Given all that has happened over the past five months, there was always going to be an additional element of viciousness to this year’s round of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) events on university campuses. That was indeed the case, with Jewish students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in particular being subjected to levels of vitriol and intimidation not seen for many years. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), thankfully, was well controlled.

As in the past, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies worked closely with the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), the South African Zionist Federation, and others to run effective parallel campaigns to ensure the Jewish presence was visible and our voices heard throughout this always stressful time. A core plank of this was bringing out Mazal Tazazo and Millet Ben Haim, survivors of the Nova festival massacre of 7 October, to speak to Wits and UCT students. Through the Board’s head of communications, Charisse Zeifert, a packed programme of media interviews was put together for them, and time was also made for them to engage with the local Jewish community including at King David and Herzlia schools. We’re grateful to Tazazo and Ben Haim for coming out at this time and sharing their harrowing stories, thereby helping to remind our society at large how and why this tragic conflict began, and the true nature of the enemy confronting the Israeli people.

Interestingly enough, at both Wits and UCT, the actual IAW displays were sparsely attended. Instead, the primary focus of the demonstrators was to attempt to confront noisily and disrupt what SAUJS was doing. That itself was telling. IAW supporters were entitled to push their narrative within their own space, but it was the opportunity of being able to hurl ugly abuse at their Jewish fellow students and try to shut down whatever they wanted to say that really seemed to animate them. At UCT, it was observed that the worst offenders weren’t students but adult political agitators from off-campus. Alongside these in-your-face attacks against anyone expressing even mild solidarity with Israel, there have been continual waves of cyber-abuse, stalking, and doxing on social media platforms.

For all the outrage and anxiety these vile attacks are causing, we’re proud and inspired to see the resilience of our Jewish youth in standing their ground and doing so, moreover, with such dignity and restraint. In response to the multiple foul-mouthed insults, threats, hateful accusations, and sometimes even physical intimidation they, as the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ statement put it, “sang songs of peace, waved posters of innocent men, women, and children who continue to be held hostage by the murderous terrorist organisation Hamas, and displayed phenomenal unity”. Our students at Wits similarly refused to be cowed by the thuggish attempts by the other side to silence them.

Unfortunately, if predictably, not everyone was capable of displaying the same intestinal fortitude. One of the media platforms scheduled to interview Nova survivor Ben Haim was the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s Metro FM, but in the face of a media backlash, it capitulated to the bullying by cancelling the interview. We have since confronted Metro FM – which as a division of the national broadcaster has no authority to push a particular ideological line while censoring those it doesn’t like – on this betrayal of its own core mission and values (see our Facebook page to read our full statement).

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.
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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. yitzchak

    March 30, 2024 at 7:51 am

    Complain to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

    The SABC needs to have its tuchus whipped.

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