Wits SRC and City of Johannesburg host pro-Palestinian speaker

Wits SRC and the City of Johannesburg took a pro-Palestinian stand yesterday, as they hosted a presentation with guest speaker Dr Husam Zomlot.  

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Dr Husam Zomlot at the Wits yesterday addressing “the situation in Palestine.” Photo: Valerie Robinson

Wits University SRC and the City of Johannesburg hosted a pro-Palestinian presentation, at Wits main campus yesterday.

With Palestinian Week in South Africa taking place next week, Dr Husam Zomlot spoke on “The situation in Palestine”

This event was part of a series of events put together to celebrate the relationship between South Africa and Palestine by the City of Johannesburg. This follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the City and Ramallah.

The guest speaker was Dr Husam Zomlot who is the director of the Commission for International Relations in Palestine.

The meeting started off with the chairperson, Prof Noor Nieftagodien, who is the Chairperson of the History Workshop School, shouting to the audience: “Viva Palestine!” To which the crowd responded “Viva”. He said he did this to see if the “right people are present.”

The South African Union of Jewish Students issued a statement on their Facebook account leading up to the presentation.“The mandate of the SRC is to promote the interests of all Wits students, not those which align with their own personal ideological agendas…We have no problem with hosting Palestinian week; but let perspective be added. We request the SRC invite an Israeli speaker; to share their story, and let our students decide for themselves.”

“We are expecting us, as leaders of the SRC, to be charged as well after making this speech”

Wits SRC President Mcebo Dlamini visited Palestine in November and said at the presentation that what is happening in Palestine now “it is an advanced form of colonialism from what we experienced here.” He said that negotiations will never assist anyone because there are those who have power of the media.

“We are expecting us, as leaders of the SRC, to be charged as well after making this speech because racism is still here in this university and it is still run by rationalists and people who do not want to hear the truth,” said Dlamini, when referring to taking a stand against Israel.

Zolmot said that Israel has won every battle against the Palestinians but has lost the war, with Palestinians having won on all moral, political and legal fronts.

“Israel want the occupied land more than what they want peace,” said Zolmot. He said Israel would rather be known as an apartheid state than relinquish control.

The assumption that Israel wants to be democratic, Zolmot said, is one of the main misconceptions that has kept Palestinians under its control. He ended his presentation by saying: “[Palestine is] much nearer to the finish line than many may think.”

Q&A with Bassem Eid

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Photo: Provided

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Photo: Provided

Palestinian journalist Bassem Eid is the founder and former director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies brought him out to speak about his work at various universities around the country during Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). This is his fourth time in South Africa.

What is your background?
I grew up in a camp in the Old City in Jerusalem. We were evacuated for no reason, one year before the 1967 war. I worked for B’Tselem [The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] from the start of the first intifada [uprising], but I resigned because I was more interested in monitoring the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) violations of their own peoples’ rights.

What kind of work did you do there?
We released reports, six times a year that looked at the violations and atrocities committed by the PA, under the Yasser Arafat regime.

Did you feel this was more important to focus on than what the Israeli Defence Force was doing?
Yes, because it is more painful to commit these atrocities against their own people. For me, it became about defending Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For them, the PA became another kind of occupation, and because of their corruption, these people have been left hopeless.

What is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
There is no solution right now. The major problem right now is the lack of leadership on both sides. They will both have to wait for the coming generation. The right-wing Israeli government and the old faction of leaders on the Palestinian side.

Is Israel an apartheid state?
No, it isn’t. South African apartheid has never existed in Israel. Palestinians can study and receive medical care, which are the two most important rights.

What do you think about IAW?
It adds more hate to existing hate. South Africa has a propagandist notion towards the conflict. The money that is thrown at IAW should be used for South Africans who need it in the fight against poverty. BDS (Boycott, Divestement and Sanctions) is a prelude to genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian people. They have no idea what’s going on, they’re just adding more fuel to the flame.

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SCIENCE INSIDE: Does boycotting Woolworths create change in Israel?

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International law debated over Gaza conflict

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WAR TALK: Former Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob (centre) uses Skype to moderate a debate on alleged violations of international law by Israel. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

The accusation that Israel is violating international law in the Gaza conflict was the issue at the first in a series of talks moderated by former Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob at Wits Caltsty auditorium on West campus.

The debate featured well known law professors including Prof Alan Dershowitz, speaking for Israel’s actions in Gaza, and Prof John Dugard of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands speaking against Israel’s role in the recent conflict.

Dershowitz said Israel was defending itself in the conflict and should not be reprimanded for this. He argued the Gaza conflict was similar to a bank robbery in which police officers might hurt innocent civilians being used as shields by criminals.

He added that Israel should not be criticized and this would embolden Hamas, its opponent in the Gaza strip, to continue attacking Israel.

“Israel should not be condemned. If it is condemned it would encourage Hamas to do what it does,” Dershowitz said.

Dugard did not agree to the defence claim argued by Dershowitz.

“Israel’s defence claim is non-existent…It is a punishment to kill those occupying Gaza,” he said.

Dugard argued that only three Israeli civilians have been killed but over 2 000 Palestinians have been killed and 10 000 injured. He called Gaza a “killing field”.  He added that Israel was guilty of crimes against humanity because it had intentionally killed a large number of innocent Palestinian civilians who were in hospitals, mosques, schools and homes and should be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a tribunal.

Dugard said accountability and responsibility was required from both Israel and Hamas.

“Accountability is of great importance in this battle,” Dugard said.

Dershowitz rejected holding Israel accountable in the ICC. He attacked the court’s credibility going so far as to call it an “apartheid court”.

“The international court is certainly not international and it is not a court of justice. It is essentially an apartheid court,” Dershowitz said.

Jewish school pupil bullied over ‘political views’

A pupil at King David Linksfield was called “foolish” and “dangerous” for his views on Israel by his principal in the school newsletter, late last year.

The pupil had been active on the Facebook group, KD Confessions, which allows for students to express their opinions anonymously. He posted a comment that criticised Israeli policy which he says “was taken out of context”. The student, who had been elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC), was not allowed to take up his position as a result of the furore.

He and his family have told Wits Vuvuzela they have taken their complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission and are asking for an apology and for the school to abide by the Constitution.

This comes during a time when freedom of expression in the South African Jewish community has come under scrutiny, after a petition was started to remove another King David school pupil, Joshua Broomberg, as deputy head of the school’s branch in Victory Park. Broomberg had appeared on Facebook wearing a Palestinian badge and keffiyeh (scarf) in protest of “human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine”.

The Linksfield student’s story began last year, when he was told by the school principal, Marc Falconer, he would not be allowed to take an official role as a student leader after being elected onto the SRC “because of my political views,” he said.

“I was challenged over what I said online, I said I don’t like the term ‘I hate Israel’ and the school took that as what I believe,” the student said.

“I love Israel, I consider myself a firm lover and supporter of Israel.”

The student quickly became a victim of “vicious bullying” by a teacher at the school, who the student’s father said threatened and intimidated him. His parents were informed by Falconer that he could no longer protect the student at school, according to the student’s father.

Student “named and shamed” by principal at school assembly

Falconer told Wits Vuvuzela that the issue with the student’s comments were that they were on a public forum like Facebook. He said the post by the student was “contentious.”

“My concern was not a political one, it was an educational one. Any criticism and debate needs to be educationally sound, considered and constructive,” he said.

In a newsletter to the school community, he explained that a Grade 12 pupil’s leadership role would be deferred as he had engaged “in a debate which was neither appropriate in terms of the forum nor bring anything complimentary” for the school.

He said the student was “acting in a dangerous manner.”

“It’s affected me in that my community school is violating the right to freedom of speech- myself and others.”

But the student said that his fellow King David Linksfield students knew his views when they voted for him as a student representative.

Later, during an announcement at at a school assembly, the student was again singled out for his views by Falconer, this time by name.

“But the students knew my views, they voted me in as a representative,” the student said. They then made the same announcement in assembly, but this time named him, which Falconer said in retrospect, may not have been what he (the student) had expected and was prepared to apologise for this.

The student’s father told Wits Vuvuzela that Falconer had “named and shamed” his child.

