Israelis Defend Their Country Against ‘Apartheid’ Smear on South African Campuses
JNS.org – Wanana Abrams, a 28-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian origin, calls herself “just one of countless examples — along with thousands of other religious and ethnic minorities — of why the term ‘apartheid’ does not apply to the liberal democratic Jewish state.”
Fittingly, then, Abrams was one of two representatives from Israel’s Herzliya-based Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) to travel to the South African city of Cape Town in March to counter anti-Zionist activists’ “apartheid” smears about Israel.
“I traveled to South Africa to tell my story, and to show the world the true face of my home country,” Abrams, a communications major at IDC and a resident of Netanya, told JNS.org.
The IDC representatives — Abrams and 28-year-old Mor Dagan of Tel Aviv — made the trip as part of a special public diplomacy program to advocate for the Jewish state during on-campus “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) protests around the world. The annual IAW protests carry added significance in South Africa, given the anti-Israel movement’s attempts to portray the Jewish state as an institutionally racist country akin to South Africa’s 20th-century apartheid regime.
This year’s IAW demonstrations in South Africa began on campuses in Johannesburg at the beginning of March, and migrated to universities in Cape Town two weeks later.
And several of this year’s protests devolved into outright antisemitic exhibitions, including protests at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg and the University of Cape Town (UCT), that involved the waving of flags with the insignias of the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups. IAW events in South Africa also featured some protesters giving Nazi salutes while goose-stepping towards Jewish students.
The IDC representatives were invited to South Africa by the Jewish Federation of Cape Town and the South African Union of Jewish Students. The Israeli representatives received specialized advocacy training during their university’s public diplomacy course prior to arriving in Cape Town.
Abrams and Dagan are also involved in a start-up called ACT.IL, which aims to positively influence international public opinion about Israel. Dagan currently serves as ACT.IL’s creative and content director, and Abrams is an intern for the start-up.
IDC’s special advocacy training programs were developed in response to bias against Israel at the United Nations, and worldwide. The attempt to misrepresent Israel as an “apartheid state” is just one of several anti-Israel trends that the program seeks to combat.
One of the most hostile campuses that the Israelis visited was UCT, which has approximately 250 Jewish students, out of 27,000 enrolled at the school.
During the IAW protests at the school each year, UCT’s Jewish students say that they become a besieged minority and receive little sympathy from UCT officials. Many of UCT’s Jewish students also say that they are so intimidated by the large anti-Israel and antisemitic presence during IAW that they remain absent from campus when the protests occur.
Known antisemites — such as the head of the anti-Israel BDS movement in South Africa, Muhammed Desai — are given an open platform during IAW, and are reportedly encouraged by many of the school’s senior faculty members who openly support the anti-Israel protests.
At this year’s IAW protests at UCT, Desai reportedly echoed previous antisemitic statements he has had made, and said that he “agreed with what Hitler did.” The UCT event also saw anti-Israel protesters performing Nazi salutes.
When speaking on the UCT campus, Abrams was surrounded by a large group of antagonistic protesters, who shouted angrily at her and exclaimed that her mother was forcibly “sterilized” by the Israeli government upon arriving in Israel from Ethiopia.
In a video of the incident that went viral on pro-Israel social media pages, the young Ethiopian Israeli can be seen standing her ground when faced with the protesters, and explaining that her mother was not sterilized, but received birth control supplements. The heated encounter ended with Abrams demanding that the protestors “stop spreading lies” about Israel.
“Most of the accusations they make against Israel are completely inaccurate and based on lies. Unfortunately, there are also a few Jews and even some Israelis among the anti-Israel crowd who fuel their ignorance,” Abrams said.
Other pro-Israel advocates who made their voices heard at the Cape Town campus during IAW included black South African students who had traveled to Israel and testified about how their personal experiences in the Jewish state refuted claims of “apartheid.”