As a general rule, if a person doesn’t want his or her anti-Israel activism confused for anti-Semitism, it’s best not to say things like, “I love Adolf Hitler.” And in the unfortunate event that one lets slip such an admission, it’s definitely not advisable to defend it in an 800-word statement. And yet, this is exactly what Mcebo Dlamini, a strident Israel boycott advocate, and student body president of one of South Africa’s oldest universities, did this past week.
Dlamini, the elected student leader of Wits University in Johannesburg, made the offending comment on Facebook “below a graphic comparing modern Israel to Nazi Germany,” reported the student newspaper, The Wits Vuvuzela. (Dlamini did not explain why, if Hitler was such an admirable statesman, Israel should be condemned for following his example.)
When challenged by the paper on his remarks, Dlamini did not back down. “What I love about Hitler is his charisma and his capabilities to organize people,” he said. “We need more leaders of such caliber. I love Adolf Hitler.” Hitler, the paper laconically noted by way of response, “is generally blamed for triggering World War II and sending over 6-million Jews to death camps as well as Roma, communists and homosexuals.”
Dlamini, however, was undeterred. “I have researched about president Adolf Hitler. I have read books about president Adolf Hitler. I have watched documentaries about president Adolf Hitler,” he insisted. And upon hearing that the university’s vice chancellor had condemned his comments and opened a disciplinary investigation, Dlamini released an 800-word statement, effectively doubling down.
It’s tempting to view this as an isolated incident involving one particularly troubled young man. But this is not the case. Across South Africa, activists aligned with the country’s radical Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel have repeatedly been unmasked as anti-Semitic. Just this past February, the student council of the Durban University of Technology called for Jewish students to be expelled, telling a local paper, “We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” And in March, anti-Israel demonstrators, led by officials from the country’s ruling ANC party, were caught on camera threatening to kill Jews and drive them out of the country.
In fact, activists associated with the Israel boycott movement have repeatedly conflated Israel with local Jews, harassed and threatened violence against those Jews, and given voice to classical anti-Semitic tropes, as I noted back in February:
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.
As this escalating abuse emanates from the BDS movement’s allies and activists, the question now becomes: will the organization’s international leadership condemn it? Or are prejudices only worth fighting when they can be blamed on Jews–but not when they target them?
Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.