An email warning Jewish students against alleged violent attacks and anti-Semitic behavior at Wits University was circulated this week by the South African Union of Jewish students (SAUJS).
“Over the past few days there have been numerous anti-Semitic incidents across the globe arising from the crisis in Israel,” reads the email.
“With the current levels of anti-Semitic rhetoric, we are concerned that actions similar to that seen across the world will take place in South Africa.”
SAUJS, which provides an active voice for the state of Israel on campus, said in the email it was concerned for the safety of its members at Wits and suggested precautionary steps to avoid violent attacks.
According to the email, victims of anti-Semitism should get a full description of the perpetrators including “gender, approximate age, race or any other distinguishing features”. The email warned to “not unnecessarily engage in debate or discussion that could become heated”. It also suggested that students leaving campus at night not walk on their own to their cars.
It also provided an emergency contact list that included the details of SAUJS chairperson Ariela Carno, vice chair Cayla Urdang and treasurer Natan Pollock, in the event of an anti-Semitic incident.
In a telephonic interview with Wits Vuvuzela, SAUJS Treasurer Natan Pollack noted the fears of the organisation about anti-Semitism saying: “It is worrying – it is the ripple effect of what has been happening [globally].”
Pollack added that SAUJS supports the Israeli government’s actions. “We fully stand behind Israel,” he said.
Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) chairperson Shaeera Kalla said SAUJS’s fears are unfounded. She said there were not reported cases of violent attacks against the Jewish student community on campus.
“We do not have a culture of violence at Wits,” said Kalla.
The concern for the safety of Jewish students on campus comes after the ground invasion of the Gaza strip by the Israeli military last week.
Prof Steven Friedman of the University of Johannesburg criticised the email and said it creates an unnecessary panic among Jewish students as it confuses two different issues: protests against Israel and anti-Semitism.
“What we have seen recently is expressions of anger at the Israeli state. This is not anti-Semitism: many Jews have participated in the protests. Nor is it a threat to the personal safety of Jewish students,” said Friedman.
“The email is no accident. Supporters of the Israeli government’s actions always try to whip up the fear of anti-Semitism in an attempt to drive all Jews into the Israeli government camp,” he said.
A Wits Jewish student, who did not want to be identified, has had no personal experience of anti-Semitism at Wits but said they understood the fears of students who are outspoken and in support of Israel.
PSC treasurer Alex Freeman said the email is an attempt to portray Jewish student community as victims whilst undermining the struggle of the people of Palestine.
Vice chancellor Adam Habib called Wits “a safe place for articulation of all ideas” and said if there were rumours of anti-Semitism they should be reported to the dean of students.
“If anyone at Wits is complicit in threatening the security of another, we will take the firmest action possible,” said vice chancellor Adam Habib.