Israel’s penalty fees for student trip ‘immoral’

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Students who wanted to pull out of a recent sponsored trip to Israel would have had to pay a R40,000 penalty fee, angering a local lobby group running a campaign against the Zionist state.

Bram Hanekom, board member of the national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel (BDS) lobby group, told Weekend Argus on Friday this was “immoral”.

He said they considered assisting students who had already signed up if they wanted to pull out of the trip earlier this month.

The South Africa-Israel Forum (SAIF), which organised the trip, has meanwhile come under fire from the ANC for allegedly trying to lure its members on “propaganda holidays” of Israel.

Israeli media reported the student delegation represented the ANC but the party said none of its members are allowed to travel to Israel on behalf of the party or in their personal capacity. It is investigating the students who went on the trip.

Weekend Argus read an extract from a document the trip’s delegates had to sign before heading off to Israel.

It compelled invited participants to repay costs if defaulting and also “agree to keep the tour itinerary confidential and will not share it with third parties”.

It reads: “By signing below and accepting the invitation to come on this trip, I understand that if I do not show up at the airport for departure, I will be responsible to reimburse the South Africa-Israel Forum and South African Union of Jewish Students my full R40,000 participation cost with 30 days of 4 July 2015.”

Hanekom said this “indicates a desperation of these organisations”.

“BDS has never offered money to pay these fees. It’s our view that the fees should not be paid. But in the event where a student decides not to go, we would consider fundraising to help a poor student to make a moral choice,” said Hanekom.

“We know they’re targeting other students, particularly those who look like they have bright futures. They want these young people to lobby for them.”

Nthabiseng Molefe, one of the students who went on the sponsored trip, told the local Jewish Report newspaper last week BDS “offered her R40,000 not to go on the trip”.

The newspaper reported Molefe told it BDS “had offered her (Molefe) and other delegates R40,000 each in cash to buy them out of cancellation waivers they had signed with SAIF”.

Jewish Report further describes Molefe as a “typical example of what a future ANC leader in SA looks like”.

The newspaper also reported this “group was unique in that they were all young, black, youth leaders holding influential positions in ANC structures, or organisations supporting the ANC”.

“They included the niece of a senior government minister… There were also high-ranking members of traditionally anti-Israeli organisations such as the SA Students Congress (Sasco); Wits SRC’s secretary general; and members of the ANC Youth League.”

Sasco said it did not want its student members to participate in these trips even though “some of our members and leaders have”.

It decided to “temporarily suspend all our members who participated in this propaganda trip to Israel pending disciplinary hearing”.

Local Israeli lobby groups have meanwhile condemned Sasco and the ANC for an “uncalled for attack against students”.

The SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) and SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) issued a joint statement questioning why the students should be condemned for “simply exercised their democratic right to freedom of thought and association”.

“No official ban has been placed on members of government or the ruling party traveling to Israel,” it said.

“There is nothing in any way illegitimate in bringing future young leaders to Israel to provide them with first-hand perspectives on what is happening there.”

Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Zuma’s office, said the ANC would push ahead with its investigation into the student trip.

“It’s going to be more a listening session, not a disciplinary. We want to hear what has happened and now they ended up going there and whether they were representing the ANC, or if it was the host who was parading them as the ANC,” he said.

Bapela is head of the party’s international relations committee. He said the party would “engage with Israel towards Palestinian freedom”.

“We have been engaging. Former ministers have looked to find a solution. Israel can learn from us. We are available,” said Bapela.

“Let them try their luck to recruit more ANC members. We will not change our stand. Our members will not travel to Israel.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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