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Bloody nose for Wits BDS activists

It is surely a measure of my willingness to suffer martyrdom for my faith that I was prepared to endure ninety minutes of ghastly squawking at last night’s jazz recital at Wits. The Daniel Zamir Quartet, comprising four Israeli musicians, was to play in the Great Hall, and it was essential that there be a capacity audience so as to make a statement against the Zanu-PF tactics of the anti-Israel boycott lobby. In March, a recital by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef was torpedoed when dozens of chanting, stomping activists invaded the venue and rapidly brought the event to a close. The Great Hall concert was the “rematch”, and it was important to ensure that it not only was allowed to go ahead but that it was a resounding success as well.

As will be apparent from the above, I abhor jazz. For me (sorry if this sounds pretentious) a jazz recital is like two hours of foreplay without the concluding orgasm. Luckily, the Zamir concert ended up being oversubscribed as other Jewish community members, sundry well-wishers and not a few jazz enthusiasts came forward in their numbers.

The event was undoubtedly a stinging defeat for the boycott lobby. At the time of disrupting the Reshef recital, they had raucously congratulated themselves on their “victory”, but the upshot of their preventing a hundred or so people listening to one Israeli musician had been that over eight hundred ended up listening to four (and this time with the full endorsement and backing of the official Wits leadership). Moreover, disciplinary proceedings have been instituted against the perpetrators of the Reshef debacle, despite extensive pressure being brought to bear by Cosatu and others on the university to drop them.

In a move smacking of desperation, the BDS lobby launched a last-ditch shock-horror expose of alleged “racial profiling” by the organisers, who were said to be making the concert a “Jews Only” event. Actually, and for obvious reasons, efforts were made in the other direction; the more the audience reflected a broad cross-spectrum of society, the more effective would be the statement made against the bully-boy tactics of those trying to force their views on others. In the end, a fair number of the audience were from outside the Jewish community.

BDS activists were reduced to mounting a small protest on the steps of the Great Hall, where the usual emotive declarations were made about making so-called apologists for Israeli apartheid feel unwelcome on university campuses. I must confess to a desire to indulge in some vuvuzela-blowing and heckling myself to drown them out, but then I would just have made myself as guilty as the other side. Living in a democracy means sometimes having to grit your teeth and look the other way.


  • David Saks

    David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.