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SA institutions tentative over choosing sides in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

More South African institutions have added their voices, some treading lightly, over the conflict between Israel and Palestine. File picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

More South African institutions have added their voices, some treading lightly, over the conflict between Israel and Palestine. File picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 19, 2021


Cape Town - More South African institutions have added their voices, some treading lightly, about the deadly violence between Israel and Palestine.

On Tuesday the University of Cape Town (UCT) released a statement, stating that its executives were “deeply disturbed by the escalating situation”.

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The university, however, would not condemn any party in the conflict which has thus far claimed the lives of least 213 Palestinians, including 61 children.

Last week, Israel attacked the Gaza strip, leaving 1 500 Palestinians wounded, retaliating against rockets fired into the country by Hamas, which have killed 12 Israelis, including two children, and wounded 300 people.

“Our experience with the democratic transition in South Africa is a lesson about the power of empathy, negotiation and compromise. The escalating situation in Israel and Palestine thus serves as a reminder that intractable conflicts can only be solved through peaceful negotiation.

“We encourage both parties involved in this conflict to seek a lasting solution through peaceful negotiation and mediation. In South Africa, we had to imagine a post-apartheid South Africa.

“We had to ensure a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous country, after a long, protracted and violent history. It was only achieved through negotiation between freedom fighters and the government of the day,” read the statement.

Last week, Redhill School in Sandton, Johannesburg, was thrown into the spotlight after it had released a statement by its executive head Joseph Gerassi, urging families to encourage their children to “not discuss the issue at school and to desist from cancelling any other student on social media”.

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The statement was released to avoid cases of bullying and discrimination against pupils. Gerassi said, given the age of the pupils, there was nothing to be gained from arguing and debating the issue.

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) spokesperson Gasant Abarder said: “Universities are typically not the kind of places where homogenous views are held. That is counter-intuitive. The UWC is no different and a contest of ideas and ideologies are encouraged in lectures, debates, and what are increasingly becoming webinars and not seminars.

“However, as an institution, UWC cannot condone any of the violations of human rights, as set out recently in the position of the United Nations on the recent Middle East conflict. UWC is located in a city of great interfaith harmony and it is something that is encouraged at the university as well.”’

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The SA Zionist Federation Cape Council executive director Chaya Singer said they were closely monitoring anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment, at protests and on social media, with concern.

“It is irresponsible for our government and civil society organisations to demonise Israel without condemning the indiscriminate rockets from Gaza raining down on Israeli civilians. These words and actions are inflammatory and divisive among South Africans, who hold a spectrum of different views on the conflict.

“We call on these bodies and individuals to play a constructive role in advocating for peace and dialogue, and to show even-handedness and acknowledge the complexity of the situation.”

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In a joint statement released on Sunday, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation accused the South African government of alienating its Jewish residents and inflaming the situation.

In a recent statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed support for Palestinians, calling Israel’s actions a violation of international law.

“For all who believe in equality, justice and human rights, we cannot but be moved and indeed angered, at the pain and humiliation being inflicted on the Palestinian people; for it echoes our own,” said President Ramaphosa.

Since last week, several protests in solidarity with Palestinians have been held. Yesterday saw a global day of action, in line with strikes across Palestine.

Palestinian ambassador to SA Hanan Jarrar said: “I think, for the first time, the narrative is being changed in favour of Palestine and in public opinion internationally. We are privileged to have the support of both the people in the streets and the government here. There is a harmony in supporting Palestine in SA, due to Madiba. Nobody can understand the plight of Palestine like SA.”

Jarrar said protests should serve as a catalyst for governments to take action, in the form of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Israel.