SA professor speaks outside French university after ban

A University of Johannesburg professor addressed an audience outside the gates of a French university after he was banned from speaking at the institution yesterday.

Despite being banned from speaking at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in France yesterday, Professor Farid Esack still managed to deliver a lecture on “Israel as an Apartheid State” at the main gates of the institution.

Esack is a professor in the Study of Islam, and Head of the Department of Religion Studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and also chairs the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa board. He was due to speak at the public research university in Paris as part of the Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) but was not able to after complaints were received by the institution.

“A pretty sad sight for France which turned out in their hundreds of thousands to defend ‘freedom of speech’ only a few months ago,” said Esack.

“The major allegations was that I was violent and anti-Semitic. The basis for this?”

“The major allegations was that I was violent and anti-Semitic. The basis for this?” asks Esack

According to Esack, allegations of violence against BDS supporters during the Boycott Woolworths campaign were ascribed to him as the chair of the organisation. “This was the sum of the Israeli lobby’s petition to French universities,” Esack continues.

Esack also addressed allegations that he is anti-Semitic by saying, “believe it or not, it all started with Dubula-i-Juda story that was first printed in Vuvuzela!” he exclaims.

According to Esack, BDS South Africa’s (through coordinator Mohammed Desai), attempts to explain the Wits incident “in the context of larger liberation struggle songs was presented as proof that I am anti-Semitic.”

“The BDS Board, which I chair and of which Desai is a member as the organization’s director, concurred with, unambiguously condemned that incident and BDS reaffirms its commitment to non-violence as its way of responding to the crimes of occupation and dispossession committed against the Palestinian people.”

 

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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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.

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.

Israel independence celebrated while Palestinian supporters protest

Camels, jumping castles and free falafels were all part of the unusual 66th Israel Independence Day celebrations at Wits yesterday.

But while some Witsies crossed the library lawns on the back of a camel, the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) held a film screening to protest the celebrations.

The film based on the life of “terrorist” fighter Leila Khaled was used as a means of showing the desperation of the Palestinian people who are fighting for their independence.

While the film was being screened, some members of the Wits PSC protested on the library lawns alongside the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJUS) who celebrated Israel’s independence.

Several protesters said Israel had blood on its hands because the state was created “through the blood of Palestinians.”

Members of the Wits PSC insisted that while the film focused on violent means of protest, the PSC itself believed in a non-violent approach to the dispute between the two nations. Aaliyah Mohammed, a member of the PSC, says the committee fights by calling for sanctions and boycotts on Israeli academic, cultural and sport activities.

Another committee member, Muhammed Ismail Bulbulia added: “Until the very end, I would fight for what I believe in provided I’m justified in fighting for it.”

Both the protest and the celebrations were conducted next to each other but no incidents were reported.

 

 

OPINION: Active justice

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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.

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.