November 19, 2019

Israeli Apartheid Week in South Africa

“The climactic face-off of the 2019 Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg took place on a wide, sunny plaza, between a statue dedicated to the millions of anonymous miners who had toiled under inhuman conditions to enrich their white masters and build one of the most fundamentally unequal and oppressive societies on earth, and a tent selling gourmet miniature doughnuts. Here was a psycho-political map of today’s South Africa: a recent and cruel history facing the promise of a normal bourgeois existence, with a bunch of confused or angry or radicalized young people in the middle and the invisible majority busy doing something else.

Apartheid week crescendoed this past April with a shouting match between members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the South African Union of Jewish Students in which campus security eventually intervened. A photo of Israeli activist Ashager Araro facing down an irate PSCer captured the weirdness of the scene, with convulsive, finger-wagging anger directed at a young Israeli Ethiopian woman amid signs with pink hearts and the words UNITY WINS. “Classic Thursday,” a SAUJS supporter remarked to me, offering this verbal eye roll as matters escalated. IAW always ends like this.

The week-long anti-Israel event is almost never incident-free at Wits. In previous years, a microphone cable had been cut while an Arab speaker from Israel addressed a SAUJS counterevent. Pro-Palestine activists have goose-stepped past the SAUJS tent; last year’s furor was over PSC-sponsored posters of Anne Frank wearing a keffiyeh. Everyone seems to agree that the PSC went a little too far in hanging black mannequins from trees during IAW in 2016, but it’s not so great the rest of the year, either. In 2013, pro-BDS protesters disrupting a concert by an Israeli jazz group on campus broke into a rousing chorus of “Shoot the Jew.””

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