Israeli apartheid week unleashes turf war

 

Tensions flared as the PSC and SAUJS shared the piazza outside the Great Hall during the Israel Apartheid Week.

STAND OFF: Tensions over Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian land were replicated on campus when opposing camps laid claim to the piazza. Photo: Aarti Bhana

STAND OFF: Tensions over Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian land were replicated on campus when opposing camps laid claim to the piazza.                                                                  Photo: Aarti Bhana

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EDITORIAL: A little closer to home

Last week, Wits was a hot bed of student action during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). Scores of students took to the library lawns and media platforms to fight for their cause. This fight was, for many, a fight for human rights.

One cannot deny the legitimacy of this cause. No matter what side people are on, we understand the contestation and the need to bring issues of human rights to light.

The principle of human rights activism, as we interpret it, is to stand against the violation of human rights in any and all situations. But why is it that human rights violations on our doorstep fade in the shadow of international causes?
Last week, Wits Vuvuzela published a story about the torture of homeless people by police outside the Methodist church in Braamfontein. This without a doubt is a gross violation of human rights, but the reaction was muted. No questions were asked and no support was shown for the victims.

[pullquote]Activism should not be something that happens in shifts, there should be no “off” days for activists. [/pullquote]

Yet some Witsies were quick to take to the Twitter streets to complain about “misleading” IAW coverage in Wits Vuvuzela.

Activism should not be something that happens in shifts, there should be no “off” days for activists. While it is inevitable that people will feel closer to certain causes, it is problematic to ignore or hold in a lesser regard other issues of human rights violations, particularly those that are happening on our doorstep.

Where were our human rights activists when the Marikana miners were gunned down? Better yet, where were our human rights activists when our students were being sexually harassed?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our lives begin to end the day we keep quiet about things that matter”. When the people who should say something say nothing, humanity slowly whittles away and before we know it, it’s “okay” to disregard certain rights and certain people as being less important.

[pullquote align=”right”]When we can, we must make some noise, raise our voices above oppression and ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.[/pullquote]

If all human rights are fundamentally equal and important, then the homeless people brutalised by the police in Braamfontein should garner the same support and raise the same level of passion between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists on campus.

Wits has always been a site of activism. The likes of Nelson Mandela and Ruth First paved the road to democracy on this very ground. They fought for us all, none more important than the other. If it had not been for them, we would not be here today.

We owe it to them, ourselves and future generations to ensure that human rights are afforded to everyone. When we can, we must make some noise, raise our voices above oppression and ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.

OPINION: Active justice

Pearl

Pearl Pillay is a former SRC member, she is currently studying towards her masters in politics. Photo: Provided

OVER the next few weeks, activists on our campus and indeed on campuses around the world will rally together to commemorate Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 (IAW). Much has been said about this week of global activism, however, very little has been said about how you, an ordinary citizen, fit into this global picture. Why should you care about people on the other side of the world?

IAW is an annual series of events aimed at educating people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid state.

It will take place in over 250 cities around the world and has been endorsed by hundreds of organisations.

[pullquote]”If you were asking why get involved, maybe you should rather be asking why not?”[/pullquote]

This week is crucial in raising awareness and providing information about Zionism, the Palestinian struggle for liberation and, more importantly for us, how their struggle has distinct parallels with ours as South Africans.

You may be wondering what exactly we mean when we say “Israeli Apartheid”.

In the most basic terms, this refers to the deliberate policy of racial or ethnic segregation perpetuated by the state of Israel. Under this system, millions of Palestinians live in conditions which are very similar to that of apartheid South Africa.

No right of free speech, arrest and imprisonment without trial or charge, torture and no right to vote for the government which controls their lives are but a few of the conditions that govern the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.

It is unnecessary to reiterate the long history of oppression which apartheid brought to the people of our country. What is important, however, is highlighting the fact that during our struggle, people around the world mobilised against apartheid South Africa.

Today, more than an opportunity, it becomes our duty to do our part for a people who continue to struggle against Israeli apartheid.

Apartheid is unacceptable – regardless of where you’re from.

We aren’t saying that you should stand on a picket line in the Gaza Strip, but we are asking that you consider the plight of the Palestinian people whilst you enjoy your freedoms. IAW, and indeed the Palestinian solidarity movement, is becoming increasingly fashionable; this is your chance to get involved in a global campaign, to use your Wits experience and contribute to something way beyond Jorrisen street and Empire road.

If you were asking why get involved, maybe you should rather be asking why not?

Pearl Pillay is a former SRC member, she is currently studying towards her masters in politics.

