South African youth on Israel junket threatened with no-show fine

Pro-Israel lobbyists in South Africa supported last year’s attack on Gaza. (Wikimedia Commons)

Pro-Israel lobbyists in South Africa recently threatened a number of youth “leaders” with a hefty fine if they failed to show up for a supposedly free Middle East trip.

Earlier this month, 16 young South Africans deemed as “influential” took part in a junket to Israel and the occupied West Bank. Coordinated by several Zionist organizations, the visit was originally presented to invitees as an all-expenses-paid one.

The 16 were, however, required to sign a contract stating that they would incur a financial penalty if they did not turn up for the flight to Israel.

The contract, seen by The Electronic Intifada, stipulated that those who had agreed to go on the trip would pay “the full 40,000 Rand participation cost” within 30 days if they pulled out. That fine would be paid to the South African Union of Jewish Students and the South Africa-Israel Forum.

Amounting to $3,200, that sum would be prohibitive for most South Africans. It is almost half the national income per capita for 2014.

The most likely explanation for why the organizers included this clause in the contract is that they knew the trip would anger the very many South Africans who view Israel as an apartheid state. This meant there was a risk that those who agreed to take part would withdraw.

The organizers of the trip indicated that it was reserved for South Africa’s “finest young leaders” in letter sent to a number of invitees.


With an itinerary that included two military occupied cities — Jerusalem and Bethlehem — the trip has certainly proven controversial.

The ruling African National Congress has denounced it. Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in the office of President Jacob Zuma, argued that the trip was part of a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine.”

Bapela’s comments drew a hostile response from pro-Israel advocates. In a joint statement, the South African Zionist Federation and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies claimed that participants had “simply exercised their democratic right to freedom of thought and association.”

The groups asked: “Is Mr Bapela afraid that by being exposed to information and opinions that differ from his own, they might end up coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusions?”

Dennis Goldberg, a veteran anti-apartheid activist who was put on trial alongside Nelson Mandela, spoke out against the trip, too. Goldberg condemned the Zionist lobby for trying to present the question of Palestine as “complicated.” Far from being complex, he argued that the situation is one where “a dominant group [Jewish Israelis] exclude the indigenous Palestinian people from equal rights.”

The South African Students Congress (SASCO) also issued a warning against the junket, which it compared to the “sanctions-busting propaganda trips” that racist groups in Europe and the US brought to South Africa in the 1980s.

On their return to South Africa, three students who took part in the trip were suspended from SASCO, pending a disciplinary hearing.


The website South African Jewish Report alleged that BDS South Africa, a group supporting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, approached the trip’s participants, offering them money if they withdrew.

Muhammad Desai, national coordinator with BDS South Africa, has denied that allegation.

Predictably, that website tried to smear Desai with an allegation of anti-Semitism. Making such allegations — generally without any solid evidence — is a tactic that Zionists are using with increasing frequency against Palestine solidarity activists.

The use of this tactic indicates that supporters of Israeli apartheid are growing desperate. Unable to defend the indefensible, they have taken to insinuating that those demanding justice for Palestinians have ulterior motives.

This tactic is a sordid one. And it will not work.


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh