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Unisa says Jews ‘abusing’ concept of antisemitism



The University of South Africa (Unisa) has blamed Israel for Hamas’s 7 October massacre, also claiming that “the Zionists” are “abusing” the concept of antisemitism and shouldn’t be allowed to define it.

In one of the most extreme statements from a South African university since 7 October, the senate of Unisa, the largest open-distance learning institution in Africa and the longest-standing dedicated distance education university in the world, claimed, “The Zionists are abusing and trivialising the important anti-discrimination concept of antisemitism [in order] to silence, mute, and undermine the justice-seeking voices and calls for justice against the violence and war perpetuated against the Palestinians.”

It went on to say, on 28 May, that “these distortions, that generally are embodied in theological and political distortions, pelted under the guise of ‘antisemitism’, must be condemned”.

It also called for “a ceasefire and the cessation of genocidal attacks by the state of Israel on Palestinian people”. It went on to claim that the historical context of Israel’s “genocidal activities” didn’t begin with Hamas’s attacks on 7 October. It insinuated it was a continuation of the “Zionist colonial movement” that had systematically “oppressed” Palestinians and deprived them of their land since 1948.

David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “We’re astonished how any reputable academic institution, let alone Unisa, should have issued a public statement so thoroughly unscholarly, crudely emotive, and politically driven as this one.

“From representatives of the intellectual profession, one should expect that any commentary on issues of public concern, particularly when concerning highly complex international disputes, would be appropriately measured, nuanced, and, perhaps above all, fair,” he said. “However, practically not a single pronouncement in this grossly partisan, ideologically driven screed would pass true scholarly muster.”

Saks went on to say: “We reject, with disgust, the baseless and deeply prejudiced charge that Jewish representatives knowingly, and as a matter of decided policy, level false charges of antisemitism in order to silence criticism of Israel. This has the effect of portraying Jews as being dishonest, manipulative, and hypocritical and as such amounts to just another form of anti-Jewish bigotry, all the more repellent for being framed in language calling for human rights, peace, and justice.

“This shockingly inappropriate statement is less an indictment against Israel than a betrayal of the institution’s most fundamental values and ideals,” Saks said. “By issuing it, Unisa has done a sad disservice not just to its own community, but to the academic profession and the people of South Africa as a whole.”

Unisa’s chancellor is former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Its principal and vice-chancellor is Professor Puleng LenkaBula, who defines herself as a “feminist ethicist”. LenkaBula proudly shared the university’s statement on social media, yet as a “feminist ethicist”, she made no mention of the sexual violence meted out by Hamas on 7 October, nor did Unisa. The SA Jewish Report asked her why she was silent about this, but the query went unanswered.

Many Unisa students expressed their frustration that Unisa was taking a stance on a conflict that had no bearing on South Africa when it has much to do to get its own house in order. “This university fails to respond to our needs as students, phone calls and emails are never answered, yet it’s responding to problems in faraway places. Please fix the university administration first. When is the senate addressing administration problems at the school?” asked one student in response to LenkaBula sharing the statement on X.

“Ceasefire on ignoring students enquiries and complaints too. Prof, do you listen to Unisa students when they have a crisis? Please fix your administration also,” said three students.

“Where’s your statement on Russia invading Ukraine?” and “Why don’t you focus rather on your own issues? It’s no business of yours what goes on in the Middle East. Whose money are you trying to secure?” asked two more students on X.

“I’m ashamed of the qualifications I received from you,” said a former student.

“This is uncalled for. You ignore what Hamas has done on 7 October and the rockets it fires at Israel daily. I can’t believe my alma mater [can] stoop this low. How do you stand with a terrorist organisation like Hamas? I’m disappointed,” wrote another student.

“How about those hostages? Return any hostages left alive. For every action, there’s a reaction. Don’t like it, tough! Women don’t like being raped and brutalised either,” said another.

The Unisa statement also endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, and committed to cutting all academic connections with Israeli higher education and research institutions. It urged other universities to do the same.

The senate then called Unisa’s council to instruct the university’s asset managers to divest any investments Unisa holds in Israeli companies, and companies supplying materials and weapons used by Israel.

It also endorsed the South African government’s legal actions against Israel.

South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) spokesperson Rolene Marks said, “The SAZF condemns Unisa’s decision to boycott Israel and cut off any research connections between it and Israeli institutes. This is an assault on academic freedom and it breaches staff’s constitutional rights to freedom of association. Universities should be places where debate is welcome, and students and staff can hold a range of views.

“Moreover, this move is likely to make Jewish students feel unwelcome,” says Marks. “It’s also hypocritical. While calling on asset managers to divest from firms that have assets in Israel, the senate ignores the fact that many of the components in today’s computers, cellphones, or devices like flash drives were developed in Israel. It’s highly unlikely that staff will stop using modern technology.

“Unisa has been beset by internal crisis, and was placed under administration by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande in October 2023 before he withdrew his decision in November,” Marks said. “The university should focus on solving its own issues and serving its students rather than attempting to divert attention from its numerous crises that include governance issues, poor administration, financial sustainability, and the declining quality of qualifications. Many of these have persisted for years at the country’s biggest university, and undermine students’ right to a quality education.

“Israel has the right to defend itself from the terrorist group, Hamas, that has stated that it wants to annihilate the country and its people,” she said.

South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) National Chairperson Shmuel Krengel said there were several Jewish students at Unisa, but SAUJS didn’t have a branch there. SAUJS is “appalled and disappointed” at Unisa’s statement, he said.

Along with the query about her response to Hamas’s sexual violence, the SA Jewish Report asked LenkaBula if Unisa condemned Hamas’s atrocities of 7 October; if Jewish students and staff who are Zionist were welcome at Unisa; and if a Jewish person said something was antisemitic, the university would disbelieve them, in line with its statement. However, these questions went unanswered.

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  1. Gary

    Jun 6, 2024 at 12:35 pm

    UNISATAN has joined the Axis of Evil. I stand with Israel no matter what they do and say. Am Yisrael Chai! UNISA ois supporting a Second Holocaust

  2. Squishy

    Jun 6, 2024 at 1:45 pm

    Unisatan 🤣🤣

  3. Deborah Greene

    Jun 7, 2024 at 11:01 am

    I am totally dismayed and abhorrent with Unisa action against Israel.But also not surprised bcs Thabo Mbeki is ANC…the absolute EVIL at it’s very Core… and to say nothing about the Hostages and the murder and rape that to me is Not Human .. there’s indeed Satanic Forces.. that what I saw on the video…was very inhuman

  4. Jessica

    Jun 9, 2024 at 10:56 am

    Which makes Unisa nothing less than a propaganda arm of Hamas. Never trust international socialists in charge of institutes of higher learning.

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