OPINION: ‘Give peace wings’

Ariela

Ariela Carno is the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students. Photo: Provided

THE LANGUAGE we use and the way in which we frame a situation defines our everyday reality.
If we frame something in the positive as opposed to the negative, it is very likely to change the outcome of the situation. That, in principle, is one of the underlying issues that I have with the week known as “Israeli Apartheid Week”.

Putting aside the fact that the claim that Israel is analogous to apartheid South Africa is an insult to the very real struggle the South African people underwent during apartheid (in addition to being utterly false) the very title “Israeli Apartheid Week” presents a foregone conclusion that completely excludes the dialogue it claims to support.

[pullquote]”It merely incites more hatred and violence and the cycle continues.”[/pullquote]

This week, rather than promoting a constructive dialogue regarding how a constructive solution can be reached in the Middle East, incites hatred, violence and anti-semitism.
Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying there are no issues in the Middle East nor that differences of opinion are not desirable.

However, creating a week of hate doesn’t solve any problems. It merely incites more hatred and violence and the cycle continues.
Every year on campus many students dread this infamous week because during it they feel that it provides a platform where criticisms evolve into discrimination. Hence, this year, the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) is running a campaign called “Give peace wings”.

In the spirit of constructive dialogue we implore all students not to fall prey to the myth that hating those with a different opinion to yours is the only way to solve a conflict.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy, then he becomes your partner.”
So, don’t fall prey to the rhetoric. Rather join SAUJS Wits in giving peace wings.

Ariela Carno is the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students.

IAW: Peace tent promotes dialogue

50_Give_Peace-1

TALK TO ME: Students from Israel engage Witsies under the SAUJS’ ‘Peace Tent’. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Origami paper doves under the so-called ‘Peace Tent’ were the only birds to be seen on the university lawns yesterday as rain dampened the start of Israeli Apartheid Week activities (IAW).

Despite the gloomy weather, Witsies came out in significant numbers to support the ‘Peace Tent’, erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) as part of their Give Peace Wings project. 

For the Purpose of Peace

“We [the SAUJS] decided to set up the Peace Tent [because] the truth is we are never going to get anywhere unless people sit down, discuss, and have rational debate,” said David Isakow, 3rd year Media and Psychology. “We … want to raise awareness about people coming together and making dialogue.”

The initiative encourages any student, irrespective of religion, culture, or political affiliation, to come into the tent and actively participate in dialogue surrounding a number of African and Middle Eastern issues. The idea of the tent is to encourage people to talk.

Visitors were also encouraged to fold an origami dove. “By making a [paper] dove, you are making a [contribution] towards peace”, Isakow said.

Africans for Israel

On Tuesday, Serge Tshibangu, PhD (CompSci) candidate, spoke in the tent about his experience as an African visiting Israel two years ago. Born in the DRC, Tshibangu now lives in South Africa. “Israel is a country that needs African support,” he said. Issues could always be solved “by talking to each other,” Tshibangu added.

Two Israeli students, Kokit Hylo and Eyal Cohen, told Wits Vuvuzela they had volunteered to come to South Africa to “promote education about Israel across the world because of a lot of misinformation [about the conflict in Israel]”.  Cohen, who is also part of an Israel awareness project called Stand with Us, felt it was important to “share his personal experience of Israel” with South African students.

Wits students who visited the tent were generally positive about the intiative. Safiyya Paruk, 1st year MBBCh, believes the Peace Tent is a “good thing to have [as] it brings things into perspective”.

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GALLERY: Israeli Apartheid Week 2014

The annual, and usually controversial, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) kicked off at Wits University this Monday. The event was unusually subdued but certainly more colourful than those in recent years.

Peace event gets hammered

Uyanda Mabece, (PSC) Ntshembo Vuma (YCL) were hammering their wooden frame outside Umthombo Building when David Isakow (SAUJS) and Professor Skornick went outside to ask them to keep it down as they were disrupting an ongoing SAUJS event inside.
Uyanda Mabece (left) and Ntshembo Vuma were hammering their wooden frame outside the Umthombo Building setting the stage for an argument with a Wits SA Union of Jewish Students member.                        Photo: Nqobile Dludla

A heated argument over loud hammering broke out between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups on campus Monday, setting the stage for an acrimonious Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).

A pro-Israel, “Give Peace Wings”, event was being held inside Umthombo 2 (U2) lecture hall when hammering sounds were heard outside the venue.

Uyanda Mabece, an executive member of the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), and Ntshembo Vuma, chair of the Young Communist League, were nailing  wooden frames in preparation for a pro-Palestinian event.

David Isakow, a member of the Wits branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), was sitting in the Give Peace Wings event and went outside to investigate the noise.

“I went outside to see what was going on. I saw Uyanda from the PSC hammering nails into a wooden frame and also intentionally missing the nails to make noise,” said Isakow.

Isakow said he repeatedly asked Mabece and Vuma to stop making noise or move away from their talk.

