Every year around the world, anti-Israel groups host an "Israel Apartheid Week," (IAW) a global campaign of hate that dehumanizes Israelis and often seeks to intimidate Jewish university students. This movement has significant momentum, specifically in South Africa, leaving local pro-Israel students with an overwhelmingly hostile campus climate.
In 2022, IAW was held March 21-28.
StandWithUs is annually invited by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) for the on-the-ground delegation to support Jewish students in South Africa during BDS’ Israel Apartheid Week. StandWithUs Israel Director of Partnerships Noa Raman led a delegation of Israelis from all backgrounds: Druze, Brazilian, Moroccan, and Jerusalemite Israeli. This delegation serves as the backbone of the pro-Israel campaign and was led by the South African Union of Jewish Students.
The campaign included many triumphant moments such as Spread Hummus not Hate day, empowering students with student voices like Yara, from the StandWithUs Israeli delegation team who shared her story of growing up as a Druze-Israeli and former Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan.
While BDS used the week to spread antisemitic, division, and hate through their ironically named United Against Racism campaign, SAUJS along StandWithUs spread positivity, hope, and encouraged dialogue through our successful Heal Over Hate campaign. These events were undoubtedly remarkable, however, the true success was the dialogue between students and Israeli delegates. Noa shared with us, “an absolute highlight of the week was witnessing students reclaim their identity by having honest conversations with their peers about being proud Jews and Israel's history.
Through conversations, we debunked the misconceptions and lies made by BDS about Israel. We spread awareness that Israel is an asset not only for South Africa but for all of Africa. Our message throughout the week was to encourage healing over hating.
This was in contrast to the hate-filled campaign endorsed by BDS, an organization that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, dialogue and healing that they choose to disrespect the rules wherever they could. Throughout the week they ripped down SAUJS posters, went behind the administrations back to deface SAUJS’s peaceful mural, and their most nasty action was painting a SAUJS t-shirt in “blood stained” paint.
Manipulative and despicable tactics of BDS are not new. The administration will handle such behavior accordingly. Meanwhile SAUJS and StandWithUs stood their ground and were not intimidated by such actions. The StandWithUs team launched an effective response for students on the ground; we organized an educated and trained team of Israeli delegates to mobilize pro-Israel students, help develop an effective educational campaign with tailored strategies and messaging, and engage hundreds of South African students during IAW. SA students will feel empowered to stand proud with their cultures, religions, identities and beliefs and push back against antisemitism.
Tuesday, March 22 we spent the day on the Wits University campus, which has a similar campus climate to UC Berkeley. It was a successful day of dialogue. Israeli delegates spent the day educating South African students on where Israel is on the map, the history of the Jewish people, and the misconceptions. Udi Asraf, one of the Israeli delegates, went over to BDS's booth and had productive conversations with SJP. Some SJP students even agreed that Apartheid is not the correct term for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Overall, the day on campus was spent having constructive conversations. SA students love the SWU swag and booklets. After campus, SAUJS & the Israeli Delegates visited Constitution Hill (SA Supreme Court) to learn about the history of SA, Apartheid, and SA today.
Wednesday, March 23: Upon the students' request, the Israeli delegates split up and went to the University of Capetown, Tuks University, and Wits University.
University of Capetown UCT, March 24: Udi and Shaya headed to the University of Capetown. They discussed strategies with student leaders and talked about life in Israel. After, they tabled on campus and eagerly talked to UCT students who wanted to learn more about Israel.
Quotes: "We had an incredible time with the delegates. We are so lucky to have StandWithUs on campus. The delegates had amazing conversations with students, and we really appreciate the support."
Tuks University in Pretoria: Wednesday morning, SAUJS received news that BDS was planning a counter-event at Tuks. Yara and I went to support the students on campus. In prep for IAW, SAUJS rented out the main "expression" wall on campus where students can freely paint. Unfortunately, BDS decided to paint from the river to the sea on the bottom. See photo.
Thursday, March 25: Today was a great day at Wits University and Tuks University. Many students were nervous because Thursday is usually the day BDS infiltrates SAUJS events. In addition, BDS has been quiet all week, so the students shared their anxieties about being a Jew on campus and how IAW makes them feel unsafe on campus. Thanks to the StandWithUs Delegates, the students from all campuses felt super supported and empowered to be Zionists by the end of the day.
Wits: Following the tabling, the main Thursday event was Yara, who participated in SWU Israel's fellowship. She shared her personal story about growing up as a Druze-Israeli in Daliat El Carmel. Then Sarah Idan spoke. Sarah Idan spoke highly of Roz, Michael, and SWU in general.
BDS's counter-campaign was insignificant. It was three students who planned to have a balloon release in solidarity with Palestinians suffering in Gaza. In response, I quickly organized, with the help of SWU digital, a video and to print photos on posters of what balloons represent in Southern Israel.
The South African Friends of Israel, a Christian group, came to support the students on campus. They welcomed everyone with singing and dancing.
Please see the video attached.
Tuks University: Shaya and Keren went to support the students who were also anticipating a protest.
There were no protests or infiltrations of the SAUJS. But "someone" left a shirt painted with blood on it. The Jewish Board of Deputies in SA is handling it and speaking to the administration.
Overall, the day was captured by students empowered by StandWithUs and Healing over Hating. For Friday, the week of IAW was wrapped up with yoga led with me.