The true face of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS) was revealed on the steps leading up to the Great Hall at Wits by a group of protesters who hurled abuse at attendees of a concert by Daniel Zamir, an Israeli jazz quartet last Wednesday. Things turned ugly when some of the protestors chanted Dubula e Juda — “shoot the Jew” – outside the venue. Protesters also called for the destruction of Israel — “down, down Israel”.

Rather than condemning this incitement to violence against South African Jews and distancing his organisation from those calls Muhammed Desai, co-ordinator of BDS-SA, sought to justify it. As quoted by the Wits Vuvuzela, he said, “Just like you would say kill the Boer at funeral during the eighties it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime”. Desai further commented, “The whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion”.

Generally the world doesn’t flinch when Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and even certain mullahs call for “death to Jews” or for Israel to be wiped out. They regularly proclaim this from their pulpits, their presidents and their political charters or manifestos. Somehow, people have become inured to calls for Israel to be destroyed. Few question why, the only Jewish state should be so maliciously targeted. These calls are now uttered with such frequency that they have garnered mainstream acceptability. The BDS movement is so resolutely focussed on cleansing the world of anything or anyone Israeli, trumpeting human-rights concerns, that it conceals its true agenda, to destroy the Jewish state. This has been enunciated by the poster boy of the BDS movement, Norman Finkelstein. The human-rights of the majority, who happen to be Jews, are inconsequential to them. These anti-Jewish slogans lay bare the hidden agenda of the BDS campaign, to destroy Israel, rather than propagate Palestinian rights. If BDS was sincerely interested in fostering Palestinian rights, they would voice their concerns for the treatment of Palestinians who live in Arab countries, where they suffer more discrimination and exclusion than in Israel.

Earlier this year, on university campuses around South Africa, during the obscenely named hate festival Israel Apartheid week calls likening Jews to “devils”, “murderers”, “colonialists” and “racists”, resonated around educational facilities. At the university a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC) was charged and found guilty of “hate speech”. He is now serving a relatively light sentence of 50 hours of community service. At Wits university, we await the outcome of a disciplinary procedure against 11 students, mainly members of the SRC for attacks and threats against Jews and Israelis, when they disrupted the concert of Israeli pianist Yossi Reshef.

The Zionist Federation is concerned that our youth are exposed to this vitriol, where calls for “death to Zionism” are so widespread and tolerated. It is frightening how many young South Africans have been incited into behaving in an overtly anti-Semitic manner on campus and even more frightening that they do not consider this to be anti-Semitic behaviour by still trying to justify their acts, as Desai has done.

By disavowing Zionism, the right of Jews to live in their own state is disavowed. This is a fundamental right enjoyed by every nation, and by denying it to Jews, it is flagrantly anti-Semitic and racist. As South Africans, we are only too aware of the destructive legacy of apartheid and feel that attempts by the BDS movement to disappropriate those who suffered under it, to be morally wrong, hurtful and inappropriate. Until Israel is treated and evaluated on the same basis as other states, all attempts to single out only Israel for opprobrium and blame , particularly when the whole region is in turmoil, should be deemed as anti-Semitic rather than anti-Zionist.


  • Ben studied at Wits, the Hebrew University, London School of Economics and University of Pretoria. He has two master’s degrees and has written four books on anthropology. He was the founding member of Jews for Justice, which took a stand against apartheid and provided assistance to victims of violence in Crossroads. He started Boston House College, a multiracial school in 1979. He currently serves as chairperson of the SA Zionist Federation in the Cape Council. He is married with four children.


Ben Levitas

Ben studied at Wits, the Hebrew University, London School of Economics and University of Pretoria. He has two master’s degrees and has written four books on anthropology. He was the founding member of...

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