PRO-PALESTINIAN organisations are calling on South African youth to boycott a group of Israelis visiting campuses next week.

The 24 Israeli youths, whose slogan is “building bridges not boycotts”, are arriving on August 11 for discussion panels and on-campus talks. The tour is called “What Is Rael” and will take place in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

The Palestinian Student’s Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israeland the Palestinian Youth Against Israeli Apartheid claim What Is Rael members are apartheid agents, camouflaged as impartial students.

Robert Freeman, from the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), says the Israeli group comes with a highly politicised agenda. “In essence this group professedly wants to create a good impression of Israel,” he says.

But the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), which is hosting the group, claims they do not represent the Israeli government or any other political party.

Roi Wolf, spokesperson for What Is Rael, says they did not receive government aid. “All students are paying for their own flights and SAUJS is helping us fund our stay here.”

Wolf says it is important to show what is really going on in Israel. “There have been narratives created by anti-Israel organisations on South African campuses that have made inaccurate comparisons between Israel and the apartheid regime.

“The media often shows only one, skewed side of the story,” he claims.

Daniel Katzew, national SAUJS liaison officer, says the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa is “spurious on a very fundamental level”.

“While there can be no doubt Israel is no perfect society, the societal problems faced by Israel are no worse or better than most other Western democracies.

“Robust dialogue, debate and face-to-face engagement is one of the best ways we here in South Africa can contribute to ending the conflict in the Middle East,” says Katzew.

SAUJS says the tour is in the spirit of free speech and boycott is not an answer.

But the PSC’s Freeman says: “If we engage with institutions aligned with Israel we ‘normalise’ them and thereby give them legitimacy. We want action and not empty words.”

The group is expected to be at Wits on August 17. The South African Students Congress (Sasco) is also calling for the boycott of the Israeli group.