Protest at Wits University over ‘Jews only’ concert

Saxophonist Daniel Zamir
Saxophonist Daniel Zamir

A row over a concert due to take place Wednesday has raged at the University of the Witwatersrand. Opponents of th Daniel Zamir Israeli Jazz Quartet staged what was called a “silent protest” outside the Wits Great Hall, where the concert was being held.

According to a Mail & Guardian reporter on the scene, Tawana Kupe, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for finance, explained to the small crowd that they couldn’t stage their protest inside the concourse of the hall. But the organisers maintained they had permission to picket inside.

Being a silent protest, songs were only murmured. But placards expressed displeasure against both the university’s decision to allow the concert, Zionism and the state of Israel.

“We say no to exclusionary Jewish-only events at our institution,” read one placard, while another said, “don’t entertain Israel apartheid”.  Another urged the university to “stop muzzling protest due to Israel lobby”.

But some students were clearly frustrated by the form of protest. “Silent protest never achieved anything guys, we’re not a silent country,” one student was heard saying.

Tokelo Nhlapo, deputy president of the university’s students representative council (SRC), told the protestors they had to ensure Zionists do not use Wits to further their agenda. “Zionism will not be tolerated at this university,” he said. “Not in our name.”

Comparing Israel to apartheid, Nhlapo said the state, which has been in a bitter war over land with Palestine since 1948, must exist to promote everyone’s human rights, not just those of Jewish people.

In its turn, Mr. David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies issued a statement denouncing the “desperate last-ditch tactic to discredit a concert by an eminent Israeli jazz quartet that was taking place at Wits University on Wednesday’. He described the protestors as “anti-Israel extremists who have resorted to leveling scurrilous and thoroughly baseless smears against the Jewish communal leadership”.

 Saks said: “Those making these accusations are the self-same activists whose members were responsible for the disgraceful break-up of a piano recital by an Israeli musician on the same campus earlier this year. Having blatantly trampled on the rights of those who wanted to attend that event and greatly embarrassed Wits University in the process, they now presume to cry ‘racism’ when steps are taken to prevent a repetition of such thuggish behavior.

Saks denied that only Jews were permitted to attend the concert. “The only ‘evidence’ that has been advanced is the response by an independent contractor engaged to sell tickets, who had simply misunderstood what the brief was,” he said.

 The Jewish leader “applauded Wits University for upholding the democratic values and freedoms that have made it so fine an academic institution and for its forthright rejection of the intimidatory, bullying tactics of those who do not scruple to undermine those freedoms in order to push their own radical political agendas.”