The Israeli Apartheid Week ran from 11 March 2013 to today- 17 March 2013. UKZN and the Durban University of Technology hosted various events as part of the campaign.
Amidst the events was an outrage kicked up by Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor, Avrille Marcia Coen in the Ethekwini Municipality against Pro-Palestinian activists on the city’s beachfront. The outrage was sparked by graffiti drawn as part of the Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) awareness activities at the Durban Snake Park Beach. She allegedly made attempts to censor a Palestine solidarity campaign and have the usage of the term ‘apartheid’ used in relation to Israel classed as hate speech.
Daily News reported on 11 March 2013 “The students, part of the Durban IAW Committee, said the graffiti was part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign aimed at drumming up support for the international community to take a stand against what they termed Israel’s discriminatory policies.”
Ebrahim Moosa further reported-
According to Khadeeja Manjra, a member of Flashmob4Gaza, a youth-driven campaign that aims to create awareness of the immorality of Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian land through creative and unconventional means, the group was assembled at the Durban North Beach Skate Board Club on Sunday to mark the beginning of Israeli Apartheid Week(IAW) and inaugurate a graffiti mural in honour of the campaign, when the disturbance occurred.
Using the artwork by well-known graffiti artist Iain “Ewok” Robinson as a backdrop, the activists had begun enacting a scene highlighting the injustice of Israeli Occupation, in the process attracting the attention of many curious onlookers. A member of the public who was displeased by the skit lodged a complaint with the police, after which Coen arrived at the scene.
Israeli Apartheid Week Graffiti on the Durban beachfront labelled as ‘hate speech’ by DA councillor
According to Manjra, the agitated councillor then exchanged words with the organisers and subsequently threatened to instruct the City’s Parks and Leisure Department to remove the graffiti mural, purporting that it constituted hate speech.
The Daily News reports that Coen further demanded proof that Israel was an apartheid state. “This painting is telling half of the story of what is happening in the Middle East,” she said.
“We can’t have a painting in a public space like a beach that is so offensive to people of Jewish background. This is hate speech, calling a democratic country like Israel, which has people of Palestinian descent in parliament, an apartheid state. The painting must be removed.”
Speaking to Cii Radio, Coen confirmed her reference to the artwork as hate speech, but suggested it was just an emotional outburst delivered in the heat of an argument. She was at pains to clarify that the sentiments expressed were made in a personal capacity, and did not reflect official DA policy.
“I espouse no pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli or anti-Israeli agenda. As the DA we remain neutral on this issue. We are a party that supports peace, equality and freedom for all. We also advocate for everybody’s human rights and believe all are entitled to their preferred political views.”
Coen denied instructing the Municipality’s Parks and Leisure Department to remove the mural. “I gave no instructions – not to Council, not to anyone. The painting will not be removed.”
Manjra acknowledged the councillor’s clarifications. She however maintained that the epithet of ‘hate speech’ was still deeply problematic, regardless of the capacity in which the councillor had mentioned it. “Hate speech, by definition, is any gesture or conduct, which may incite violence or prejudical action because it disparages or intimidates an individual or group,” she said. “The graffiti consists of the words ‘Peace,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘Justice,’ and ‘Equality’. There is absolutely no indication of hate speech here.”
Manjra highlighted the increasing use of the term apartheid to describe Israeli treatment of Palestinians, indicating that many human rights organisations, prominent public figures and politicians as well as organs of the United Nations have concluded that Israel was practicing “institutionalised racism” against the Palestinians.
A statement by the Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) South Africa team released yesterday said describing Israel as an apartheid state was not hate speech but rather was a mechanism designed to expose a regime that privileges some citizens while discriminating against others based on their ethnicity.
It compared the alleged statements of the Councillor to recent lobbying by pro-Israel organisations, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies(SAJBD) and South African Zionist Federation(SAZF), to remove Palestine awareness billboards along a major Gauteng highway, an action it described as an affront to free speech.
Manjra said any attempts to censor the IAW artwork would be challenged. “This wall is a legal canvas showcasing free speech..We say if there is any wall that should be falling, it should be the Israeli Apartheid Wall.”
The DA and Palestine
This is not the first time statements by DA leaders regarding Palestine have sparked controversy. Last year, Cii reported on parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko’s stance that characterising Israel as an apartheid state was unfair. Speaking to the SAJBD Cape Committee in April, Mazibuko suggested that, in contrast to Apartheid South Africa, there was a “much more equal distribution of suffering” in the Middle East. Mazibuko also reportedly told the audience that she believed the Apartheid regime in South Africa had committed “far more atrocities” than what have been documented in Israel.
Currently in its ninth year, International Israeli Apartheid Week is a campaign that takes place annually during February and March in over 250 cities worldwide. Amongst its high profile endorsers in South Africa this year are the ANC Youth League, COSATU, South African Communist Party (SACP), South African Council of Churches (SACC), South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU), South African Students Congress (SASCO), South African Union of Students (SAUS), University of Pretoria Student Representative Council (UP SRC), Wits University Student Representative Council (Wits SRC) and the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCL).