(Johannesburg, South Africa) — Since 2005, anti-Israel groups have hosted “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW), a global campaign of hate that dehumanizes Israelis and often seeks to intimidate Jewish university students. This campaign, particularly in South Africa, has left local pro-Israel students with an overwhelmingly hostile campus climate. South Africa is ground zero for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement, and has one of the most antisemitic Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) campaigns in the world.
The “Israel Apartheid Week” campaign which ran from March 13-27, 2023, in South Africa began with extremist chants by anti-Israel groups at University of Cape Town (UCT) screaming “Viva Hamas! Long Live the Intifada! Israel is an apartheid state!” alongside the flags of terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah. In response, StandWithUs led a constructive educational approach together with student leaders of the South Africa StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship and their peers and partners at the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), and the South Africa Zionist Federation (SAZ)F, to provide comprehensive support to Jewish students and help them teach their peers about the history of Israel.
StandWithUs Israel Director of Partnerships, Noa Raman, led a delegation of Israelis from diverse backgrounds to South Africa to support Jewish students during the Israel Apartheid Week and to dispel the campaign’s harmful false claims. Since 2011, the StandWithUs Israeli delegation serves as the backbone of the pro-Israel campaign and facilitates productive engagement and positive impact on the ground.
In October 2022, StandWithUs opened an office in South Africa, based in Johannesburg, led by Executive Director Cassandra Mayekiso and Regional Campus Manager Kayla Slotow, which has provided local support for pro-Israel education and engagement. South Africa is known as a rainbow nation, a term often used to describe its diverse cultural, racial, and religious makeup. StandWithUs South Africa has been able to leverage resources from the international organization, including expertise to amplify the voices of local Jewish students and combat the spread of misinformation and propaganda on South African campuses.
One of the first initiatives of the SA office was to establish the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship. Founded in 2007, the Fellowship is a prestigious one-year program that selects, trains and inspires hundreds of student leaders in universities around the world to educate about Israel and fight antisemitism on their campuses and communities. Ten students were chosen for the inaugural SA Emerson Fellowship from the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, University of Johannesburg, SACAP and the University of Pretoria. Training sessions were conducted during January and February of 2023, preparing them for the semesters and especially “Israel Apartheid Week.”
The Fellows also attended StandWithUs International Conference “Israel in Focus” in March of 2023 in Los Angeles, where they met their counterparts from other countries. There was a special track for the students and another for community members, and everyone joined the plenaries to hear from world-renowned experts and learn from each other.
StandWithUs South Africa Executive Director, Cassandra Mayekiso said: “Israel Apartheid Weeks continues to be hosted at certain South African university campuses with the cooperation of university administrations, which remains truly perplexing. As a black South African who has lived in Israel and spent nearly a decade combating this propaganda, it pains me to continually witness these attempts to deceive our student communities. The IAW events have not become bigger or reached larger audiences but have instead become alarmingly more blatant in their antisemitism, as evidenced by giving platforms to speakers from recognised terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah. Regrettably, this makes abundantly clear that we face organisers who do not seek peaceful solutions for coexistence. I am so proud of how our SA Emerson Fellows held their ground against the onslaught of hatred and effectively educated their peers, she added.”
One of the key strategies of the delegation and the SA Emerson fellows was to educate the masses by having nuanced, one-on-one conversations with SA students about the Jewish connection to Israel, Jewish self-determination and liberation, with the Israeli students sharing their perspectives on these issues. This approach proved to be effective, as seen in three specific moments that stood out during the delegation’s visit.
The first moment was the musical collaboration between hip-hop artists Noah Shufutinsky, Westside Gravy, and Tanaka Jura, July56 to defeat racism. Through music, these artists reached thousands and addressed issues of racism and xenophobia at UCT and received coverage from local media eNCA, South Africa’s top-ranked TV news channel. Noah specifically shared his background of being a Jew of color and experiencing both racism and antisemitism. By incorporating their personal stories dealing with discrimination and expressing pride in their roots, the two artists showcased the importance of unity and resilience in their new song and video, “Never Shaken.”
The second moment was the facilitation of educational programs by StandWithUs Emerson Fellows. The StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship is a prestigious one-year program that recruits, trains, educates, and inspires pro-Israel student leaders in universities around the world. The Fellows organized informative programs that educated students about the history of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and how to combat misconceptions about Israel and the Jewish community at Wits University, Stellenbosch University, and UCT. Student leaders of diverse backgrounds participated in these sessions and walked away feeling more informed and more confident to speak out against “Israel Apartheid Week” and educate their peers.
After recording their first single, “Never Shaken,” Westside Gravy and July56 joined the SA Emerson Fellows, the SAUJS, SAJBD and SAZF on a visit to the Sharpeville Memorial Site, laying wreaths by the memorial plaque in the garden to honor those killed in the 1960 Sharpeville massacre.
The third moment was the opportunity to facilitate conversations at Wits and UCT around Israel’s tremendous humanitarian aid efforts and how Israel alleviates suffering for affected populations during a conflict or disaster. The discussion highlighted Israel’s commitment to providing human dignity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence, even in conflict zones like the Gaza Strip. These conversations were critical in helping students connect to Israel through common values.
These moments demonstrate that it is possible to engage in constructive conversations and promote understanding and respect, even in the midst of a highly charged and polarized campus climate. The new office in SA joins the StandWithUs international organization in believing that it is crucial to seek out opportunities for dialogue and engagement because education is the road to peace.
StandWithUs Israel Director of Partnerships, Noa Raman said: “Having just returned from the University of Cape Town, I am proud that we are committed to stopping those who seek to defame and delegitimize Israel by refuting their lies and educating campus communities about the real Israel. At StandWithUs, we will continue to have a proactive and constructive approach to antisemitism on campus, including during SA “apartheid” weeks. StandWithUs South Africa Emerson Fellows led the path for dialogue and exchange and helped expand the network of resilient students who feel more confident about standing up to hate.”
StandWithUs (SWU) is an international, nonprofit, and non-partisan Israel education organization that works to inspire and educate people of all ages about Israel, as well as challenge misinformation and fight against antisemitism.
Through university fellowships, high school internships, middle school curricula, conferences, materials, social media, educational films, and missions to Israel, StandWithUs supports people around the world who want to educate their schools and communities about Israel.
Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Los Angeles, the organization has chapters and programs throughout the U.S., Israel, the UK, Canada, Brazil and the Netherlands. The South Africa chapter launched in October, 2022 in Johannesburg.
For the last eleven years, StandWithUs has consistently received the highest possible ratings from Charity Navigator and GuideStar, two charity watchdog groups that assess hundreds of thousands of charities in the United States.