South African Jewish Community Protests Foreign Minister's Call for Anti-Israel Demonstrations

South Africa's Jewish community protested Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor's call for intensified anti-Israel demonstrations on university campuses. The peaceful protest faced verbal and physical abuse, with protesters being shouted at and spat at.

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Bijay Laxmi
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South African Jewish Community Protests Foreign Minister's Call for Anti-Israel Demonstrations

South African Jewish Community Protests Foreign Minister's Call for Anti-Israel Demonstrations

South Africa's Jewish community staged a protest on Friday against Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor's recent call for intensified anti-Israel demonstrations by students and university leaders. The protesters, organized by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), gathered at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg, citing concerns about incitement to violence and antisemitism.

Why this matters: The controversy surrounding Pandor's remarks highlights the growing tensions between Israel and South Africa, with potential implications for diplomatic relations and regional security. Furthermore, the incident underscores the need for governments and educational institutions to balance free speech with the safety and well-being of all students, particularly those from minority communities.

During a lecture at the University of Johannesburg, Pandor urged greater university and student activism and boycotts against Israel, accusing it of "scholasticide" and "systemic obliteration of education in Gaza." She encouraged students to become anti-Israel activists, saying, "My expectation is after our talk, you will become activists." The SAJBD argued that Pandor's remarks risked compromising the safety of Jewish students on university campuses.

The peaceful protest, consisting of 15 people, faced verbal and physical abuse from passersby. Protesters were shouted at, with some being called "Zionist" in an accusatory tone. One protester had a poster pulled out of her hands, was spat at, and told to "f**k off." Police eventually relocated the protesters from outside the convention center as they chanted "No space for Jew hate."

Wendy Kahn, national director of the SAJBD, condemned Pandor's comments, stating, "We were horrified that Minister Pandor... called to import the violence and antisemitism that is plaguing university campuses in the United States to our local campuses in South Africa." Kahn argued that Pandor's remarks risked inciting violence and intimidation on South African campuses, compromising the education of all students.

The protest comes amid a wave of anti-Israel demonstrations on university campuses across the US and globally, marked by chants in support of Hamas and threats against Jewish students. The South African government has been a vocal critic of Israel, temporarily withdrawing its diplomats from Israel and shuttering its embassy in Tel Aviv in response to the October 7 Hamas attack.

The controversy surrounding Pandor's remarks and the subsequent protest highlight the ongoing tensions between Israel and South Africa. As anti-Israel sentiment continues to grow on university campuses worldwide, the Jewish community in South Africa remains concerned about the potential for violence and discrimination against Jewish students.