Falconer defended the school’s climate and said it allowed for free debate. However, “we teach a centrality of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, but this is apolitical.”

Falconer said he was open to criticism of Israel and but that the criticism should be constructive and educational.

Not an isolated event

The student told Wits Vuvuzela that last year his marks started to drop due to the bullying, but it has affected him less this year. “It’s affected me in that my community school is violating the right to freedom of speech- myself and others.”

The father said he was standing by his son and said this instance of bullying over political views was not isolated. Not being able to express their views at school and instead turning to a Facebook group to do so is resulting in “children being forced out of the King David School due to their views.”

“There have been numerous incidents of victimisation and censorship in the King David school system,’ he said.

“The school is not a place to use our children as political pawns,” he said.

“It is about education and learning.”

Wits VC taken to task over photo tweet

Habib was attacked for sharing a photo that he said was from Gaza, when it was actually from Syria, earlier this year. Photo: Twitter

Habib was attacked for sharing a photo that he said was from Gaza, when it was actually from Syria, earlier this year. Photo: Twitter

Unverified photos and information often don’t get very far on social media platforms as networks of people around the world are quick to react to and correct any improper use.

This is exactly what Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib realised this past Sunday as one of his tweets, containing an incorrectly attributed photograph, attracted close to 60 responses in less than an  hour.

Habib used a picture from the Syrian conflict that was taken in February this year and incorrectly atrributed it to the current conflict in Gaza.

The photo that shows the legs of a corpse sticking out from underneath rubble had been mistakenly used on social media several times in the last few weeks.

“The consequences of Obama’s defense of Israel’s war in Gaza. How could we have allowed him to talk at Madiba’s funeral,” Habib tweeted.

Following the reponses to Habib’s tweet, he apologised and later tweeted, “the photo was copied from an earlier tweet.”

But he remained resolute in his point, tweeting that he “could find another photo to demonstrate this but what would be the point.”

“Let’s deal with the substance -children are dying,” Habib tweeted.

The incident happened at a time when the circulation of false information, and in particular, photos, is occurring more frequently via social media platforms.

But coupled with the ease of sharing information, is the ability to share unverified information which can be damaging.

In the case of Malaysia Airlines flights 17 and 370, a story about a Dutch cyclist who was booked to go on both flights (but at the last minute changed his mind) was widely circulated a week ago.

However, it was soon discovered that there was no proof that 29-year-old Maarten de Jonge ever bought a ticket.

In these instances, fiction becomes fact very quickly as information is taken out of context or passed off as the truth. The impact and consequences of sharing fale information can be dangerous, especially because information can reach more people, in a shorter amount of time.

BDS protests outside Joburg High Court

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A supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign stands in solidarity with the protest outside High Court earlier today. Photo: Luca Kotton

 

By Roxanne Joseph and Luca Kotton

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign protested outside the Johannesburg High Court today where a case about the removal of Palestine solidarity billboards was to be heard.

The BDS movement, who are suing Continental Outdoor Media for the removal of Palestine solidarity billboards in 2012, staged a protest outside the court despite a postponement of the matter to later in the week.

The organisation is represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and is arguing that the removal of the billboards goes against the principle of Freedom of Expression, according to BDS South Africa coordinator Muhammad Desai.

Desai says BDS are very confident they will win the case as this is a “contractual” and “constitutional” issue.

“The facts are very clear, in which Continental Media has succumb to the pressure. Unfortunately for Continental Media the Israeli lobby went very quickly to the media to take down the billboards. We don’t see any sign of the Israeli lobby now,” Desai said.

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Supporters of the BDS movement, including the ANC Youth League and Cosatu, protested outside High Court earlier today. Photo: Luca Kotton

He added, “We are here to send a very clear message … playing around with freedom of speech and freedom of expression will not be taken lightly. We fought very hard for these freedoms.”

The billboards depicted the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land through a series of maps titled “Palestinian Loss of Land- 1946 to 2010.”

The matter was not heard in court today as the LRC believes the time allocated to the case is too little.

“We need more than four hours for the matter to be heard, it’s quite a complex matter. So we’re waiting for a time later in the week when more than four hours can be allocated for us,” according to Naseema Fakir, regional director of the LRC.

