Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Students abandon encampments, but Jew-baiting continues



While top universities around the world continue to battle to end extremist pro-Palestinian encampments on their campuses, the small encampments at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Cape Town (UCT) quietly closed down without any resistance on 19 May.

Wits Senior Communications Officer Buhle Zuma told the SA Jewish Report that the Wits student encampment ended “given the commencement of a moratorium on all student activities in the lead-up to June examinations”. The UCT encampment said it had shut down because members had tested positive for COVID-19.

However, pro-Palestinian students and staff continue to target Jewish students. This includes Wits senior lecturer and senate member, Dr Kezia Lewins, screaming and swearing at Jewish students on 16 May. The chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) at Wits, Dani Frankel, says his organisation is in the process of reporting Lewins to the university. Zuma said “all complaints related to the conduct of staff and students are dealt with in line with the university’s rules for discipline”.

The lecturer’s abuse occurred when Jewish students joined a Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) protest against “mid-year exclusions”, which result in some students being barred from writing mid-year exams, forfeiting their academic year. However, the protest against mid-year exclusions was hijacked by pro-Palestinian students and staff, who turned it into a hate-fest targeting the Jewish students attending. “Included in this group of hijackers were staff members, alumni, and lecturers employed by Wits,” says Frankel.

A student who covered her face with a mask and wore a keffiyeh told the Jewish students, “You’ve got nothing to promote except genocide.” Speaking to a camera, she yelled, “It’s clear that they [Jewish students] only care when the victims look like them. They only care when the victims are white and Jewish. So f**k the Zionists!” The video has since been deleted from social media.

Wendy Kahn, the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) says, “It’s outrageous that students are sworn at and abused by a member of staff. There’s never an excuse for a person tasked with educating students to behave in this manner.”

Furthermore, she says, “Jewish students have every right to speak on campus on any issue without fear. We’re proud of our students for engaging in university life, supporting fellow students, and for standing up for what they believe.”

“Recently, SAUJS witnessed something on campus that it has never seen before, namely, the allowance of protest acting as a precursor to blatant antisemitism,” says Frankel. “However, due to the hard work from SAUJS and related bodies such as the South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] and SAJBD, South African campuses have remained safe for Jewish students and have kept their position as some of the safest campuses to be an open and proud Jew across the world.

“In spite of what happened at the SRC demonstration, Jewish students remained proud of their identity, and didn’t falter at the blatant attempts to demonise our undeniable right to practice our beliefs,” says Frankel. “We commend our university for working with SAUJS to ensure the safety of Jewish students during this challenging period.”

The UCT encampment was initiated by a new splinter organisation, UCT4Palestine, which has distanced itself from the radical UCT Palestinian Solidarity Forum (UCT PSF). An eyewitness, whose identity is protected for security reasons, said there were only nine tents on UCT campus. “Students said they didn’t know why there was an encampment as the university was starting exams. No-one wants to get involved. They don’t care enough. They [the encampment] don’t have that kind of support.”

Regarding the encampments, Kahn says, “We’re disappointed to see that a small group of students, at the instigation of [Minister of International Relations and Cooperation] Dr Naledi Pandor, attempted to host encampments. They were poorly attended, and got no traction with the student body, given that they dealt with none of the real challenges facing students.”

At UCT, the UCT PSF continues to endorse terrorism. The same can be said of the extremist Student Justice for Palestine group at Stellenbosch University, which posted “all glory to the intifada” on 2 May. Both groups continue to support terrorism without any condemnation or action from their universities.

Also at Stellenbosch, a group called Student Action 4 Palestine hosted a “sit-in” at a university administration building on 17 May to pressure the university to “release a statement officially condemning Israel; to cut ties with all Israeli educational institutions; to end all contracts and investments with Israel; and not to participate in any cultural or sporting activities that are sponsored by Israel”.

On 16 May, the Wits senate met to respond to demands made by pro-Palestinian groups. These demands include full disclosure of Wits’s relations with Israeli and Israel-aligned institutions and companies; a “public position in solidarity with Palestine”; the adoption of a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions-allied position; that Wits doesn’t employ members of staff who are active members of pro-Israeli Zionist organisations and former members of the Israeli military forces; and that the university allow for the free expression of Palestine solidarity activities on its campuses.

One motion was passed by the senate, but it’s subject to an amendment and refinement of the wording, which will be ratified by the senate. The SA Jewish Report has seen a draft of the motion, which “supports an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to ensure that food, medical, and all forms of aid are urgently provided; upholds the Palestinian right to life, health, education, and academic freedom, and self-determination; and commits to provide meaningful academic and other support to the re-building of the education and health system in Palestine”.

Before the Wits encampment shut down, the dean of health sciences, Professor Shabir Madhi, wrote to his staff on 16 May saying that “it has been resolved that students participating in the encampment will receive full academic support from their departments. These students are not to be penalised for missing academic activities. Additionally, when necessary, provisions should be made to offer these students catch-up support to ensure their academic progress isn’t hindered.”

Madhi’s feed on the social media platform X shows that he is vehemently anti-Israel, and that this may be dictating how he runs his department. Madhi also stated that “the [health] faculty board resolved for the faculty of health sciences to align our efforts to address the ongoing healthcare crisis in Gaza”.

SAZF spokesperson Rolene Marks says, “The SAZF condemns any singling out of Jewish students at universities, and the fact that some report feeling ostracised. While the SAZF upholds the right to free and peaceful protests, it’s unacceptable for a protester to accuse Jewish students of genocide. This is false, inflammatory, and antisemitic.

“We note that the encampments in support of Palestine at both Wits and UCT were shut down quickly and peacefully,” she says. “The SAZF upholds the right of academic freedom at universities, and rejects any calls for boycotts of partnerships with Israeli universities.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *