An open letter to the Student Representative Council of the University of Cape Town in response to hosting the annual hate fest in April 2019: The Israeli Apartheid Week.
By Stephen Schulman, a UCT alumnus living in Israel
Dear members of the UCT SRC,
Now that the new year of 2019 has arrived it came to my notice that you, as in the past, and as is your custom, in the merry month of April, hosted that annual hate fest: the Israeli Apartheid Week.
As a past graduate of our proud university and even though many moons have passed, I still feel a kinship to this great institution and its students and therefore would like to draw your attention to certain cogent facts and to engage you in a frank open discussion. I am certain that your studies and exposure to the benefits of academia of my alma mater have endowed you with qualities of intellectual and moral integrity and have instilled in you the virtues of disinterested enquiry, dispassionate objectivity and courtesy that shall enable you to weigh my words and honour me with a reply.
You label Israel an “apartheid state”.
To deserve that label, a country must fulfil certain criteria. Apartheid was official government policy, legislated, executed and also condoned and ideologically justified by the main Afrikaner churches. Black people were discriminated against, disenfranchised, relocated, dispossessed and relegated to the fringes of society while there were strict laws against miscegenation and racial intercourse.
Unfortunately, nowadays the term “apartheid” has been too often incorrectly applied to any form of discrimination, been devalued and has consequently lost its original context.
Now, does the State of Israel fulfil the criteria to be so labeled? Does it have an official policy of racial discrimination to groups within its borders?
Firstly, all citizens irrespective of race or religion have full equality.There are Arabs serving in the diplomatic corps and an Arab judge in the supreme court. In the Knesset (Israeli parliament) the current minister of communications is a Druse. There are Arab parties in the Knesset and even though they see themselves as Palestinians and their views are often inimical to the state, as Israel is a democratic country, they have the right to express their opinions, which they freely do. Arab citizens are an integral part of the work force and partake fully in society. In my Medical Health Fund and in hospitals and clinics, there are Arab doctors and nurses with Arabs and Jews together in the hospital wards. I have been treated by Arab doctors and nurses and wait my turn in line after other Arab citizens to see a doctor. There is mingling in cinemas, restaurants and supermarkets. Just recently a well-known and popular TV presenter who happens to be a Moslem Arab married a Jew. Is this “apartheid“?
Israel has freedom of religion and religious sites are protected by law. The Bahai faith so viciously persecuted in Iran has magnificent gardens and buildings in Haifa. A great number of Christian pilgrims visit our country. The LGBT community lives and works freely here. Do these same conditions exist in the Middle Eastern countries surrounding us, in Gaza and the West Bank?
You profess a deep and lasting concern for the Palestinian community. Let us now examine a few facts. In 1948, the United Nations declared Israel as a legitimate state with a right to stand amongst the community of nations. The Israel War of Independence ensued as the fledging state’s Arab neighbors refused to abide by the UN resolution, acknowledge Israel’s existence, avowed to destroy it, “push the Jews into the sea” and promptly invaded the country. In the aftermath of the war, approximately 600,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees. Moreover, approximately 850,000 Jews who had been living in the Arab countries many centuries before Islam dominated the area, were persecuted, subjected to pogroms, disenfranchised, dispossessed and expelled.
In the name of justice for all, a most relevant and pertinent question would be to enquire about the fate of these 850,000 Jewish refugees. The answer is quite simple: the vast majority were accepted with open arms by the fledgling state while a smaller number having European passports chose to move there. Today, Jews from Arab countries and their descendants are an integral part of modern-day Israel.
Israel did not push them into squalid refugee camps and keep them there to fester as hostages as the Arab countries have done to their fellow Moslems. Israel did not deny them full citizenship and opportunities. You profess deep concern for the Palestinians’ rights. Lebanon restricts them to refugee camps, denies them basic rights such as citizenship, health care, employment and education and disqualifies them from owning property. Moreover, they are barred from studying or practicing in twenty professions. Lebanon continues to ignore calls by various human rights groups to the Lebanese authorities to end discrimination against Palestinians.
Is this not “apartheid” in its true sense?
In reality, the policy and actions of Lebanon are closer to the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany. In the wake of the Gulf War, many Gulf states, Qatar included, used the opportunity to expel the Palestinians living there. Saudi Arabia has imprisoned many and in Syria, thousands have been tortured and murdered. Is there an Arab country that has accepted their co-religionists the Palestinian refugees, given them citizenship and full rights as Israel has done to the Jews expelled from the Arab countries? In the name of full justice and moral consistency, why have you never raised your voices in protest? Why have you not devoted a week to this cause?
The SRC has always stated its awareness of and devotion to causes for human rights.
Turkey under Erdogan has summarily dismissed over 100, 000 civil servants, purged the army, jailed many in the opposition and effectively silenced the free press either by laws or intimidation.
Iran is under dictatorship, executing, jailing and torturing many of its citizens, persecuting religious minorities such a the Bahai and actively developing and spreading terrorism throughout the globe.
Saudi Arabia denies gender equality, has religious intolerance ad has executed over 500 people in the last few years.
China has forcibly relocated over 1000,000 Moslem Uighurs, incarcerated, executed and harvested the organs of members of the Falun Gong sect. and let us not forget, amongst others, its maltreatment of the Tibetans.
Yet, in the light of all these well-known gross abuses, the SRC has chosen to remain silent. Why is this so?
Is it because you don’t wish to offend and bite the hand that feeds you when Saudi Arabia and China invest large sums of money in SA?
You quite rightly state your pride in being an African university and your involvement in the affairs of the continent and so it should be. Nevertheless, you remain silent in the face of injustices. To name a few:
Zimbabwe is corrupt and oppressive towards its own people. There is slavery in the Sudan and many fellow Africans suffer under incompetent and corrupt rulers. I saw in your group picture where you happily and contentedly sit, that with the exception of one white person that you are all Africans, so in raising your voices you cannot be accused of racism. You have been empowered by your fellow students to speak out. Why is there silence on your part?
When I was at UCT, the SRC saw beyond campus politics, was involved, protested and demonstrated against government apartheid policies. South Africa – your country, the country of your forefathers and your future generations – is mired in deep corruption with its leaders filling their pockets at the expense of the ordinary citizen. Poverty, neglect and crime is rampant. In your site, I searched in vain for any pronouncements of your concern or activism. It is incomprehensible that you should choose silence!
Consequently, your official platform is full of platitudes that unfortunately are devoid of any content. I find it pitiful that you find time to single out Israel while willfully ignoring the rampant injustices around you. I find it pitiful and morally repugnant that you turn a blind eye to many egregious violations of human rights and let hatred, racism and anti-Semitism blind your reason. I find it saddening that you, the student council are devoid of any moral compass and are stained with moral cowardice.
I level these charges against you. They are serious. If I have erred, I shall gladly stand to be corrected. I look forward to your reply. If not, then you will have affirmed all my accusations.