Katharine Child | 10 March, 2014
Image by: Waldo Swiegers
As Israel Apartheid Week kicks off, concerns have been expressed that some Jewish donors might decide against giving their money to struggling universities in South Africa.
Cape Town lawyer Michael Bagraim said one of his clients withheld a donation in excess of £100000 (R1.8-million) earmarked for Rhodes University last year.
The annual event, which calls for a boycott of Israeli products in support of Palestinians’ fight for their own land, kicks off this morning with Israeli and Palestinian speakers touring the country and speaking at universities.
Bagraim is concerned that the event could affect fund-raising by universities and raise costs due to legal cases arising from the week.
Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib admitted last year that the university had faced pressure from Jewish donors after pro-Palestinian students interrupted an Israeli concert pianist’s recital during Israel Apartheid Week.
“There have indeed been some individuals who have threatened to withdraw their donations, ” he said, but Wits University “will not be threatened or cajoled by cheque-book diplomacy”.
Bagraim said his client’s decision came after a disagreement between a Jewish Rhodes University employee, Larissa Klazinga, and university leadership.
Klazinga, represented by Bagraim, won a confidential settlement last year. The university’s charges against her included that she wore Israeli military gear and was insubordinate.
“The suggestion that her departure had anything to do with her being Jewish or because of an anti-Jewish institutional ethos is utterly devoid of truth,” Rhodes said.
The university’s Dr Sizwe Mabizela also denied Bagraim’s claim that donors withheld money.
“We are not aware of any company from Britain with a Jewish director that was planning to donate a substantial amount to the university but didn’t after the incident.”
There was, however, a potential donor of R5000 who decided not to proceed with that donation, Mabizela said.
He said: “The vice-chancellor has met a number of donors this year who happen to be Jewish and no one has refused support.”
Wits has beefed up security for this year’s Israel Apartheid Week.
Habib met the South African Union of Jewish Students and the Palestine Solidarity Committee last week to discuss management of the event. Both groups signed a new copy of the university’s general rules and, specifically, rules about the kind of media that could be displayed for the week.