IAW: Peace tent promotes dialogue

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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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SAJBD: BDS is just desperate

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) today denied that the concert that will be held at Wits is for Jews only.

President of SAJBD Zev Krengel said in a letter to Wits Vuvuzela that the claims, are a “desperate last-ditch tactic to discredit” the Daniel Zamir concert that will be held at Wits on August 28. Krengel did not deny the validity of the recordings but said they were a “response by an independent contractor engaged to sell tickets, who had simply misunderstood what the brief was.”

On Monday Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) released two recordings which they say is “proof of ethnic racism and profiling practiced” by some of the organisers of the concert.

A poster advertising the Daniel Zamir concert at Wits University. Image: www.jewishsa.co.za

A poster advertising the Daniel Zamir concert at Wits University. Image: www.jewishsa.co.za

The recordings involve two people whom BDS allege are the “organisers” of the concert, saying there were measures taken to make the concert a “Jewish only” one. According to the recordings the organisers also bought out all the tickets.  This is apparently to conduct background checks on those who tried to buy tickets.

“Those making these accusations are the self-same activists whose members were responsible for the disgraceful break-up of a piano recital by an Israeli musician on the same campus earlier this year,” said Krengel.

He was referring to the concert by an Israeli musician that was “disrupted” in March. Eleven Wits student who were part of the protest at that concert were later charged by Wits for “possible contravention of the university’s codes of conduct”.

[pullquote align=”right”]”Bullying tactics of those who do not scruple to undermine those freedoms in order to push their own radical political agendas.” [/pullquote]

A Wits PhD student, Serge Tshibangu, said the allegations made by BDS were false because he had ordered a ticket and had received confirmation of the order, even though he is “African”: I totally disagree that it is a racist concert.”

Tshibangu said he ordered his tickets on Monday.  He had to give his full names and identification number to buy the ticket but he understood it was so his ID number could be checked by Campus Control officers when he arrived at the concert.

Krengel said he “applauded Wits University for upholding the democratic values and freedoms that have made it so fine an academic institution and for its forthright rejection of the intimidatory, bullying tactics of those who do not scruple to undermine those freedoms in order to push their own radical political agendas.”

BDS has said it would protest outside the event.

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.

 

SRC members face charges

ELEVEN members of the Wits community, including eight SRC members, have been charged for disrupting the performance of an Israeli-born pianist.

“The university can confirm that it has charged 11 members of the Wits community for a possible contravention of the university’s codes of conduct,” read a statement issued by Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa.

SRC Internal Vice President Tokelo Nhlapo said eight of the 11 people are SRC members. Five of those SRC members charged are also part of the executive: President Sibulele Mgudlwa, External Vice President Joy Phiri, Secretary Tasneem Essop, Treasurer Justice Nkomo.

Nhlapo is also a member of the SRC executive and is among those charged.

Nhlapo said members of the Palestinian solidarity movement on campus had also been charged.

Nongxa said the matter would not go before a Student Disciplinary Committee and, instead, senior counsel had been appointed “to chair the hearing, and to carry out all of its functions and to exercise all its powers.”

The vice chancellor said the university did not want to make any judgement about the outcome of the investigations as the legal process needs to take its course.

The disciplinary proceedings are the result of a protest during a March 12 performance by Yossi Reshef, a pianist who was born in Israel. Members of the Progressive Youth Alliance, Muslim Students Alliance, Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the SRC entered the venue singing songs, blowing vuvuzelas and brought the concert to a halt.

Nhlapo said the charges against them were without basis and were “in the interest of racism of Zionism.”

“Not only is the university threatening us with charges but doing so in the interest of racism and Zionism. Legal office has become a political tool in which Nongxa and his cronies can continue to sing and play pianos while Palestinians die,” said Nhlapo.

He claimed the charges had come only after the SRC complained of racial profiling at the concert.

“Only white people were allowed into the venue and our colleague who had bought tickets was not allowed in because she was Indian and presumed Muslim,” said Nhlapo.

He said the protestors had been called names such as “barbarians, terrorists and many other degrading terms by the organisers of the event.”