The student anti-Israel movement in South Africa is more extreme than most. In February, the student government at the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of Jewish students, particularly supporters of Israel. In March, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) responded to a protest in which the lives of Jews were threatened by denouncing the presence of the Community Security Organization, whose purpose is to protect Jews and who were cooperating with local police. The COSAS called the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, an organization that represents South Africa’s Jews, “the Jewish ISIS” that “threatens our sovereignty through, illegal [sic], mercenaries, militia and invasion.” They hastened to add that they had nothing against Jews, but only against those who have long represented them in South Africa, and concluded with this flourish: “Away racist Jewish deputies away!”
It is, therefore, no surprise that the South African Students Congress (SASCO) has gotten into the act by suspending three student members for visiting Israel on a trip sponsored by the South Africa Israel forum. “We view an act by some of our members to visit Israel as crossing the picket line.” This move is more surprising than it seems. As offensive as boycotts like the one adopted by the American Studies Association are, no one there has proposed to discipline members who buck it. SASCO on the other hand, wishes “to state categorically that SASCO is a voluntary organization where members join and subordinate themselves to its constitution, its policies, and its resolutions. Therefore [they] urge all [their] members to respect, defend and advance all decisions of the organization without exception.” SASCO may be an extreme organization, officially aiming to “ensure the destruction of capitalist relations of production and the ushering of a socialist society.” But it is by no means marginal; Haaretz calls it the “biggest South African student organization.”
There is no adult in the room here. Obed Bapela, a deputy minister for Performance, Monitoring, and Evaluation in the President’s office, has said that the ruling African National Congress will investigate the students for bringing the ANC into “disrepute” Bapela, by the way was present at the February protest I mentioned, in which the crowd chanted, among other things, “You Jews do not belong here in South Africa.” Bapela apparently had no problem with that, but did find time to complain of the “foreign force” brought in by the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, reminding the crowd that “South Africa is our country.”
Not all critics of Israel, even harsh critics, are anti-Semitic, but there can be no question about the running together of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in South Africa, a nation in which, according to the Anti-Defamation League, 50 percent of respondents to its survey on attitudes toward Jews agreed that “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” Let’s try to remember that the next time South Africa’s leaders try to school us on solidarity.