(April 12, 2017 / JNS) Wanana Abrams, a 28-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian origin, calls herself “just one of countless examples—along with thousands of other religious and ethnic minorities—of why the term ‘apartheid’ does not apply to the liberal democratic Jewish state.”
Fittingly, then, Abrams was one of two representatives from Israel’s Herzliya-based Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) research university to travel to the South African city of Cape Town in March for the purpose of countering attempts to promote anti-Zionist activists’ “apartheid” smear about Israel.
“I traveled to South Africa to tell my story, and to show the world the true face of my home country,” Abrams, a communications major at IDC and a resident of Netanya, told JNS.org.
The IDC representatives—Abrams and 28-year-old Mor Dagan of Tel Aviv—made the trip as part of a special public diplomacy program to advocate for the Jewish state during aggressive on-campus “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) protests around the world. The annual IAW protests carry added significance in South Africa, given the anti-Israel movement’s attempt to portray the Jewish state as an institutionally racist country akin to South Africa’s 20th-century apartheid regime.
This year’s IAW demonstrations in South Africa began on campuses in Johannesburg at the beginning of March and migrated to universities in Cape Town two weeks later.
Several of this year’s protests devolved into outright anti-Semitic exhibitions, including protests at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg and the University of Cape Town (UCT), involving the waving of flags with the insignias of the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups as well as protesters giving Nazi salutes while goose-stepping towards Jewish students.
The IDC representatives were invited by the Jewish Federation of Cape Town and the South African Union of Jewish Students to serve as Israeli voices on local campuses. The IAW demonstrations in Cape Town have a reputation for being the most hostile of all “Israeli Apartheid Week” protests in the world.
IDC’s representatives received specialized advocacy training during the university’s public diplomacy course prior to arriving in Cape Town. Within the public diplomacy program, Abrams and Dagan are involved in a start-up called ACT.IL, which aims to positively influence international public opinion on Israel. Dagan currently serves as ACT.IL’s creative and content director, and Abrams is an intern for the start-up.
IDC’s special advocacy training programs were developed in response to bias against Israel at the United Nations and worldwide. The attempt to misrepresent Israel as an “apartheid state” is just one of several anti-Israel trends the program seeks to combat.
On the Cape Town campuses, the young Israeli representatives assumed the task of presenting Israel’s narrative in the face of large crowds of irate anti-Israel protesters.
One of the most hostile campuses the Israelis visited was UCT, which has approximately 250 Jewish students out of 27,000 enrolled at the school.
Throughout the IAW protests each year, the school’s Jewish students say they become a besieged minority and receive little sympathy from UCT officials. Many of UCT’s Jewish students say they are so intimidated by the large anti-Israel and anti-Semitic presence during IAW that they remain absent from campus as the protests occur.
Known anti-Semites—such as the head of the anti-Israel BDS movement in South Africa, Muhammed Desai—are given an open platform during IAW and are reportedly encouraged by many of the school’s senior faculty members who openly support the anti-Israel protests.
At this year’s IAW protests at UCT, Desai reportedly echoed previous anti-Semitic statements he had made and said he “agreed with what Hitler did.” The UCT campus also saw anti-Israel protesters performing Nazi salutes, as protesters had also done on Johannesburg campuses two weeks earlier.
When speaking on the UCT campus, Abrams was surrounded by a large group of antagonistic protesters, who shouted angrily at her and exclaimed that her mother was forcibly “sterilized” by the Israeli government upon arriving in Israel from Ethiopia.
In a video of the incident that went viral on pro-Israel social media pages, the young Ethiopian Israeli can be seen standing her ground when faced with the protesters, and explaining that her mother was not sterilized, but received birth control supplements when arriving in the Jewish state. The heated encounter ended with Abrams demanding that the protestors “stop spreading lies” about Israel.
“Most of the accusations they make against Israel are completely inaccurate and based on lies. Unfortunately, there are also a few Jews and even some Israelis among the anti-Israel crowd who fuel their ignorance,” Abrams said.
Other pro-Israel advocates who made their voice heard at the Cape Town campus during IAW included black South African students who had traveled to Israel and testified about how their personal experiences in the Jewish state refuted claims of “apartheid,” as well as Christian Zionists.