After being boycotted by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) on campus during their three-day visit to Gauteng, the Palestinian ambassador to SA invited Israeli students for a discussion on Wednesday afternoon.
Ambassador Ali Hamlleh emphasised that the Palestinian embassy does not support PSC elements who criticise the embassy and its policies.
“Our position is to meet an Israeli, not to boycott. If we boycott them and they do the same we can’t find solutions.”
Twenty-two Israeli students, who call themselves ‘What Is rael’, are on a tour to five universities in South Africa. The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) says the students are in the country to engage in peaceful dialogue and discussions about the conflict in the Middle East.
However, the PSC and the South African Student Congress (Sasco) refused to dialogue with the students and staged silent protest across campus on Monday.
The Wits PSC called on all students to boycott the talks by the Israeli students. During the panel discussions at Wits, they silently stood up to interrupt the proceedings and later walked out chanting “Panzi Israel panzi”.
On Monday, the PSC students wore red T-shirts with profiles of the Israeli students on their backs, handing out pamphlets stating that the students are ‘apartheid agents’ sent by the Israeli government to spread propaganda.
Sasco member, Bongani Masondo, said in a press conference a week before the students’ arrival: “We have engaged with some organisations in South Africa which hold similar views held by the Israeli apartheid regime. We are not really afraid of any engagement, but we have a problem with people who are sent clearly as agents.”
Despite these accusations, the Israeli students said they felt that SA students were warm and welcoming, many of whom had never met an Israeli.
The students held panel discussions at UJ on Tuesday, where the discussions were moderated by deputy vice chancellor Professor Adam Habib, and visited the University of Pretoria on Wednesday.
‘What Is rael’ will be visiting other universities and meeting with prominent public figures like Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu during their last few days in South Africa.
“We’ve been receiving great reactions, have learnt more about South Africa and hope to have taught South Africans more about Israel. It’s been a great experience,” said Asaf Gilboa, one of the students.