By Tali Feinberg | South African Jewish Report | Nov 3, 2022
“South Africa is ground zero for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement, and has one of the most violent and antisemitic Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) campaigns in the world,” says Noa Raman, the director of partnerships in Israel, who has been leading StandWithUs’ efforts in South Africa for the past four years.
For this reason, StandWithUs is opening offices in South Africa. “We’re making the full resources of our organisation available to our partners, young people, and the community at large in South Africa,” says Michael Dickson, the executive director of StandWithUs Israel. “This includes educational curricula, research, factsheets and booklets, best practices, our vast social media presence, our Holocaust Education Centre, and our Centre for Combating Antisemitism.”
Cassandra Mayekiso has been appointed executive director of the local office in Johannesburg, and Kayla Ginsberg is the new campus regional manager.
Says Mayekiso, “In recent years, StandWithUs has sent a delegation of educators to South African universities [the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, and University of Johannesburg] to combat IAW. There was always the request to cater to the community and high schools. This led to StandWithUs South Africa being created.”
StandWithUs South Africa will provide educational material, curriculum, seminars, and access to a broad network of Israeli educators directed at schools, university campuses, and community events.
“Establishing StandWithUs South Africa on the ground will empower the next generation to learn the history, facts, and skills needed to educate about Israel and push back against falsehoods about the Jewish state and anti-Jewish bigotry,” Raman says. “StandWithUs South Africa will inspire communities to be proud of their culture, religion, identities, and beliefs.”
The move comes after a history of collaboration: StandWithUs has been working with South Africans for more than a decade. In addition, hundreds of South Africans have visited the StandWithUs Katz Israel Education Center in Jerusalem.
Now, thanks primarily to the generosity of Steve and Rita Emerson, the founders of the international university Emerson Fellowship, StandWithUs is ready to set up on-the-ground efforts to provide deeper and ongoing support for students as well as for the general community who seek to push back against the misinformation that too often clouds discussion on Israel and the Middle East.
Mayekiso was the co-founder of the Africa for Israel Christian Coalition, and previously volunteered in Jerusalem. Upon returning to Cape Town, she joined the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) as national Zionist officer. After graduating, she went on to work at Highlight Films in Tel Aviv, where she gained experience at one of Israel’s biggest production houses.
She again returned to Cape Town to work in the film and commercial industry, and assisted in the growth of various pro-Israel organisations. She was the director of SAUJS in the Western Cape, and was also South African Friends of Israel co-ordinator, where she worked closely with the South African Zionist Federation and Christian Zionist partners.
StandWithUs has an important role to play in South Africa because “there’s a rise in antisemitism, and the South African Jewish and Christian Zionist communities have expressed a need for ongoing support from StandWithUs,” she says.
“In addition to new local educational programming on the ground, we’ll continue to offer an array of initiatives to South African youth spending time in Israel,” says Dickson. “We have had so many requests – especially from students – to grow our presence on the ground, and I’m pleased that we’ll be able to complement, not duplicate, existing work in order to collectively grow in effectiveness through partnerships.”
“This work remains incredibly necessary, albeit isolating and hugely unpopular, but it’s increasingly important to educate on Israel and combat antisemitism,” says Mayekiso. “I lived in Israel and saw first-hand how damaging the propaganda is that’s shared online and by the media about Israel. Thus, I have spent the past 10 years working closely with students and communities in sharing my very real experiences as a black, Christian, woman living in South Africa.”
StandWithUs South Africa has opened an office in Johannesburg, and is launching the Emerson Fellowship for university students “who want to learn and grow in combating antisemitism and the BDS movement”.
StandWithUs South Africa will also assist SAUJS to counter demonstrations during IAW, “along with highly trained on-the-ground delegations and materials that will best equip students and community members. There will also be virtual learning opportunities for students who wish to engage outside the confines of IAW,” says Mayekiso.
Asked how StandWithUs will respond to the jaded attitude of many young people towards Israel, she says, “StandWithUs South Africa aims to reignite the spark for young Jewish students through providing educational material, access to interesting speakers, virtual tours of Israel, and through the opportunity to apply to the Emerson Fellowship, which is all of this and much more.
“The Emerson Fellowship will be launching on Friday, 4 November, with applications for cohort one opening the following week,” she says. “This is an incredible opportunity for university student leaders to commit to a one-year learning programme in which they will connect with Emersons all over the world while learning about Israel.”
Says Wendy Kahn, the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, “We welcome StandWithUs to South Africa. For many years, it has supported our community in preparing our students to stand up against the assault on our right to have a relationship with Israel. Giving our young people the tools and know-how to defend their rights to be proud Zionists in South Africa brings an exciting new component to our vibrant community.”
“We are excited to be investing more deeply in our operation in South Africa and welcome our new team,” says Roz Rothstein, the chief executive and co-founder of StandWithUs. “Our work will involve Jewish and non-Jewish communities to inspire people of all ages about Israel with exciting programming. And together, we’ll work to push back against the egregious, slanderous claims made by antisemitic activists.”