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UCT’s Jewish students stand up to campus vitriol

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“We’ve all seen online hatred towards Jews, especially recently, but it’s a completely different thing to hear this hatred, when it’s directed at you personally, with people looking you in the eye and chanting, ‘Death to Israel!’”

These are the words of a University of Cape Town (UCT) student, who asked not to be named for fear of being targeted, describing her experience on campus during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) from 18 to 20 March.

She was just one of the many brave Jewish students who stood together on the Cape Town campus, singing “Am Yisrael Chai”, and trying to communicate in the face of shouted abuse and threats from hundreds of Israel haters.

They stood bravely in spite of the fact that their own student representative council (SRC) had sent out an email calling on all students to support the Palestinian Solidarity Forum (PSF) on campus during IAW.

“A university is supposed to be a safe space for young students to learn, debate, and discuss things,” said Daniel Bloch, the director of the Cape South African Board of Jewish Deputies. “The UCT PSF and its anti-Israel supporters including the African National Congress, Al Jamah-ah, and others, violated that space and used innocent students to push their selfish narrative. And these people call themselves leaders in the community! They should be ashamed.”

While the environment at UCT was extremely hostile towards Jewish students, at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, those involved described IAW as extremely constructive. The students aimed to reclaim the truth of what happened in Israel on 7 October, with visiting survivors of the Nova festival massacre telling their stories.

There were times on UCT’s campus outside the Sarah Baartman Hall on 18 and 19 March that discussions were held peacefully and respectfully, according to Ruby Kapeluschnik, the vice-chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) Western Cape. “However, in some of the conversations I had, I was just being shouted at. Someone said to me at one point, ‘I’m not talking to you, I’m talking at you,’” Kapeluschnik said. “It’s overwhelming to have so many people come up to you with such anger.”

One student described an incident where another Jewish girl engaged with a group of Israel haters, and the group started to surround her and shout, shutting down anything that she brought up to defend Israel. At one point, the girl walked away and broke down because of the aggressive behaviour she was confronted with.

Said another female student, “The worst part about that Monday was when PSF members had finished painting Palestinian flags with their hands, they came over to the SAUJS stand and showed us their red hands. They then went to put their red-painted hands on an Israeli flag that we had made.”

On Wednesday, 20 March, she said, “People just started coming towards the stand en masse with signs saying things like ‘Blood on your hands’ or ‘Fuck Israel’, and screaming things, like ‘genocidal psycho maniac’ and ‘coloniser’ at us.”

Eden Lipshitz, a member of SAUJS’s religion and politics committee said, “We knew we had to come out in full force that Wednesday because the night before, we had received the email from the SRC calling all students to support the PSF.

“That morning, a group of us were taking pictures holding photos of the hostages, and there was quite a large group of people off to the side cackling at us,” Lipshitz said. “When it was my turn, a girl came up and pulled a middle finger in the background. This girl then stood next to me, put her arm around me, and said, ‘You look like an absolutely fucking idiot’ while pulling zap signs at me.”

“Campus security did their best to protect our space from intruders, but didn’t manage to do so completely, as several protesters broke through and then at one point campus security’s protective chain was completely overpowered and they all descended into our space,” said UCT’s Chabad on Campus Rabbi Nissen Goldman. “That’s when several instances of violence occurred, like a kippah being knocked off someone’s head, the grabbing of hostage posters being held by Jewish students, and the elbowing of Jewish students.”

Said one female law student, “I saw a couple of people that I knew from class on the frontline chanting ‘Death to Israel!’ One of them, who is in a leadership position in the faculty, spotted me and came as close as he could to the campus security line, pointed at me, and shouted ‘Shame on you!’ I felt so angry that he was shouting that to me while standing with a group of people on the sidelines chanting ‘Death to Israel!’ All we were doing was standing in a circle singing in Hebrew, praying, and holding signs that said, ‘Bring the hostages home’.

“I was there to show that I have the right to be on campus as a proud Jew as much as anyone else. In 24 hours, I saw people who had been afraid decide to stand up and hold hostage posters,” said Lipshitz.

“The response from the Jewish community was beautiful to watch. We all just made a circle and started singing. At one point, as they were screaming, we were singing V’Hishamda, and it was louder than their screaming,” said Kapeluschnik.

Another student said, “You could see that our response was angering them, because it was obvious they were trying to get a rise from us. They wanted us to start shouting back because they want us to look aggressive so that they could say, ‘Look how aggressive these Jews are.’

“They wanted us to start chanting back so that they could drown us out, because at this point, there were about 300 of them and about 30 of us,” he said.

“They tried to disrupt us, screaming, but we stood together,” said Sasha Said, the national vice-chairperson of SAUJS. “As we were being screamed at and vile language was coming out of their mouths, we linked arms in a circle. We sang, we laughed together, we smiled, and we were there for each other.”

SAUJS National Chairperson Shmuel Krengel said that at Wits University, it was a totally different story. “Due to unbelievable fairness by the Wits administration, IAW was a much more pleasant affair for everyone involved on both sides. Everyone was allowed to do what they wanted to do that week without letting each other torment and humiliate and intimidate one another.”

Gabriella Farber-Cohen, the project co-ordinator at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said, “It was a moving moment to see SAUJS stand with posters of the hostages singing Acheinu and “Am Yisrael Chai”, while the Palestinian Solidarity Committee protested aggressively opposite the SAUJS stand. SAUJS was able to turn the hate against it into an environment of relationship building. It chose to reclaim the truth, and engage in meaningful and educational conversation with the general student population.”

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  1. Jacquie Spiers

    March 28, 2024 at 12:16 pm

    Stand firm and proud and don’t resort to the violence and hatred that surrounds you – we the Christian community are with you in your struggle to secure the release of all the hostages brutally abducted on the 7th October – we pray for a peaceful solution to this ongoing conflict and a way forward for all peoples in Gaza and the Holy.

  2. Nix

    March 28, 2024 at 1:58 pm

    I have written to UCT to remove me from all alumni and summer school databases and mailing lists. It’s a small guesture, but I don’t want to be associated with an institution that won’t support me as a Jew.

  3. Gary Selikow

    March 29, 2024 at 11:05 am

    It is so praiseworthy of our Jewish students to stand up to the Leftist-IslamoNazism of the PSF and other Hamas supporters. Keep it up, Am Yisrael Chai! Never Again is Now

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