Representatives of South Africa’s oldest and largest student bodies in Johannesburg hosted a press conference on Thursday in which they denounced the upcoming visit by a delegation of Israeli officials and propagandists to South African college campuses.
In the past five years, Israeli public relations professionals and governmental officials have traveled across the world in order to promote a “positive image” of Israel through its multi-million-dollar “Brand Israel” hasbara (propaganda) campaign, and this upcoming visit includes some 150 Israelis meted out to 5 colleges in order to “create some doubt in their [South African students’] minds” — most likely because of recent actions in support of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) call.
Calling for a strengthening of the BDS movement across South Africa, the students declared that “all SA campuses must be Apartheid-Israel free zones” in a statement following the press conference.
The students, representing the South African Union of Students (SAUS), the South African Student Congress (SASCO) and the Young Communist League (YCL), stated that the visit from “Israeli Apartheid agents” was “patronizing,” and re-affirmed their committment to solidarity with Palestinians fighting against Israeli apartheid policies. Several weeks ago, Palestinian students had asked their South African peers to challenge and boycott the Israeli delegation.The South African students’ press release stated:
As with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, international solidarity is key in overcoming Israeli Apartheid. In Nelson Mandela’s words: “It behoves all South Africans, erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice … we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”This move comes after a vote in March by the Senate of the University of Johannesburg to cut ties with Ben Gurion University in Tel Aviv — a historic vote that was supported by more than 400 academics across South Africa and tireless BDS activists, scholars, trade unionists and students. Thursday’s press release by the student representatives continued:
We, students and youth of a post-Apartheid South Africa, who bear the scars of a racist history and who continue to fight for complete liberation, have a duty and responsibility to stand in solidarity with those facing oppression worldwide. Israeli apartheid is one such form of oppression.
Israeli media boast that a mission of 150 Israeli propagandists will be sent to universities in 5 countries to fix Israel’s “serious image problems.” The Israeli mission will begin on South African campuses on the 11th of August, with a delegation that includes at least two aides from the Israeli parliament. A delegation member was clear about the intention of their trip: “We have to create some doubt in their [South African students’] minds.”
Don’t patronize us! 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 practices 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 to deceive us Black students, South Africans have no need for these Muldergate-like trips.
A “major focus” of the Israeli trip will be the University of Johannesburg (UJ). On 1st April 2011 UJ’s Senate, with the full backing of UJ’s Student Representative Council, terminated its institutional relationship with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University. Indeed, UJ set an academic boycott of Israel precedent that all other South African and international universities can follow.
Following UJ’s decision, and in response to a letter sent to us by Palestinian students, we urge all SRCs, student groups and other youth structures to strategize and implement a boycott of Israel and its campaigns. We declare that all SA campuses must be Apartheid-Israel free zones.