The University of Cape Town's Senate meeting last week made a failed attempt to reverse a landmark March resolution by the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) that "UCT will not formally engage with Israeli academic institutions working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as other Israeli academic institutions that allow serious human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "
A statement by UCT scientists and a legal opinion by Professor John Dugard and a letter from more than 65 South African Jews (including myself) were part of an effort to prevent this repeal.
In response to our letter, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) published an angry article in Mail & Guardian (1
A specific Zionist posture is needed to colonize and occupy Palestine, trying to expose Israel for crimes against humanity.
When South African Jews pronounce and reject Israel's crimes, the Commission of Deputies poses a challenge to its authority – it seems necessary to respond and delegitimize not only our attitudes but also our Jewish identity.
In the Board's M & G article, recently signed by Deputy Director David Saks, we are referred to as "certain South Africans" of Jewish descent, questioning our identity, our current status as Jews. SAJBD Chairman Shaun Zagnoev referred to a "fictitious Jewish-sounding name" in a statement for the SAJR.
Like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saks and Zagnoey see it as their prerogative to declare us who is a good Jew and who is of Jewish descent and thus a bad "self-hating" Jew.
What gives such a right to such leaders of a right-wing Zionist establishment?
Saks strives to belittle us as a kind of radical minority – as if the call for an end to the colonization of the Palestinian land was incorrigible, as if the fact that we are a minority of the Jewish community make us an illegitimate and illegitimate Minority is not worth listening to.
Let's not forget that the majority of Germans supported the Nazis, the majority of white South Africans supported apartheid, and the majority of white Americans supported Donald Trump.
Although we are a minority, we remain a vocal and proudly Jewish person on the right side of the story.
What does the chutzpah give me to claim this? Certainly not the kind of arrogance to claim to speak for a diverse religion of different political views. Instead, it is a recognition that we are all human, all fallible, and that when we take positions of power over other people, we maintain that undue authority and derive ideologies that justify our actions.
We must understand the colonization of Palestine by Zionism in these terms.
It is worth noting that Zionism is in fact a borrowed ideology stemming from a history of Christian-evangelical millennialism that became relevant during the Protestant Reformation with the proselytization of Martin Luther himself. His new form of anti-Semitism believed that the expulsion of Jews from Europe and their settlement in the Holy Land would accelerate their conversion to Christianity and the second coming of Christ.
Luther himself wrote: "Who prevents the Jews from returning to their land of Judea? Nobody. We will provide you with all the supplies for your trip, just to get rid of them. They are a heavy burden for us, the catastrophe of our being … "
When the British colonized half the world, this non-Jewish Zionism – often incredibly anti-Semitic – sensed a Jewish colonial movement and the founding of the Jewish Colonization Association of Baron Moritz von Hirsch , Personalities such as Palmerston, Mitford, Gawler and later Churchill established the policy of the empire of Jewish settlement on Palestinian land with Christian Zionism.
This story is important because it is precisely this that makes the expropriation of Palestine by European Jews analogous to Africans and British settlements in southern Africa. Our persecution by the National Socialists and the rest of the anti-Semitic world of Europe has been turned upside down and used to justify a colonial project of violence and expropriation.
It is the inclusion of Christian and Muslim Palestinians in effective Bantustans in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that forces us to see Israel for what it is: not as a home for all Jews, but as a European project of domination. Similar to the three-chamber parliament during apartheid, the 15% of Palestinians who are granted second-class Israeli citizenship are doing something to hide the disenfranchisement of the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and imprisoned in the Gaza Strip.
This situation is not democratic, just as Lucas Mangope's election in Bophuthatswana was democratic under the watchful eyes of Pretoria. (Not surprisingly, Bophuthatswana, like apartheid in South Africa, maintained close ties with and an unofficial embassy in Israel.)
In fact, the new law banning critics from the country has made it clear what Israel has always stood for. The law has excluded not only Muslims such as US legislators Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib or human rights activists such as Professor Katherine Franke and Vincent Warren, but also prominent Jewish critics. Even I can not enter the country to visit my grandmother because it would bully me, interrogate me, search my cell phone and my laptop, and then deport me. It's clear that Israel is not home to all Jews, just for some Jews, the "right" kind of Jews who persecute the Zionist line – or at least keep silent about their atrocities.
For those of us who have been banned – especially when we are at universities – the issue of academic freedom is crystal clear: despite their appearance, Israeli universities are not places where academic freedom is welcome. They are already banning critical academics such as Franke and Sa'ed Atshan from the policy of the State of Israel. Years ago, before the new law was introduced, they also denied entry to Jewish intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are also excluded from visiting Israeli universities. Similarly, many Palestinian students who wish to study abroad are often trapped in the Gaza Strip, an open-air prison. And if they are fortunate enough to get permission to leave, they are often excluded from returning by Israel and Egypt.
Worse is it for West Bank universities, which are regularly closed by the Israeli army, and in Gaza, where they are destroyed by bombs.
International academics and students are also regularly prohibited from settling at universities such as Birzeit in Ramallah, through a complex and opaque visa procedure. Just read what happened to the English professor Haneen Adi or the law student from Columbia, who has been hired by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. What kind of academic freedom is that?
Saks wants us to defend an abstract principle of academic freedom for Israeli universities while ignoring the existing violations of academic freedom committed by Israel itself. A "reverse discrimination" can not exist here.
The call by the UCT Senate to sever relations not with Israeli Jews but with complicit Israeli universities, which have already enshrined discrimination in their way of being, is nothing but the defense of academic freedom.
It is a fundamental and reasonable assertion that the UCT refuses to participate in discrimination, occupation and domination.