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First spotted on campus on Wednesday, the flyers show Frank — a Jewish victim of the Holocaust whose diary became one of the most widely-read books in the world — wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.
The Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), which is currently hosting its annual “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW) campaign on campus, said the flyers include “amazing art work from one of our members,” identified as Nuraan Khan.
In a statement shared online, Khan claimed the flyers draw “attention to the fact that the same racism, hardship and oppression that was faced by Jews during Nazi times is being repeated in modern times.”
“Since Palestine has been under Israeli oppression for about 50 years now, there are only 50 flyers,” she added. “These will be put up in various public spaces around Wits.”
According to photos uploaded by Khan, the flyers have been posted in at least 35 different locations.
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) expressed “disgust” at the initiative, calling it “a gross form of cultural appropriation towards a figure that is symbolic of the plight of the Jewish people.”
“Last year, we saw PSC supporters goose-stepping and performing mock Nazi salutes in front of SAUJS students,” the group’s national and Wits chairpersons wrote. “This year, the PSC has once again resorted to making spiteful allusions to the Holocaust, knowing full well how insulting it is to Jewish people.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) considers “comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” to fall under its definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by its 31 member countries.
These do not include South Africa, whose ruling party — the African National Congress — announced on Wednesday that it is “actively participating” in IAW to express solidarity with the “heroic people of Palestine.”
Shortly after IAW launched at Wits on Monday, phrases including “f**k Zionism,” “Israel is anti-black,” and “Zionism is racism” were found spray-painted on campus. The graffiti has since been removed, according to SAUJS.
“It’s happened every year during Israel Apartheid Week specifically without fail,” Dylan Stein, a first-year student at Wits and SAUJS member, told The Algemeiner. He pointed out that one of the anti-Israel slogans was written immediately below a poster promoting IAW.
In an effort to challenge IAW’s narrative on campus, SAUJS ran a counter-campaign this week called “Dialogue, Not Division.” Various speakers were invited to address Wits students, including former Miss Israel Yityish “Titi” Aynaw and Arab-Israeli activist Yahya Mahamid — the latter of whom appeared at Wits last year, only to have the cord of his microphone cut in the middle of his speech.
Supporters of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel are “always attempting to sow division at Wits,” Stein said. “They come with this graffiti and vandalism … they obviously don’t want a dialogue.”
During an SAUJS event on Monday, PSC members “attempted to intimidate us,” he added.
“They walked up to our area holding signs and wearing keffiyehs over their faces, and they sort of surrounded students on the side,” he continued. “When campus security intervened, they said that they were trying to oppress them and prevent them from having freedom of speech. It was a huge argument.”
Stein said that being a Jewish student at Wits is “surprisingly not too bad, because a lot of the time, people don’t know that we’re actually Jewish. We don’t really show we’re Jews.”
However, “especially during Israel Apartheid Week, if you walk around with yarmulkes, you can just feel a sense of venom whenever you walk past someone wearing a keffiyeh,” he added.
When it comes to BDS, Stein suggested that the majority of people on campus “may be ambivalent or perhaps irritated with their tactics.”
“I don’t think it’s actually that widespread, especially after the vandalism incident,” he observed. “You had people walking around saying, ‘I don’t really care about either side, but I’m not happy with these people vandalizing my campus.’”
The Wits administration, PSC, and Khan did not respond to The Algemeiner’s requests for comment by publication time.
Adam Dison, a Jewish student involved in progressive activism at Wits, wrote last year that “the level of education about Holocaust history, Zionist history and real thinking about the Israel-Palestine conflict is sub-par.”
There is “no place for Jews who don’t endorse BDS or who call themselves Zionist,” he told The Algemeiner at the time. “Every progressive Jew I know of and who is part of my generation expresses similar sentiments. For most, it keeps them out of student politics all together and a lot of potential allies are lost.”
In 2016, graffiti reading “kill a Jew” and “f**k the Jews” was found at Wits, prompting condemnation by the university.