OPINION: Annual Hate-Fest Known as Israel Apartheid Week (IAW)

Whatsapp image 2019 04 09 at 11.19.42 am
Photo Credit: SAUJS / Every year, Jewish students in South Africa face-off with BDS suppporters.

By Kayla Ginsberg - National Vice-chairperson of SAUJS, 4th year Law student at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS).

Every year, the annual hate-fest known as Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) comes to town in South Africa. This week is an uninformed and untrue political vendetta with the aim of demonizing and delegitimizing the State of Israel. 

It is a week characterized by false accusations; goading and taunting by members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC); with anti-Semitism permeating the atmosphere, that is thinly veiled as anti-Zionism. 

South Africa is distinctly unique in the Israel Apartheid Weeks we endure, largely due to our painful and regrettable history of Apartheid, as well as our political landscape. South Africa is ground zero for BDS, and a breeding ground for Israel Apartheid Week campaigns. Our campuses are thus no strangers to vile anti-Israel campaigns, and BDS and their supporters do not disappoint in ensuring that the week is dictated by hateful rhetoric, incitement and silencing of any views contrary to their own. 

In previous years, we have seen Hitler salutes, graffiti stating “f**k SAUJS” and being told “I would love to kill you because Jews cause problems here”. All of this causes extensive division between fellow South Africans without encouraging any real dialogue or education. As the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), we run a campaign to counter this week, and our aims are twofold. First and foremost, we are creating a safe space for our students who typically feel unsafe due to the fact that this week almost always descends into hate speech and anti-Semitism. And secondly, we are educating and engaging on Israel in a positive manner, dictated by unity and peace.

Photo Credit: SAUJS

With our minds still full of how BDS and the PSC commonly conduct themselves during IAW, my team and I went to work planning our campaign. In previous years, we have striven to engage positively on campus regarding Israel, but year after year we have been met with hostility, insults and intimidation. We were looking for something ground-breaking to intrinsically transform the way we educate about Israel on campus, while concurrently saying to BDS: (1) we are coming to reclaim our narrative; (2) we are no longer taking orders from you about how we educate and engage on Israel; and (3) we are going to expose how anti-Semitism is a natural by-product of Israel Apartheid Week. 

Photo Credit: SAUJS

After countless hours, we came up with our #NoPlaceForHate campaign. Our message was very simple and universal: we are campaigning against inciteful rhetoric, hate speech, intimidation, and saying that in order to have productive and meaningful conversation on the Middle Eastern conflict, the intimidatory tactics need to end. We want to debate the tough nuances; we want to engage in dialogue; and we want to educate on Israel; but first there needs to be mutual respect and understanding that there is absolutely no place for hate on our campuses, or in our country. All of our posters, media, and tactics centered around showing the hateful and anti-Semitic incidents occurring across South Africa during Israel Apartheid Week. We were apprehensive and nervous as this campaign was aiming to be a game-changer, and hasn’t commonly been used in South Africa. We took a deep breath and dove head-first into the campaign.

Photo Credit: SAUJS

Fast-forward to the weekend following Israel Apartheid Week, and I am overflowing with two emotions: immense pride and happiness. From the strategy, to the implementation on the ground, to the unbelievable team I had the privilege of working with, the campaign was a roaring success. I have never been prouder of SAUJS, or our members. We received commentary from general students praising us on the “beautiful atmosphere we created” as well as the “exemplary manner our students conducted themselves in, and educated in”. We stood strong and proud on campus, engaged with students in the most positive manner conducive to tertiary education campuses, and conducted ourselves in a unified manner that truly exemplifies what the pro-Israel lobby stands for. We educated, created dialogue, and debated on all the tough issues, while very clearly telling BDS and the PSC: your days of incitement and hatred are numbered and are coming to an end on our campuses. 

Photo Credit: SAUJS

When BDS and their supporters came with incitement and hatred, we responded with peace and unity. When they came with aggression, we came with love. With this week safely behind us, I can proudly say I fail to remember a more positive Israel Apartheid Week. We transformed a inherently hateful and negative week into one of positivity and education. And while it was exhausting, frustrating, and tiring, the rewarding moments of this past week far outweighed anything else. 

Despite the consistently aggressive nature of BDS, we intend to keep fighting for tolerance, co-existence and a peaceful solution to the conflict. Our campaign will continue throughout the year, as we unflinchingly stand up to any kind of hatred, in any way or any form. South Africa, there is #NoPlaceForHate, and we are going to keep on telling you until you listen.