from Africa in Transition

Anti-Semitism at a South African University?

February 13, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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South African and Israeli media report that the student council at Durban University of Technology is demanding that “Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should de-register.”

The student council call has been unambiguously rejected by the university authorities. The vice chancellor of the university, Ahmed Bawa, even went as far as to say that the students’ request violated the South African constitution. The student action appears to conflate Judaism with the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Nevertheless, the student vote is deeply disturbing, given South Africa’s history of anti-Semitism.

The Durban University of Technology in KwaZulu-Natal is a post –apartheid merger of a white technology school with one for “Indians,” as South Asians were referred to during the apartheid era. It has 22,000 students on four campuses divided between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

The Jewish community in South Africa numbers perhaps 90,000, with most living in Johannesburg and Cape Town. They are, of course, part of the white population that numbers almost five million. There is also a small African tribe, the Lemba, that identifies as Jewish. Some South African Jews, such as Joe Slovo, were prominent in the anti-apartheid movement, and anti-Semitism could be found among the Afrikaner population, especially those that supported apartheid. In the 1930’s some Afrikaans language newspapers were anti-Semitic, and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party had some admirers in South Africa, who opposed their country’s entry into World War II on the side of the allies.

With the Israel-Palestinian conflict, such anti-Semitism as there is in South Africa is no longer identified with Afrikaners. Rather it is to be found primarily on college campuses and is a reflection of a bitter international relations issue rather than domestic South African politics.

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