“[Mabece] refused to move even after I offered to help him. I said I’d take it further as it’s disturbing our events and they weren’t willing to be helpful,” he continued.

[pullquote align=”right”]Campus control were called in to break up the fracas.[/pullquote]

An Israeli professor of oncology, Prof Yehuda Skornick, was due to deliver a speech on medical science at the Give Peace Wings event. Skornick also went outside to confront Mabece and Vuma.

The fight continued to escalate with Isakow taking out his cellphone to record his argument with Mabece. Campus control were called in to break up the fracas.

Mabece defended the hammering to Wits Vuvuzela and said  lunch hour, when the fight took place, was the only time noise was allowed on campus.

“[Isakow] was very impolite when he spoke to me. We’ve been working and using that space outside Umthombo since yesterday and now that they’re having an event there we must stop what we’re doing?” he said.

According to Mabece, preparations for the first day of IAW began at 6am on Monday morning and were paused during lecture hours with the intention of continuing during lunch.

“This was not a strategic move, it just happened that it was a coincidence,” said Mabece. Prof Skornick was able to deliver his lecture in the same venue after the incident. 

In previous years, IAW at Wits has been the scene of bitter arguments, confrontations and protests between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups.  Just days ago before this year’s IAW began, vice chancellor Adam Habib issued a statement asking for peaceful co-existence between  student groups. 

Wits Vuvuzela journalists intimidated

In a related incident, this journalist and a colleague were stopped by the campus control officers from photographing the incident. Look out for the full story in this week’s print edition of the Wits Vuvuzela

UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Israeli-born pianist abandons performance after protest at Wits

UPDATE: 15 MAY 

Wits Vuvuzela has managed to salvage some footage from the protest by some Wits students of a concert by an Israeli-born pianist during Israel Apartheid week. We apologise for the poor quality of the footage which was shot with a cellphone.

 

UPDATE: 15 MARCH

SAUJS nationals liason officer, Harry Hoshovsky, has responded to protest action which took place during Israel Apartheid Week.

The statement from SAUJS read:

“Following the events of this week, SAUJS wishes to express its disgust and disappointment at the intolerance and blind malice displayed by Israel Apartheid Week and BDS Movement activists. SAUJS strongly supports the upholding of freedom of expression as a Constitutional right. Yet, despite our attempts to ensure that this core constitutional value is upheld, this week has highlighted that there are those on our campus who actively seek to silence, bully and eradicate any debate or well-reasoned arguments that contradict their extreme rhetoric.

 

This attitude was on full display as renowned human rights activist and former Sudanese slave, Simon Deng, was disrupted by supporters of the IAW campaign at his mere mention of the word ‘Israel’,despite this topic being a minor part of a speech focused on his tragic life story. We have also received several reports of Jewish students being harassed, discriminated against and victimized by those who claim that their events ‘promote dialogue and tolerance’. What they have wrought on campus is nothing short of disunity and conflict.

 

SAUJS wishes to point out that the SRC has the responsibility and mandate, to represent the interests of all students on campus and to encourage diversity, understanding and tolerance. They have been entrusted with this task and are expected to fulfil it. We therefore encourage our fellow students to reflect on the events that transpired this week and to consider over just who exactly should be held accountable by both them and the University, for the deliberate propagation of intolerance and division.”

addition, Wits University has issued a public apology for the disruption of the concert. Read the full statement here.

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ORIGINAL: 13 MARCH

Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef was escorted off stage by Wits Campus Control last night as students protested his presence on campus during Israel Apartheid Week.

“This guy coming here is trying to undermine Israel Apartheid week,” SRC vice-president (internal) Tokelo Nhlapo told Wits Vuvuzela.

Members of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), Muslim Students Association (MSA), Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) as well as Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), called for the protest as they did not want the concert to happen during international Israel Apartheid week.

Campus control had initially prevented the group of about 50 protesters from entering the Atrium Hall in the South West Engineering building where the concert was being held.

Students chanted and banged on the doors.  The protesters sang songs such as “Dubula ibhunu” a song that was previously under review due to what the AfriForum referred to as “hurtful lyrics”.

Once Campus Control opened the doors students stormed into the hall. They disrupted the performance by jumping on stage as well as blowing their vuvuzelas

Student activist Mbuyiseni Ndlozi addressed the crowd after they stormed the hall. “Our visitors must understand that we are Wits students in good standing. They must understand that in this university Zionism will not enjoy (sic) anymore. They will not bring anything related, sponsored, corroborating with Israel and will expect it will be romantically accepted.”

Wits Vuvuzela journalists tried to speak to people who had attended the concert however they were unwilling to comment.

Campus Control representatives also refused to comment and directed all enquiries to Wits Communication.