On Monday evening, April 15th, attempts to sabotage the Israeli Independence day celebrations at the Gold Reef City Lyric Theatre were carried out by over one hundred BDS, COSATU, PSC and MSA members.
The members of these groups together with collaborators began to protest outside of the venue from 6pm. They were shouting, “Down with Israel” slogans, singing and blowing vuvuzelas. One speaker at the event made it clear that these movements are “going to make it so uncomfortable for Zionists to exist in this country” (South Africa) and another speaker stated that, “this will be the last year that they will be celebrating Israeli Independence.” (Which can be viewed as a direct threat to most Jews in SA). From there, certain members of BDS, the MSA and the SRC’s from three Gauteng universities tried to get into the event as people were arriving. A source has said that “they managed to call the Lyric Theater office and bought tickets; they even managed to get into the venue however some were stopped at the door by the heavy security (supplied by both the Jewish Community and Gold Reef City) as they looked suspicious.”
A second source has reported that some of the members of the Anti-Israel groups who were stopped at the door by Security (CSO) at the venue, began to cause a fuss saying that “being denied entry is pure racism and unjust” even though these BDS members had a plan to disrupt the concert. “They used the race card against us even though they were planning something sinister” says the source.
However, security measures did not prevail as an hour into the show, a group of the BDS/MSA/PSC ruffians made it into the venue intimidating members of the audience and shouting swear words, “down with Apartheid-Israel – Free Palestine” and “You suck” to the current performer. Security forces managed to remove them but a sense of uneasiness had already begun to settle within the crowd, “An elderly lady behind me fell to the floor in shock as these guys started intimidating the audience. Her husband had to console her throughout the rest of the concert. It was terrible” says one witness.
Another witness, close to the commotion stated that he had to help settle a shocked woman down. “She was quite a heavily pregnant lady and she started having cramps and pain as a result of the fright caused from the commotion. It was in such bad taste.”
During the closing ceremony of the concert, while world-renown singer Yaniv D’Or’s performed “Eli-Eli”, a Holocaust song written by Hannah Senesh, one of the female protesters who had managed to infiltrate the concert got up and ran on stage screaming “free Palestine” slogans. She together with other members, who had managed to gain access to the concert as well, began to set off stink bombs around the venue, shouting “Israel-Apartheid stinks.” At this point Yaniv who had very bravely carried on his performance hoping that they would leave, made the heroic decision to pick up the protester and removed her off the stage while continuing to sing. He handed her over to security forces that were waiting by the stage.
A number of BDS members were arrested on the scene after this disruption, including the daughter of a senior COSATU official. They spent Monday evening in jail and were released at 4am the next morning.
“Yes the concert was able to carry on which is a triumph in itself (referring to the Yossi Reshef debacle), but in my opinion, it really did upset the vibe. People started becoming a little anxious and it ended on a bit of a bad note. It could have been prevented had security properly searched and scrutinized the patrons coming into the venue. It was an oversight on their part,” says one source.
It seems as if security was once again the problem at the Israeli Independence Day concert and as a result these disgusting events were given an opportunity to unfold. The security matter needs to be seriously examined and a new plan should be implemented to strengthen security at these events. However, in response to claims by BDS/COSATU/MSA and PSC members that protestors who were removed from the venue were thrown down escalators and physically abused, I can confidently refute this and state that these claims are lies. These protesters were removed in the most humane way possible. Witnesses have stated that they were “gently escorted” out of the venue.
This entire event organized by BDS is actively against the South African constitution. Once again, these “freedom fighters” have attempted to silence Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion – three core principles of the constitution. Action must be taken against those who go against these principles and moreover those who against the South African Constitution. This event once again shows the aggression and blatant hate for Jews by BDS and the like.
On a more positive note, celebrations at the Wits Yom Ha’atzmaut party were not disrupted at all as the university implemented a ban on any members of these groups coming anywhere near the festivities. They were threatened with serious disciplinary action. There was also a large contingent of security around the event which deterred any unruly action from taking place. A wonderful time was had by all.
Overall, the above events can be seen as a total failure for the BDS campaign.
Side Note: Israeli Independence Day celebrations have been taking place for decades within the Jewish community of South Africa. Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day many Jews celebrate across the globe as a means of being thankful and appreciating the miracle of receiving a Jewish State on May 14th (5 Iyar) 1948. It is also celebrated because a few hours after the State of Israel was created, War was declared on Israel by the six surrounding Arab States. Miraculously, the war was won and Israel made it through what today is known as the War of Independence.
World renowned pianist Yossi Reshef was born in Israel but has lived in Berlin, Germany for many years. He is a critically acclaimed musical maestro who has received many awards for his musical talents. He has played all over the world including Britain, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Spain, Russia and the United States of America.
