/ 12 August 2011

Students outraged by Israel mission

South African students have spoken out against what they call “Israeli apartheid agents” who plan to visit South African universities in an effort to improve the country’s image.

The delegation of 22 Israeli twenty-somethings from a group called What Is Rael will arrive in South Africa next week. The group will visit universities in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, with a focus on the University of Johannesburg, which earlier this year cut research ties with Ben Gurion University in Jerusalem.

But South African student groups, including the South African Union of Students, the South African Student Congress and the Young Communist League of South Africa, are unhappy about their arrival, claiming that they are coming to “deceive” South African students about the situation in Israel.

“Don’t patronise us,” reads a statement issued by the groups. “We lived apartheid, we suffered apartheid, we know what apartheid is, we recognise apartheid when we see it. And when we see Israel, we see a regime that practises apartheid. Israel’s image needs no changing, its policies do. We urge Israeli students to instead join the growing and inspiring internal resistance to their regime, particularly the boycott-from-within movement, rather than waste time and money on these propaganda trips.”

According to Roi Wolf, a spokesperson for the Israeli delegation, which is made up of Israeli students between the ages of 21 and 31, it was “upset by the false narrative and anti-Israel propaganda that has been perpetuated on campuses across South Africa by certain groups of people”.

“These groups are spreading an unbalanced view of Israel. We think it is important that students see another side of the story. We wanted to offer ourselves as a resource to any student who has questions about our country and engage them in honest and open dialogue.” The students plan to set up a marquee on campus and hold panel discussions.

Wolf said the trip was funded by the students, private donors and Israeli universities.

Palestinian students have also written letters to local student organisations urging them to boycott the visit, calling it a “whitewash of Israeli apartheid and war crimes”.

The letter from the Palestinian Student’s Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel to local student groups says: “The very fact [the Israeli students] are visiting you reaffirms for so many Palestinians what we cannot do, where, especially here in Gaza.

Veteran MP Ben Turok, who agreed to address a South African Union of Jewish Students gathering at Wits on the development of ANC economic policy, was asked by student activists to cancel his talk over the presence of the Israeli delegation.

On Thursday he released a statement saying he would go ahead “in the interest of providing insight into ANC policy”, but would “make clear [his] lifelong rejection of Zionism as a solution to anti-semitism worldwide”.