Reflecting on the ‘What Is RAEL’ delegation visit to Cape Town

Back: Jonathan Glick, Ella Blumenthal, Rael Chapman, Miriam Lichterman, Richard Freedman and Gabi Stein. Front: Steven Korber, Dalit Anstey, Ruth Urson and Asher Stern.

A delegation of self-funded Israeli students called ‘What Is RAEL’ recently visited Cape Town.

Their mission was to engage in constructive dialogue between South Africans and Israelis. As a realistic representation of Jewish-Israeli society, the political allegiances of the delegates ranged from the National Unity Party on the right to Meretz on the left, and everything in between.

The group set out to engage with a variety of communities within Cape Town’s rich cultural and social landscape. In addition to conversations with Herzlia and Islamia College, they spoke at various churches and were interviewed on a Christian radio station. They also visited UCT and Stellenbosch University, where they engaged with students in both formal and informal settings. In addition, the group met with key politicians and diplomats, including senior members of the Democratic Alliance, the DA Youth League, Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson, Alderman JP Smith and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

However, they were not always met with openness to dialogue. Having experienced a comparatively tense atmosphere at Wits, the delegation was shocked at their reception at UCT. Numerous students attending a UCT panel discussion became infuriated as visiting Israeli Jonathan Pollack and local activist Zackie Achmat continuously interrupted the discussion by shouting over the Israeli students whenever they attempted to speak. Amanda Ngwenya, president of the Students’ Representative Council at UCT, was so offended by this that she later described such behaviour to the Mail & Guardian as an “affront to freedom of thought and expression.”

The significance of visiting South Africa
South Africa can rightly proclaim itself to be the global moral authority on racism. We as a country have experienced and overcome one of the vilest manifestations of human evil. Some prominent members of our country possess ‘struggle credentials,’ a status that often legitimises their definitions of racism. In this light, it is of
utmost importance that Israelis engage in unhindered dialogue with other nationalities and convey what Judge Dennis Davis calls “the complexity of Israeli democracy.” We should acknowledge with enormous pride the invaluable role that SAUJS continues to play in facilitating such discussions.

By doing so, SAUJS has shown that we embrace diversity of opinion and freedom of speech. These ideals should be welcomed by organisations that claim to aspire to such values, yet consistently fail to condemn when Israelis’ rights are violated. These same organisations refused to meet with the delegation. This contradictory
behaviour allows us to identify those pro-Palestinian people who genuinely hold an interest in working towards peace, as opposed to those who hide behind the veil of ‘human rights’ while acting in a manner that is antithetical to the movement’s ideals.
This discrepancy could not have been made more obvious than when Jonathan Pollack, accompanied by Achmat, denied panellist Ben Ofer his right to freedom of speech. Ironically, Ofer attends the same anti-occupation marches in Israel as Pollack.

The inherent danger of pro-boycott organisations is that they serve as a platform that disguises destructive intentions (such as those displayed Pollack and Achmat) behind human rights. These organisations provide a base for people who are so blinded by hate, that they dismiss voices of those in Israel who share similar views and can assist to end the Israeli occupation from within. Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, the target of a recent boycott by the University of Johannesburg, is a hub of left-wing anti-occupation activism. When pro-Palestinian voices in South Africa call to boycott progressive Israeli voices, one can only assume their hate for
Israel outweighs their desire to better the lot of the Palestinians.

For more information on ‘What is RAEL’, visit the group on Facebook: or on Twitter: @whatisrael