On the evening of Tuesday March 12th 2013, Yossi was scheduled to play a paid recital at Wits University which was open to the public and fully booked. However, when he arrived at the concert hall on Wits East Campus he was met by a delegation of Sixty plus Anti-Israel and Anti-Zionist protestors which included members of the PSC, the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and the MSA. He was quickly ushered in by security that was guarding the entrance to the building. When guests began to arrive, the protestors started to become restless and rowdy toward them.
According to eye-witnesses there were a number of unruly incidents that took place, where guests were accosted by the members of the so-called “silent” protest. Among those accosted was a lecturer from the Wits Music Department who was apparently pushed and kicked as he attempted to enter the concert hall. Security had to use minor force to help both the lecturer and a number of other guests get into the hall without being injured by the protesters.
Eventually all the doors were closed and the concert was finally allowed to begin. However, as Mr Reshef began to play the protestors outside were blowing vuvuzelas and chanting loudly as a means of trying to disrupt the piano recital. During this time, the security remained outside to guard the main door. After some time, things became quiet. Suddenly, while Mr Reshef was in middle of playing Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, another door within the concert hall burst open. The protestors started streaming into the venue whilst chanting and making loud noises as they attempted to sabotage the recital. It was later discovered that the protesters had actually broken into a fire exit and come in through that door. Security swiftly arrived on the scene and managed to push the protesters out of the hall for a time. Nevertheless, the protestors became so forceful that the security officers were actually pushed backward and once again they came into the main hall screaming, jumping and blowing vuvuzelas. Yossi Reshef was ushered out of the venue very quickly as chaos began to reign within the hall. An eyewitness who wished to remain anonymous even stated he saw the Vice-President of the Wits SRC, cheer one of the protestors who began to violently hit the piano keys of a Steinway Piano that was being used by Mr Reshef. One of the music professor’s, who was truly horrified by what was taking place quickly, ran over to close this very expensive piece of musical equipment.
By this time, five members of the Wits SRC, including the President were present in the hall watching this all take place but were doing nothing to put a stop to it. The guests were all forced to leave as security was unable to get a handle on the pandemonium taking place within the venue. As the guests left in a hurry, the protesters began to shout in unison “down with Israel.”
Eyewitnesses have described the protestors as “hooligans” who were purposefully trying to destroy a beautiful evening that was supposed to be memorable; unfortunately for the wrong reasons. It must be noted that Yossi Reshef resides in Berlin and is not in any way politically affiliated with Israel. This hate action against Mr Reshef and the guests was done purely because he was just born in Israel.
In light of the fact that Mr Reshef is a renowned concert pianist, this behaviour will do much to harm the reputation of the University of the Witwatersrand, which represents the bastion of freedom of expression and freedom of speech that is outlined in the South African constitution. It is in poor taste that once again the minority extremists were allowed to gain the upper-hand over the majority of peace loving lecturers and guests alike who were present at this event. The security measures seem to have been woefully inadequate and the whole fiasco was poorly handled. Extra measures should have been implemented to ensure the safety of all the patrons involved, but this was obviously not the case.
A thorough investigation of this incident should be implemented with immediate effect and disciplinary action should be instituted against all those involved in causing this unfortunate incident.
Below is an apology and statement released by the Wits University:
“STATEMENT FROM THE VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND, JOHANNESBURG
The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, deeply regrets that a concert held on its campus last night was disrupted by some members of the University community and representatives of external organisations.
In light of this incident, the University takes this opportunity to issue a public apology to all those who attended the concert. The disruption of this event points to intolerance on the part of some members of the University community and goes against the core values espoused by the University. The University is investigating this matter and will take the necessary action based on its policies, processes and procedures.
The University reiterates that the views and opinions expressed by the Students’ Representative Council or any other student groups on campus do not represent the official views of the University, nor are they necessarily an accurate reflection of the views of the majority of students, staff and alumni.
Wits University is a leading institution on the African continent renowned for encouraging dialogue and debate on often diverse and conflicting views confronting society. It provides a platform for different constituencies to express their views and opinions through considered debate and intellectual engagement in the spirit of tolerance, respect and openness.
We value the diverse views of all our staff, students and alumni regardless of their race, religion, gender, culture, language, ideology or otherwise, provided that they do not exceed the limitations explicated in our Constitution.
The diversity of people, programmes and ideas at Wits leads to the richness and robustness of the institution. This is indeed one of the greatest qualities of excellent higher education institutions, and one which Wits cherishes.
Prof. Loyiso Nongxa
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
13 March 2013”