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UP affirms Jewish students’ rights

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Two weeks ago, I reported on how factions of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) group at the University of Pretoria (UP) were protesting against “the presence of Zionism on university campuses” and how they were pressuring the student representative council to break off relations with the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), the representative voice of Jewish students. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has worked closely with SAUJS UP in confronting and exposing this unprecedented attack on Jewish rights and freedoms, which if allowed to succeed, would have opened the way for practically any Jewish organisation not just at UP but on all university campuses to be legitimately boycotted under the guise of opposition to Zionism. UP is also becoming an important campus for our community. A growing number of Jewish students are opting to study there, and it’s vital to ensure that they can identify with and express their support for Israel or any other issue without being discriminated against and treated like pariahs.

Throughout this period, the Board has engaged directly with the UP administration concerning this vicious and discriminatory BDS campaign. In response, UP issued a statement this week condemning “all forms of discrimination, including racism and religious intolerance”, and undertaking “to take necessary steps” against those found to be in breach of those policies. We welcome this reaffirmation by UP of these fundamental democratic, non-racist values, and continue to engage with it in steps taken to call to account those responsible for this clearly antisemitic initiative.

Yom Hashoah and the legacy of resistance

This being the last issue of the paper before the yom tov break, I would like to report briefly on the upcoming Yom Hashoah ceremony on 18 April. The commemoration this year is taking place on the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, that desperate, doomed yet vital heroic act of defiance which has become a symbol of Jewish tenacity and the will to resist. For the Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town ceremonies, we’re privileged to have keynote speaker Ella Blumenthal. One of only a few Holocaust survivors who remain among us today to share their stories, Blumenthal has not only been an inspirational figure in our community in all she has done to testify and educate about the Shoah, but was witness to the harrowing yet inspiring events that took place in the Warsaw Ghetto in the last weeks of April 1943. I urge you all to join us for this important and deeply meaningful event on the Jewish communal calendar.

In conclusion, a word on the upcoming yamim tovim (Jewish festivals). Throughout the ages, Pesach has fostered a heightened sense of unity and chaverschaft amongst the Jewish people while further inspiring Jews everywhere to connect with, learn about, and celebrate their unique heritage. As we prepare to celebrate this age-old festival of Jewish freedom and national rebirth, let’s also remember how we are one people with a shared history and how, regardless of belief, background, or religious practice, we’ll always respect, care about, and support one another. In that spirit, I wish everyone a chag Pesach kasher v’sameach.

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

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