View from the Chair – June 2017

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By Rowan Polovin, – Chairman, SAZF Cape Council

In March this year, Jewish Students at the University of Cape Town proudly expressed their support and love for Israel to counter the hatefest known as ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ (IAW).

In so doing, they were targeted in the most vicious and vitriolic way by the Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF), an organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction. Members of the PSF and their affiliates labelled every Jew at the SA Union of Jewish Students’ tent as an incorrigible racist for daring to support something intrinsic to their identity. It is innate and natural for Jews to have a religious, spiritual, political or emotional connection to the Jewish State, and thus it is highly offensive and psychologically painful to be singled-out, labelled and insulted for publicly proclaiming one’s Zionist identity. It is antisemitic to the core and morally repugnant that such behaviour was permitted on campus by the University.

What was even more concerning was witnessing the Vice-Chancellor appease the PSF at their rally, attend cap-in-hand to receive a petition to organise an academic boycott of Israel, imply that he sympathised with their cause and would canvass for support for such boycott and thank them for their ‘dignified’ set of protests. Immediately after, as soon as the Vice Chancellor had beat a hasty retreat, over 150 PSF supporters stormed the SAUJS tent in the most loathsome way possible, surrounded the Jewish students, behaved aggressively and drowned out their rights of freedom of speech and association by menacingly chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” and “Down, Down Israel”. It was incredibly intimidating for the students. Baruch Hashem there were no physical incidents, albeit the tension in the air was palpable and the University security staff were conspicuous in their absence.

The University of Cape Town failed once again to enforce their own rules and prevent the intimidation of Jewish students, and as a result diminished any sense of freedom of speech and association on campus or the promotion of good relations between groups. We hold the University absolutely accountable for the events that took place.

In spite of the tensions it was highly symbolic, principled and imperative for SAUJS to have a visible presence on campus during the week, and offer a tent of peace and dialogue to anyone willing sincerely to listen, debate and engage. SAUJS provided a genuine ‘safe space’ for Jews at the university during the week, and in so doing demonstrated that Jews have as much right as anyone to express their identity in public. More importantly, it sent a signal that Jews will never be silenced, that we are willing to stand up for ourselves when others fail to do so, and that we are here to stay.

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