A Response to the South African Jewish Report and Ms Klazinga on ‘Jews unwelcome at Rhodes’


On 1 January 2014, the South African Jewish Report and Ms Larissa Klazinga made a number of unfounded claims and unsubstantiated allegations against Rhodes University. Based on hysteria, lies and inaccuracies, the central claim made is that Rhodes University is hostile to Jews and seeks to be rid of Jews. We reject with contempt these baseless and self-serving claims and allegations of the South African Jewish Report and Klazinga.

The South African Jewish Report’s rant

The South African Jewish Report article bears no resemblance to any standard of journalism, for there is no interest in truth and accuracy and its practices are a far cry from the tenets of quality journalism. Bordering on the hysterical, the article trots out claims and allegations which are not backed up by facts or any empirical evidence. Indeed, truth, facts and evidence are casualties in a self-serving narrative in pursuit of a particular political agenda!

The University gives no credence whatsoever to the allegations of anti-Jewish conduct. However, we cannot ignore the lies, inaccuracies and misrepresentations and the deliberate and calculated action on the part of the South African Jewish Report and Klazinga to portray the University as hostile to Jews. Communication between supporters of the South African Jewish Report that we received last year made clear that there would be concerted action against anyone that dared to criticise Israel or was seen to be harbouring individuals and groups critical of Israel.

There is little point in refuting, line by line, the many falsehoods contained in the South African Jewish Report and so we will deal with only those issues that are pertinent and important.

The Rhodes reality

In reality Rhodes University is a far cry from the institution that the South African Jewish Report and Klazinga set out to portray.

It is widely acknowledged to be one of South Africa’s outstanding universities with an enviable reputation for the quality of its teaching and learning and graduates and its research and scholarship.

Rhodes is committed to an institutional culture that respects and promotes equity, human dignity and human rights, embraces difference and diversity and is comfortable for all people irrespective of ‘race’, gender, language, culture, nationality, sexual orientation and religion. It takes as its point of departure the 1996 South African Constitution which proclaims the values of “human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms”, and “non-racialism and non-sexism”. It is mindful that the Bill of Rights states unambiguously that institutions and individuals “may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth”. It takes seriously that we are enjoined to “respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights in the Bill of Rights”.

For these and other important historical reasons much attention has been given to ensuring that Rhodes becomes a Home for All. As part of building a Home for All and an inclusive institutional culture, the Vice-Chancellor has consistently articulated certain messages – evidence of which can be found on the Rhodes website. The VC has regularly drawn attention to the rich diversity that exists at Rhodes and stressed the importance of respecting this diversity, and for embracing it as an exciting fountain of intellectual and institutional vitality and strength. His annual welcome of new students makes absolutely clear that

at Rhodes University there are no first class and second class students and people; and that at this University there is no accommodation and no tolerance of racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or any other kind of chauvinistic behaviour. Your so-called ‘race,’ sex, gender, nationality, religion, first language, previous school, the suburb you come from, the make and model of your car, the size of your monthly allowance, and the political position, status and wealth of your parents confer on you no special rights or privileges. At Rhodes, everyone is treated equally and equitably. Everyone at Rhodes - other students, academics, technicians, secretaries, wardens, cooks, cleaners and garden staff – everyone deserves respect and must be accorded dignity. Rhodes University belongs to all and is a home for all! We must work together with sensitivity, honesty and courage to be a model for our society; we must be what we want our beloved country to become.

As a way of building an appreciation for difference and diversity and an inclusive culture, on significant religious and cultural occasions, such as Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, the Vice-Chancellor’s Office issues a message of good wishes to those who observe such events. An open email is sent to all staff as there are no specific lists at Rhodes of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and the like. It is important to emphasize this point, to rebut the false claim that Rhodes is hostile to Jews. The simple fact is that Rhodes does not know who is Jewish nor does it seek to identify its diverse community by reference to any particular religious or cultural practice.

Many examples can be provided, including of all the structures, policies and processes that have been specifically developed by the University to deal with the apartheid legacy, combat racism and other kinds of discrimination within the institution, and provide a platform and forum for recourse to those persons who may be affected by incidences of actual or perceived discrimination of one kind or another.

Significantly despite the fact that Rhodes has a community of about 9 000 staff and students,  there was just one reported case of racism in 2011; in 2012 three reported cases of racism and two cases of xenophobia; and last year two cases of racism and one case of xenophobia. All of these complaints were investigated and referred to mediation where appropriate by the university prosecutors; and finalized.

All complaints were investigated or at least referred to mediation by the university prosecutors; andall cases were finalized.

The fact is that Rhodes University is a very different place from the one that the South African Jewish Report and Klazinga claim, as part of their rather obvious political agenda.

Rehashing of the South African Jewish Report rant of April 2013

Klazinga simply repeats, and seeks to bolster through her alleged experiences, the South African Jewish Report’s rants of April 2013 that there was a hostile environment for Jews at Rhodes. Regrettably for it these claims gained no traction. It had dramatically claimed that “a startling picture of anti-Israel bias and outright racism towards Jewish staff and students at Rhodes emerged in a report after a six-person Jewish leadership delegation went to Grahamstown in April to investigate complaints from the campus”.

On 14 May 2103, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of the University informing him that a SAJBD “fact finding mission” to “investigate allegations of anti-Israel (sic) bias and intimidation at Rhodes that had come to our attention” and to “establish the relevant facts on the ground.” The SAJBD indicated that they wished to “discuss issues of concern to our community as well as to clear up a most unfortunate situation that has arisen recently on an independent website, which has made some disparaging remarks about Rhodes University without any agreement from our organisation, the representative body of SA Jewry.”

It should be noted that the SAJBD delegation that visited Grahamstown, inexplicably did not meet with the leadership of Rhodes – ‘fact finding’ was conducted without any opportunity for the University to engage with allegations, and so failed to respect a fundamental convention of the law - namely, the audi alteram partem requirement – which would have allowed the University to provide its side of the story.   

The University responded on 3 June 2013 indicating that it was willing to meet the SAJBD and invited it to provide the University with a copy of their fact finding report. The University expressed the hope that the report would provide factual evidence of the nature, form and extent of "anti-Israel bias and intimidation at Rhodes", and indicate whether or not those who allege such “bias and intimidation” had raised this with the University authorities and with what outcomes.

On 18 June 2013, the University repeated its willingness to meet. To date, we have not had the courtesy of a response from the SAJBD.

To date, no facts or evidence or report have been forthcoming from the SAJBD and thus no meeting could be held.

The South African Human Rights Commission

Rhodes University has nothing to hide and is confident of its track record with respect to its promotion of human rights and human dignity.

The Vice-Chancellor will be proposing to the Senate and Council of the University that the South African Human Rights Commission should be invited to investigate the claims and allegations that Rhodes is hostile to Jews, that Jews are not welcome at Rhodes and that there is an institutional conspiracy to get rid of Jews. Jewish students and staff who claim that their human rights have been violated at Rhodes will be invited to place their allegations before the Human Rights Commission.

The case of Klazinga

In so far as Klazinga is concerned, we do not wish to dignify her own or the South African Jewish Report’s puerile and self-serving claims.

Tempting as it is, and unlike the South African Jewish Report which has no ethical reservations about making scandalous claims, we will make no comment on Klazinga’s character and conduct at Rhodes.

It is a matter of fact that Ms Larissa Klazinga departed from Rhodes at the end of 2013 on the basis of a confidential settlement. 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 and political grandstanding on her part in the service of a particular political cause of which she is a known supporter.

Suffice to say that like everyone else, she enjoyed great latitude at Rhodes, as befitting a university, to hold views and opinions and express herself freely on issues. The political affiliations of staff are considered to be a personal matter, and respected as such by Rhodes. Academics understand Max Weber’s distinction between science as a vocation and politics as a vocation, and the responsibilities that are associated with being an academic. She was hardly exempt from the need to maintain a judicious boundary between her personal political affiliations and her work and conducting herself in a manner that inspired the confidence of a diverse student body and various constituencies and actors at Rhodes.

It was not surprising that the Dean of Students, as her line manager, sought to institute disciplinary proceedings against her for her inappropriate conduct and transgressions. The South African Jewish Report and Klazinga seek to portray the move to institute disciplinary proceedings against her as having to do with her being Jewish or pro-Israeli; the simple fact is that it was her conduct in her work position that was the issue.

It is important to note that in the discourse of the South African Jewish Report and Klazinga, there is a consistent deliberate conflation of Zionist, Semitic, Israeli and Jewish. Thus, any criticism of Israel and its actions are ridiculously branded as anti-Jewish.  This is, of course, absurd to the extreme. It is not dissimilar to those who were anti-apartheid or anti-apartheid state being labelled anti-white.

Specific allegations

As indicated, there is no value in responding to each and every allegation made against this University since many of these are simply ludicrous assertions without any foundation. Two claims though do deserve a response. 

  1. “Larissa Klazinga’s story is about an almost two-year-long saga that speaks to the anti-Israeli culture that pervades the hallowed halls of Rhodes University”.

The reference to a ‘culture’ is fictional. Of course there is debate on Israel at Rhodes as there is on many issues and there are contending and different positions amongst academics and students who may hold different views. Respectful intellectual clash of ideas and debate is the lifeblood of a university. Guided by the principles of academic freedom, freedom of expression and within the bounds of the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights, Rhodes University will continue to protect and promote debate of all kinds. 

  1. “Its been a great victory, said Bags who represented Larissa together with advocate Izak Smuts SC.  The University had raised a laundry list of disciplinary charges, but says Bags, all of them came to naught”.... “The litigation was 100% successful”. 

Here one has to recall Amilcar Cabral’s dictum: ‘Tell no lies, claim no easy victories’.

The Dean of Students sought to sanction Klazinga on good disciplinary grounds. The charge sheet was prepared by the Human Resources Division and the Office of the Dean of Students, assisted by attorneys.

When the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Mabizela and Director of Special Projects had sight of the charge sheet, they were deeply anguished by and raised a principled objection to two specific charges – namely, charge 6, “You have behaved in a sexually provocative manner in public” and Charge 8, “You have failed to ensure that your position at the University should be one of neutrality as far as political issues are concerned”.

Their view was that those specific charges were gratuitous and antithetical to the kind of culture that the University was seeking to create. The charges were then withdrawn in their totality. This was communicated to Klazinga and an apology was tendered for the inclusion of charges 6 and 8.

Subsequently, the Director of Special Projects was requested by the Vice-Chancellor to produce terms of reference to investigate how such gratuitous charges were permitted to be tabled and to extend such an investigation to a sample of other disciplinary cases. The concern is, of course, one of institutional culture and equitable treatment. This investigation will be concluded in mid-2014.

There was no litigation and the disciplinary charges were never tested and so the claims of the South African Jewish Report and the attorney they quote are hollow. The sad reality was that the breakdown of relations between Klazinga, the Dean of Students and Deputy Dean of Students had unfortunately entered the realm of personal antagonism. Klazinga was requested to work through the Director of Special Projects and during this time undertook support work for the Office of the Vice-Chancellor. Subsequently, in liaison with the Director of Special Projects, she chose, of her own free volition, to negotiate an exit settlement with the University.

We wish to reiterate that Rhodes is committed to an institutional culture that respects and promotes equity, human dignity and human rights, embraces difference and diversity and is comfortable for all people irrespective of ‘race’, gender, language, culture, nationality, sexual orientation and religion.

Rhodes welcomes all and will continue to strive to be a Home for All.

Photo by Sophie Smith

Source:  Office of the Vice-Chancellor

Please help us to raise funds so that we can give all our students a chance to access online teaching and learning. Covid-19 has disrupted our students' education.  Don't let the digital divide put their future at risk. Visit www.ru.ac.za/rucoronavirusgateway to donate