Recordings suggest racial profiling by sponsors of Israeli musician in South Africa

Organizers of a concert for the Israeli jazz musician Daniel Zamir in South Africa are taking surreptitious security measures to ensure that it is a Jews-only event, campaigners allege.

A media release from BDS South Africa states:

This Monday (26 August) the Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee and BDS South Africa made available two audio recordings … with evidence of ethnic racial-profiling and background-checking practiced by pro-Israeli organisations in South Africa (which include the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation and the  controversial Community Security Organisation) who have funded the hosting of an Israeli concert at Wits University in Johannesburg (scheduled to take place today, Wednesday 28 August).

Excerpts from the recordings can be heard in the YouTube clip above. In one of them, a Wits University student is heard to ask “This is a Jewish only event?” to which a representative of the concert organizers answers, “Yes, it is.”

Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee and BDS South Africa have called on the university administration to cancel the Zamir concert for violating a student government resolution calling for boycott of Israel and due to the “irrefutable evidence provided of ethnic racism and racial profiling associated with the event.”

Campaigners also planned an on-campus protest today.

“Racial profiling”

The concert sponsor, Beyachad – which is the headquarters of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation, two pro-Israeli organizations – said it had bought out all the tickets.

It was only reselling tickets to audience members who provided their full names and ID numbers and underwent background checks by the Community Security Organisation (CSO), a communal group that has previously been involved in racial profiling at the university.

According to the BDS South Africa release:

In 2009, incidents of racist treatment by the CSO took place at another pro-Israeli event hosted at Wits University. After students and staff complained that they had been racially profiled and victimized by members of the CSO, the university commissioned an independent investigation by respected advocate Geoff Budlender. This resulted in the 2009 Budlender Report (find here).

The report found that while CSO “did not have a policy of treating members of different racial groups in a different manner,” such differential treatment in fact occurred in practice.

In April 2013, BDS South Africa says, “the CSO was implicated in extra-judicial and violent assaults on two women protestors, including a former Wits student.”

South African Zionist Federation denial

Ben Swartz, spokesperson for the South African Zionist Federation, forcefully denied the allegations or racial profiling in a telephone call with The Electronic Intifada, stating that the accusations were an “absolute lie.”

People of “every religion, every color and faith” would be represented in the audience of the Zamir concert, Swartz insisted. “It is certainly not a Jewish event.”

Asked about the content of the recordings, Swartz said at first that “he hadn’t heard them,” but acknowledged he had “seen transcripts.”

“I’m sure that they were quoted out of context,” Swartz said.

Swartz also claimed that it is illegal in South Africa to record telephone conversations without the consent of all parties. “They have broken the law,” he said of the students who had made the recordings.

However, that does not appear to be the case. South African law does allow any person to record any conversation as long as she or he is a party to it, without the consent of other parties.

Swartz cut short the conversation before there was an opportunity to ask about the other “security” measures described in BDS South Africa’s media release.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.