Yesterday, the Student Representative Council and Progressive Youth Alliance at South Africa’s Durban University of Technology called for their school to expel its Jewish students. “As the SRC, we had a meeting and analysed international politics,” SRC secretary Mqondisi Duma told a local paper. “We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” The demand was immediately rejected by the school’s vice chancellor as “totally unacceptable.”
That anti-Israel students and self-styled progressives would seek to kick Jews out of college in South Africa might seem shocking at first glance. But to anyone who has followed the country’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the push should come as no surprise. In fact, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the illiberal and frequently anti-Semitic actions of the anti-Israel activist community in South Africa.
Conflating all Jews with Israel and its policies–and attacking them for it–is textbook anti-Semitism. It is also increasingly common in South Africa. This past September, a senior official from the country’s ruling ANC party pulled out of a conference celebrating the Jewish role in the fight against apartheid that had been organized by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. The move was praised by the ANC Youth League, which had organized a pro-Palestinian protest against the event. These actions came just after the ANC and several other organizations released a statement declaring, “We are now heightening our campaign aimed at boycotting and isolating Israel as a state founded on the basis of apartheid, which according to international law and several UN conventions is a crime against humanity.” (In fact, Israel was established by the United Nations.)
In late July, Tony Ehrenreich, the leader of the Western Cape branch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the ANC’s former mayoral candidate in Cape Town, threatened to boycott the local Jewish community over the Gaza war, and called for them to leave the country if they would not renounce Israel. “If the Jewish Board of Deputies wants to advance a Zionist agenda, they should leave South Africa and go advance their agenda elsewhere,” Ehrenreich wrote. “The Jewish Board of Deputies must be advised in no uncertain terms that if they are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem.” He ended with an ultimatum: “The Jewish Board of Deputies are given until the 07 August 2014 to stop their Zionist propaganda in Cape Town, failing which we will boycott and call strikes at all of their member – and supporting companies and organisations.”
Two weeks later, Ehrenreich added some incitement to violence to his bigoted blaming of South Africa’s Jews for alleged Israeli actions, writing on Facebook, “The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the People of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”
These are not outliers–they are the words and actions of prominent officials and organizations in the vanguard of South Africa’s BDS movement. These are the same boycott activists that last month hosted Leila Khaled–who hijacked TWA and El Al planes as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–and who in October placed a pig’s head in the kosher section of a Cape Town supermarket. Under the guise of attacking Israel, these activists have repeatedly assailed their country’s Jews. The effort to expel Jews from the Durban University of Technology is but the latest act in this ugly campaign.
Ironically, the global BDS movement has premised its call to boycott Israel on the equation of contemporary Israel with apartheid South Africa–a comparison it strenuously insists is not motivated by anti-Semitism but rather anti-Zionism. Yet, in the very birthplace of apartheid, the movement’s own advocates can’t seem to distinguish between the two.