Balancing my Jewish pride with my Jewish fear at UCT

Erin Dodo

By Erin Dodo

This month we welcome Erin Dodo as our columnist representing the voice of Jewish youth in Cape Town. A student at the University of Cape Town, she serves as the Chairperson of the Western Cape branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students.

On the 7th of October, the Jewish people faced the worst massacre since the Holocaust. Hamas terrorists armed with hatred, Iranian weapons, and a hunger for Israeli blood infiltrated Israel by air and land killing 260 peace loving people at the Nova Festival, butchering family after family at Kibbutzim and taking over 240 people hostage. Since then, the death toll has risen dramatically. Hamas has released videos of terrified hostages, and social media has been flooded with videos of young girls being driven through the streets, with blood staining their clothes and hair, lifeless bodies being paraded through the streets of Gaza whilst Gazans celebrate, dance, and eat sweets. 

The world, if just for a single moment, finally saw what the Jewish people have been saying all this time: we are afraid. We are being threatened. Wake up. 

That only lasted a moment before the narrative immediately shifted – celebrities were all too quick to call for a ceasefire. The so-called “Squad” (AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Cory Bush and four others) began to advocate against Israel’s existence in the House in the United States, and our own government received a letter of thanks from Hamas. 

It just so happened that the week of the massacre in Israel was test week at the University of Cape Town. Immediately Jewish students were forced to reckon with their own stresses. A few students I spoke to told me they felt guilty even beginning to stress about an Economics or Computer Science or Psychology test when their families in Israel were scared for their lives, their siblings and families were being called to the reserves, and their friends were missing. 

A few of us appealed to our course administrators for deferrals, extensions or exemptions. Some of us- with empathetic lecturers- were successful; many were not. Heartache, loss, and mourning by a Jewish student was simply not enough grounds for sympathy. The Monday after 07/10, whilst I prepared myself to go onto campus, I had new considerations I had to deeply examine- and one of those was whether or not I should take my Magen David off, whether wearing it would perhaps draw too much negative attention. Other Jewish students on campus had similar thoughts; keeping our heads low that week, our characters withdrawn, some too afraid to even come to campus – afraid of what student groups may do; the same ones that have been flying the flag of Hamas, the terrorist group responsible for murdering our families, at our own place of learning. 

How, as Jewish students in South Africa, can we possibly feel safe? With our government actively brushing aside rising antisemitism, our institutions too afraid to call out hatred on campus, with threats, intimidation and, above all, whilst still being in mourning for people lost in a war we never wanted? 

The political landscape in South Africa is unique. It may be the only place in the world where flying an ISIS flag on the promenade is excused as fighting for freedom. It may be the only place where flying flags of internationally recognised terrorist organisations on campus is excused because our own government doesn’t recognise them as terrorists – citing the age-old “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” argument. 

What it certainly is not unique in is its experience of posters of kidnapped children being torn down and labelled as “Apartheid propaganda.” It is not the only country with a terrified Jewish population – which, whilst tiny, receives a disproportionate amount of hate. 

Upon calling on the university to act and receiving not one response – other than from CPS (Campus Protection Services) to investigate their complicity in the targeting of Jews on campus – the University of Cape Town – the best University in Africa – has been dead silent, opting to not say a word in fear of the consequences it may produce. 

I was faced with a dilemma: how could I, a proud Jew and Zionist, hide my identity at the place where I should feel the safest to express it

In a war we never wanted, we have lost 0.01% of the Jewish population. Whilst that may seem insignificant, everything is relative. 

That’s the same as 240 000 Christians.

137 800 Catholics.  

180 000 Muslims. 

In less than a week.

So, when we tell our university that we are afraid and they continue to ignore us, we understand how Jews have historically been targeted, whilst the world remains silent. 

In a war we never wanted, we’ve had to quieten our identities to protect ourselves. Keep our heads low on campus in fear of drawing too much attention, and our universities keep silent. 

We will never not be proud of our faith – the very reason we are here is because our ancestors fought for us to be here, but universities globally will come to understand that, whilst our voices may tremble, we will not go silently.

• Published in the December 2023/January 2024 issue – Click here to start reading.

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