Paul Leslie

Time for a selective boycott of certain South African institutions?

In his masterly book, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, published in 2005, Dr. Kenneth Levin analyses various factors which bring a minority of individuals publicly to identify as such solely for the purpose of repeatedly launching extreme and dishonest attacks upon Israel and, by extension – implicitly or explicitly – all those Israeli Jews who do not denounce their country like them. He considers not only the contemporary situation – “those segments of the Jewish community who live and work in environments hostile to Israel, commonly embrace the anti-Israel bias around them. And they often insist they are being virtuous by doing so.” – but also various periods in the past where prominent individuals of Jewish origin joined with non-Jewish anti-Semites in attacking their coreligionists.


Dr. Levin also deals with the phenomenon of self-proclaimed cosmopolitan or internationalist Jews whose “progressive” or “philanthropic” impulses embrace all ethnic or religious groups except their own coreligionists. He gives a number of examples of individuals who have attacked as selfish or narrowly sectarian activism which draws attention to cases of persecuted or oppressed Jews and which lobbies in their favour. It is, of course, perfectly possible for Jewish public servants, philanthropists and activists both to be actively concerned with the needs of non-Jews who, in one way or another, are in need of support and assistance and to defend the rights and interests of coreligionists, included the much maligned and embattled Jewish citizens of Israel.


It was in their capacity as representatives of Jewish organisations who have been involved in various humanitarian projects in African countries designed not merely to dispense charity but to help the beneficiaries to become self-sufficient that the Conference of Presidents’ Malcolm Hoenlein and others were officially invited to the African Union meeting held at the end of June. Among the invited guests was Israel’s honorary consul in Guinea, Yardena Ovadia, born into a poor Moroccan immigrant family which settled in Dimona, whose drive led her to become a successful and charitable businesswoman who has never forgotten her origins.


Whether or not we believe the assurances about the South African delegation belatedly given by the South African government, reported in the South African Jewish Board of Deputies communiqué of the 9th July – which has chosen effectively to spearhead the BDS movement in Africa and whose predecessors have often been at least passively complicit with non-violent manifestations of anti-Jewish hatred and discrimination carried out under the guise of “anti-Zionism”, ever since the orgy of antisemitism which characterised the 2001 Conference against Racism – the South African apparatchik who currently heads the African Union certainly has a case to answer. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma – who, by dint of her prominent position in the African National Congress at the time of the notorious December 2012 meeting of this body, must have given much aid and comfort to the “boycott Israel to death” brigade – has taken no action against the Iranian and Egyptian delegations and it appears unlikely that she ever will.

Ii is often necessary to keep secret details of the initiatives which enable Arabs who are not citizens of Israel to benefit from urgent medical treatment in Israeli hospital – including Palestinians from Gaza, on whose behalf people transporting them to Israel have often put their own personal safety at risk. The systematic and widespread defamation of Israelis makes it all the more important that these altruistic interventions should be publicised as much as possible.


It is rather strange that the incident which involved the outrageous exclusion of official delegates from the African Union is still (at the time of submitting this article) not mentioned on the Conference of Presidents’ official website. It should not be left to the embattled South African Board of Deputies to fight this fight alone. If, ideally, there are campaigns to exert pressure upon Ms. Zuma to resign, these can only have a chance of being effective with strong support from the United States.


In the meantime, and in the wake of the latest calumnies against Israelis which appear in the form of a thoroughly mendacious declaration by the South African governing party, denounced in the press release issued by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies on the 10th July – one which ignores the escalating and increasingly dangerous bombardment of Israel’s towns and the fact that, yet again, over a million Israelis are threatened with the prospect of having to live in shelters – the Netanyahu government should contemplate carefully targeted diplomatic counter-action.


While it would be quite wrong for Israel to reconsider projects helping the citizens of poor diplomatically weak African countries whose diplomats, in their UN votes, feel obliged to submit to the diktats of the dominant blocs comprising the Arab League and Islamic conference states, South Africa, as already pointed out, has often placed itself at the head of diplomatic offensives directed against the Middle East’s embattled democracy.. Even if Israel continues to be diplomatically weak, it is not, however, completely without leverage.


The Israeli government should at the very least seriously consider bringing about the cancellation of projects which involve cooperation between Israeli universities and certain South African universitiesand which do not benefit its citizens at least as much, if not more, than its academic partners. Witwatersrand University, for example, while stating itself officially to be in opposition to academic boycotts, has not given complete protection to its remaining Jewish students by ensuring that anti-Israel militants who intimidate and threaten violence against peaceful supporters of Israel are appropriately punished – if necessary by ordering their expulsion.



About the Author
Paul Leslie is an occasional independent journalist and researcher, living in London. He has degrees from Exeter College, Oxford University and the Sorbonne (history of the Jews of Algeria and Tunisia, in two different colonial systems). Paul Leslie is am a fan of cinema – all genres – and is passionately interested in modern history.