The Israel – Palestine conflict plays a large role in South African student politics. Many rally behind it to gain political support for various agendas and others simply see the information provided (by organizations like BDS-SA) and are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause without questioning why and how the whole conflict actually happened.

I do not believe any position on such a sensitive subject should be decided, or publically supported until both the Palestinians and Israelis have had an opportunity to be heard.

During my recent visit as part of a South African student group, I soon realized that we in South Africa lack crucial information about the conflict. Some example include the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, that has now been largely solved and now resides as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the massive impact the Palestinian-Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas has on the Israeli and Palestinian people; the 20 year-old peace process agreements agreed upon by both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government and the terror attacks inflicted upon Israelis and Palestinians by Hamas – a movement which BDS supports. I can now clearly see that there is no one victim in this scenario. It is a very complex and difficult dispute, but people on both sides seem to want peace and are working for it, together – something that would never happen if BDS had its way.

Regarding accusations of apartheid and the like that BDS throws at Israel, I believe Israel has not been given an opportunity to present its case, and therefore is being wrongfully charged. I also believe that BDS has over-stepped in representing the Palestinian people. From what I can see its campaigns, far from helping the Palestinians, are in actuality hurting them and possibly even distancing rather than bringing closer a final peace settlement. During my interaction with the Palestinian people many of them had no idea what BDS, nor were they aware of any actual projects it initiates in Palestine to benefit its people.

So what is the BDS hiding? They went to great lengths to prevent some of the young leaders from going on this trip, even offering a R40 000 bribe for each participant not to go. I asked myself, why had they never offered us to go to Palestine to speak to Palestinians on the ground? If what they preach is the truth, would they not want us to see it?

I now believe it is because they were scared we would find out the truth. The truth is they have continuously lied to us, exaggerating and manipulating South Africans into believing their stories and using us as foot soldiers in their “struggle”.

BDS SA has enjoyed its position of superiority in monopolizing the information flow regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict and they have taken advantage of this to use the people of South Africa for their own personal and political gain. Today, I can say that I have been exposed to much more information, not only from what I heard in Israel and Palestine, but from what I saw.

Regarding the accusation that this was a “free holiday trip”, we had such a tight schedule there was no holidaying about it – it was an educational tour to the letter. On the first day, we were told us to remember two important things, namely: “Ask anything! You are here to expose yourself to the various aspects of Israeli and Palestinian history, society and politics, so leave no question unasked” and, “Remember that no person can tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because as you will come to see there is not one truth in this conflict. But you will see an array of various people, positions and hopes in the conflict”. I believe the trip was conducted this way and that is to be respected.

During the trip, we heard from Israelis and Palestinians, and saw both Israel and Palestine. Frankly, I believe that is what upsets BDS the most, since now they know that we will not blindly believe everything they tell us regarding the conflict. You can be sure Israelis and Palestinians do not agree on everything, but one thing they do agree upon is the need for a peaceful solution leading to an independent Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel. Just that sentence is enough to upset BDS, which believes in forcing Israel to its knees through boycotts and then getting rid of it completely. When BDS has us chant “from the river to the sea”, they mean that no Israeli state will exist. This is not a realistic or justified position, in my view, and not one Palestinian that I spoke to had such a stance either.

As with every educational experience, I came home with more questions, mainly for BDS. I ask BDS, what do you do with all the money you collect from South Africans, that barely have any to give in the first place? Why do you have such an aggressive stance that encourages only hatred and polarisation? What gives you the right to tell free South Africans what they can or cannot do in their own personal capacity? And how is it that you claim to be “under-funded” when you are able to offer R40 000 to each person who agreed not to go on the trip?
I encourage all South Africans to ask these same questions.

It is an insult to our intelligence and freedom that BDS, through threats and intimidation, seeks to control how we think, and I personally will not allow them to do so any longer. If they want to have a debate or educational event, I would be more than happy to attend, but no more one-sided information and no more silencing of voices that contradict what they would have all of us believe.



David Saks writes for the Sunday Tribune on 19 July 2015.

What’s immoral about inviting young people to come and see Israel for themselves?

Shortly after their return from an investigative visit to Israel, ANC-affiliated members of the touring student group were subjected to an extraordinary diatribe by Obed Bapela, chairman of the ANC’s International Relations Committee. The ANC, warned Bapela, would ‘summon’ the students, who had taken part in what he called a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine”. Anyone from the ANC who visited Israel, he added, would bring the ANC into ‘disrepute’. The SA Student Congress (SASCO) reacted similarly, announcing that it had suspended five of its members pending a disciplinary hearing.
The visit in question took place under the auspices of the SA-Israel Forum (SAIF). Its aim, as expressed by SAIF director Dan Brotman, was “not to make [the students] pro-Israel, but to expose them to a narrative they really don’t hear in South Africa.” In the course of the trip, the students engaged with a broad range of Israelis and Palestinians, discussing such issues as the nature of Israeli society and how to move forward in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The unusually hostile reaction by Bapela raises perplexing questions. One is why he should be so adamant that ANC members should not visit Israel, even in their personal capacities, given that neither his party nor the South African government – in which he serves as a deputy minister – has imposed any formal ban on this. Officially at least, South Africa continues to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. President Zuma himself, in a meeting with a Jewish leadership delegation last year, confirmed that his government had taken a decision to re-engage with all sides, with a view to helping to bring about a negotiated two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
From a principle point of view, Bapela’s attitude is also difficult to understand. It is a reality that Israel is continually being accused of every manner of human rights violation, including that it is an apartheid state. Is there something intrinsically immoral about its advocates saying, “This is simply not true – why not come and see Israel for yourselves?” And are people who take up that invitation, without in any way being expected to endorse the views of the sponsors on their return, really guilty of ‘selling out’ and betraying their party’s principles?
Whether those who went on the trip had their original views of Israel softened, hardened or simply confirmed is, in the context of this discussion, irrelevant. At issue is the growing campaign, both within and without the ruling party, to prevent South Africans from being exposed to the Israeli perspective at all. This was very evident in the weeks leading up to the visit, when participants were subjected to continual threats, intimidation and insults; several reported even being offered financial incentives if they were to withdraw. Given these pressures, it is remarkable that the trip was able to go ahead in the end.
Why, in fact, do hard-line anti-Israel groupings like BDS-SA and their supporters within the ruling party campaign so strenuously – to the point of resorting to blatant bully-boy tactics – to prevent any constructive debate from taking place on the Israel-Palestine question? After all, if Israel is indeed an apartheid state, then it would be impossible to conceal that reality, regardless of what window-dressing tactics its advocates might resort to. The young student leaders brought out on the trip were not fools, nor were their views on Israel particularly favourable – indeed, the opposite was generally the case. Surely, if what the Israel boycotters say is true a first-hand visit to the country, one involving extensive engagement with a wide range of Israelis and Palestinians, would inevitably confirm that reality? It is not even as if the itinerary was tailored to present pro-Israel voices only. Some of those the participants met with were highly critical of aspects of Israeli policy, and at least one (a Jewish Israeli) was an open advocate of boycotts against Israel.
All this begs the obvious question: If Obed Bapela, SASCO, BDS-SA and others of their ilk are so certain that their understanding of the Israel-Palestine question is the correct one, then why are they so anxious to prevent their constituents from becoming acquainted with a contrary narrative? Are they, in fact, afraid that people will come to the ‘wrong’ conclusions if confronted with information that contradicts their interpretation? As things stand, what they seem to be saying is, “This is what we expect you to believe, and if you even listen to those who try to tell you otherwise, you will be punished”. Such tactics call to mind the ideological conformity so ruthlessly imposed by, amongst other totalitarian governments, the former Soviet Union and, yes, even the old National Party regime in South Africa. It will be recalled how the latter went to every length to prevent South Africans from traveling to Lusaka to meet with the exiled ANC leadership, and hear what they had to say about their visions for a future, post-apartheid society.
A common feature of totalitarian regimes is that the ruling elite does not trust the greater public to think for itself and hence, through parallel strategies of indoctrination and censorship, ensures that ‘dangerous’ ideological deviations are suppressed (or at least marginalised). South Africa, however, is not a totalitarian state, but a constitutional democracy that, at least theoretically, protects and values the right to freedom of belief, enquiry and expression. Regardless of what their views on the Middle East question might be, therefore, South Africans should be extremely concerned about the latest developments, which constitute a serious attack by elements of the ruling party on fundamental principles of democracy in this country.


The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) notes that in its review of the disciplinary procedures against Dlamini, the Wits University Legal Office expressed the view that Mr Dlamini’s ‘Hitler’ comments, while ‘abhorrent’, nevertheless “did not breach the exceptions to the Constitution regarding freedom of speech”. Their decision, is relevant only in respect of the internal rules and procedures of Wits University, and has no judicial relevance outside the confines of the University.


The SAJBD remains convinced that Mr Dlamini’s comments are not protected by the Constitution and  will continue to pursue the cases of hate speech that have been  laid  both with  the South African police  and with the SA Human Rights Commission.

For more comment contact SAJBD : Mary Kluk or Jeff Katz



“The Truth and UNtruth of the Matter” Amanda Berman, Director of Legal Affairs, The Lawfare Project writes for The Star.

1 July 2015

Amanda Berman, Director of Legal Affairs, The Lawfare Project writes: Last week, this publication featured several articles purporting to accurately assess the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict and the UN Human Rights Council Independent Commission’s subsequent investigation into alleged violations of the laws of war. These articles, like the Commission, conclude that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is […]

[read more]


29 June 2015

David Saks, Associate Director SA Jewish Board of Deputies, writes for the Star Newspaper: If the Media Review Network’s Aayesha Soni is to be believed (“US leaders won’t face similar charges as they’ve made deals”, 17 June), then there is essentially no difference between Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and leaders of the US, UK and Israel […]

[read more]

Save The Date For The SAJBD National Conference in November

26 June 2015
[read more]

Speech by Former President Kgalema Motlanthe at the SAJBD’s Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter

24 June 2015

Programme Director; The President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Zev Krengel; Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Cllr. Parks Tau; Mr Leon Levy; The South African Jewish Board of Deputies; Distinguished Guests; Comrades and Friends; Ladies and Gentlemen: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today on the subject of the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom […]

[read more]

The 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter with Former President Kgalema Motlanthe

24 June 2015

This Friday, 26 June 2015, marks the sixtieth anniversary of the famous Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto, where delegates from around the country adopted the Freedom Charter as the basis for a future democratic, non-racial South Africa. On Tuesday, at the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre, the SAJBD held a special commemorative function […]

[read more]

SAJBD celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter

23 June 2015

On 26 June 1955, at the Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto, the Freedom Charter was adopted as the statement of core principles of the South African Congress Alliance.  A blueprint for our democracy, the Charter envisaged a South Africa in which all people enjoyed freedom and equality, regardless of race or creed. To […]

[read more]