Condemning Wits anti-Semitism isn’t enough – there must be consequences

The response to the open display of anti-Semitism at Wits on Thursday severely lacked conviction.

Student groups condemn goose-step, Hitler salute at Wits

While the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), Amnesty International Wits, and the Wits Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) released a joint statement “unequivocally and unconditionally” condemning the incident – this is not enough. Even the promise of hauling the student in front of an MSA disciplinary committee next week is not enough. And the fact that they’re only “considering” opening a case against him to the Human Rights Commission is honestly a bloody joke.

What exactly is there to “consider”?

The person in question openly and unashamedly imitated a Nazi in the presence of numerous Jewish people. And we must emphasise the “open and unashamedly” part because it’s not like he was trying to hide anything. The act was seemingly casual enough for him that he felt it okay without fear of possible consequence.

This needs to be reflected upon. It means that on some level he either didn’t care, was utterly ignorant of or purposely decided to use a history of genocide and ethnic cleansing to throw in people’s faces.

People stand against Zionism because it systematically oppresses, marginalises and violently dehumanises a nation of people. South Africans stand in solidarity with this because of how intimately we understand these injustices. We know colonialism, we know racial profiling, we’ve lived apartheid; we still bear the brunt of their legacies today.

Trivialising the very same kind of atrocities we claim to be fighting against calls into question what our real issue with Israeli apartheid is. Is it the fact that oppression itself is categorically wrong – or does whom the oppression is directed at affect our interest in it?

We need to check ourselves.

And if one person felt okay with doing this, there are no doubt others. Thus, there must be consequences – an example needs to be made.

It is, of course, unclear whether the person in question is representative of the vast majority of anti-Zionists. He was part of the MSA (it has since revoked his membership), but it would also be fallacious to assume he speaks for the organisation.

Irrespective of this, if the parties and groups fighting against Israeli apartheid intend to stand by the integrity of their cause, they should see to it that this scourge of hypocritical bigotry is dealt with with the utmost impunity.

Academic Vashna Jagarnath says anti-Semitic acts play into the hands of Zionists. “The repeated anti-Semitic acts during and around their [BDS-SA’s] campaigns are both disgusting in themselves and … a gift to the Zionist forces,” because it opens doors to and enables an argument of anti-Zionism being anti-Jewish.

When Frantz Fanon spoke of decolonisation, he meant more than just our understanding of racism.

“Anti-Semitism hits me on the head: I am enraged, I am bled white by an appalling battle, I am deprived of the possibility of being man. I cannot disassociate myself from the future that is proposed for my brother,” he said.

This is Penny Sparrow. It is queer discrimination. It is equating “terrorism” with Islam. It is blackface. It is calling people “makwerekwere”. It is a single representation of how easily we harm each other. And ALL of it is unacceptable.

Featured image via PSC Wits