Both concert organisers and protesters felt like winners after the Daniel Zamir concert that was held at Wits University last night.
Muhammed Desai, coordinator of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa, said the protest had been effective because they were able to make those attending the concert “uncomfortable”.
“I am an alumnus of this university, they are the ones that are outsiders here, and we want them to feel like outsiders,” said Desai.
He said because the organisers had to send out an urgent message to those attending the concert to tell them how to get in, which entrances to use and which to avoid is also a sign of victory – “already it shows that they are tense and they are stressed because SA is becoming so difficult for pro-Israeli organisations to operate [in].”
But the organisers also felt that the night was a success. The concert was held as the university’s way of making up for the one that was disrupted in March. The president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), Zev Krengel said Wits had lived up to its promise. : “The team was great. I could not fault Wits in anyway.”
Krengel said the protesters were peaceful apart from the group that moved into the corridor and which he described as aggressive. At first the protesters were singing softly but as the night went on they sang and chanted loudly. The protesters confronted and provoked those who came for the concert.
“You have the blood of Palestine children on your jersey,” shouted a protester to a woman who was walking in to the concert area.
“ You have blood on your hands. You think you can use our university to cleanse your image,” said another protester.
Most of the people there to attend the concert passed by the protesters quickly pretending not to notice anything but not all of them. Some passed by the protesters holding up Israel scarves and flags.
“Fuck you!” said a concert attendee to a protester. “Wits University is my University, I have two degrees Wits,” said another person attending the concert replying to a protester who had shouted that they were not welcomed at Wits. Another one gave the protesters the middle finger. Some had to be subdued by those walking with them.
At some point the protesters threw papers at concert attendees as they arrived. They also sang, “dubula i-juda” (“shoot the Jew”), and chanted “there is no such thing as Israel” and “Israel apartheid” as the concert attendees were coming in.
Desai said many African people in South Africa when using the word “Jews” meant it in the same way they would have during the eighties. “Just like you would say kill the Boer at funeral during the eighties it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime”.
He said there was no evidence of Jews being harmed because of anti-Semitic impulses, – “the whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion”. He said if there were anti-Semitic sentiments they would flatly challenge it even if it came from within their protest.
He said there a peaceful process going on and South Africans had to encourage that.
Ari Kruger, who attended the concert said the the term “apartheid” freely used just to evoke enthusiasm and sensitivity among South Africans: “Look at their supporters, the Cosatu guys, I’ve spoken to them on many occasions, they actually don’t have the facts, they are being told, ‘come to the function, apartheid, free Palestine, South Africa’s history is Palestinian reality’ which is actually not true.”
Krengel challenged the BDS and Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) to have a joint concert with them, to “bring together a Palestine musician and an Israeli one.”
Dr Shireen Ally, a Wits lecturer who was part of a group that represented Wits staff and students, said the university refused them the right to have a silent protest and move into the Great Hall foyer.
Ally said they would be seeking legal advice because the university had “infringed” on their rights to protest.
Deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Tawana Kupe said the university had given permission for a silent protest, just not permission to be in the foyer which the protesters had not asked for anyway.