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9 Rhodes University, Not a Home for All: A Progressive Zionist’s Two-Year Odyssey Larissa Klazinga From South Africa comes a narrative of persecution and harassment on an institutional scale. Larissa Klazinga, an alum of and staff member at Rhodes University, was approached by several Jewish students alarmed about an upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week. In solidarity with the students, Klazinga placed on her office door a poster of an Israeli flag with the words, “Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel,” and dared to wear pro-Israel clothing to work. Anti-Israel activists promptly deluged her with abuse and insults, while the administration itself delivered an extended campaign to harass her, ultimately trumping up disciplinary charges to fire her over her support for Israel. Refusing to be bullied Klazinga fought back, with the support of the local Jewish community and lawyers, and won. She left Rhodes with her life destroyed but with a legal settlement and her head held high. Meanwhile, the campus remained riddled with antisemitic anti-Israelism, and not one of those who persecuted her was brought to justice. This is not an easy story to write; it’s difficult to pinpoint the beginning, and the end is a fairly sad one. I suppose the long and short of it is this: Zionists can’t really work at Rhodes University, and they probably aren’t welcome to study there either. For those of you unfamiliar with Rhodes, allow me to sketch the landscape. The demographic makeup of Rhodes is unlike other South African universities. Rhodes has very few Jewish students and even fewer Jewish staff members; factor in the number of those who openly identify as Zionists, and you are down to single digits. Now to introduce myself. While I am no fan of labels, for the purposes of this story, permit me to use broad strokes: I’m a hearing-impaired Jewish lesbian vegetarian with a biracial Xhosa wife. No, I didn’t just make that up. As you can imagine, I have come up against my fair share of snide comments and nasty Rhodes University | 135 glances, but I am forced to confess that until I came face to face with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its henchmen, I never really understood bigotry. It was 2012 and time for a campus bombshell as I emerged from the proverbial leftist closet ... as a Zionist. OK, it was a poorly kept secret and not much of a shock to anyone close to me. I’ve been a Zionist for as long as I can remember. I was naive enough to believe it was an uncontroversial position; in fact, much like being proudly South African, it seemed like a no-brainer. I’d had discussions with progressive friends who disagreed with me, but the vitriol directed at me during my last two years at Rhodes, after I came out of that closet, came as a shock. In addition to being a staff member, I was also an old Rhodian, and I used to be a proud one. After a brief stint elsewhere, I had returned to Rhodes, where I worked for more than a decade conceptualizing and organizing myriad transformation initiatives highlighting gender-based violence, xenophobia, racism, and other human rights abuses. I became the go-to person for anyone wanting to organize an awareness-raising event, and ironically, I also functioned as the university harassment officer, charged with assisting students facing discrimination and harassment and putting in place measures to counteract the problem. Now that I’ve set the scene, let me describe the events that made me walk away from my alma mater and my career at the end of November 2013. It all started in early 2012, when a new awareness-raising event reared its head at Rhodes: Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). It was organized by a group of students and staff members ostensibly under the banner of the Faculty of Humanities, with evening film screenings, discussions, and lunchtime seminars hosted in the politics department. It was clear that these events were being directed by proponents of BDS. From the outset, two things were evident: first, the event was actively underwritten by the university itself, and second, what was being promoted was not a debate but rather a diatribe, as the organizers would brook no dissent. Within days of the publicity materials blanketing campus, I had two separate incidents of Jewish students arriving at my office in tears after the students attempted...


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