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Johannesburg’s international airport was placed on red alert ahead of the expected arrival of a delegation from Israel.
Plans of the delegation’s local host, the South African Union of Jewish Students, to welcome their Israeli “Hasbara” delegation were thwarted, with the Israeli delegation arriving at OR Tambo International Airport amidst much controversy.
Last week, the South African Students Congress (SASCO) issued a communiqué to its provincial branches urging:
“all students in all institutions of higher learning across Gauteng to boycott any activity organised by these [Israeli] agents. Any student who chooses to cooperate with the apartheid [Israel] regime is an enemy of progress.”
Expecting that their arrival to Johannesburg would not be a welcome affair, the Israeli delegation was forced to change their travel arrangements:
SASCO and the Young Communist League, who had called for its members to be present at the airport, creatively bypassed all the obstacles put in place to limit any actions. SASCO had a 50 person strong team deployed from 06h00 at strategic points in the arrivals terminal of the airport. SASCO members were instructed to converge in pickets if the local hosts had made any attempts to welcome their Israeli counterparts.
On hearing that the Israeli delegation had to “come in like spies,” SASCO and YCL students rejoiced outside the international arrivals terminal. Joined by students from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg, the group simultaneously revealed red T-shirts (under their jackets) stencilled with various bold messages, including “Israeli apartheid unwelcome!”; “Israeli war criminals unwelcome!”; and “Israel guilty of war crimes”. They carried hand-crafted posters with similar messages and chanted in celebration.
Themba Masondo, a student at Wits University addressed the crowd:
“Today we have made clear to these Israeli propagandists and indeed any supporters of Israeli apartheid that this agenda is not welcome in South Africa. We will protest. We will boycott. And we will call on our prosecuting authorities to arrest those involved in Israeli war crimes. . . [W]e are many, our cause is just and we will win.”
The visiting Israeli delegation advertises to be a group of students wanting to dialogue, however the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Working Group (a Johannesburg based organization) challenged this framing and revealed at a press conference last week Thursday that most of the Israeli delegates were not in fact students but part of an Israeli government trained PR group. For example, they showed that two of the Israeli student delegates claiming to be students worked at the Israeli parliament. One is a deputy spokesperson and another is an official policy advisor.
Further, the BDS Working Group pointed out that virtually the entire delegation have served or are serving in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), several in elite combat units and one even in the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2009.
On Monday, a progressive Israeli organization together with a European Union Human Rights laureate delivered a letter to the South African prosecuting authorities also reiterating the visiting Israeli group’s involvement in the IDF and probable connection to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kate Joseph, Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee member present at the airport commented:
“If this [Hasbara] group came to do Israeli PR, they are doing a hopeless job. If anything, their arrival in South Africa has bolstered Palestine solidarity in general, and the growing call on our campuses for a broad-based boycott of Israel.”
Students at Wits, UJ, UCT and elsewhere have committed themselves to non-violent, direct actions in the coming days as the Israeli delegates are expected to attempt campus visits.