A member of a University of Cape Town body that will vote on whether to implement an academic boycott of Israel has claimed that ultra-Orthodox Jews should "be relegated to the dustbox of history" and trafficked in a discredited theory alleging Ashkenazi Jews have no ties to the Middle East.
Shuaib Manjra — a physician and senior honorary lecturer at UCT's School of Public Health — was elected to served on the 28-member UCT Council from 2016 to 2020. The Council governs the university, and will vote on Saturday on implementing a proposal — passed by the school's Senate on March 15 — to bar UCT from entering into any formal relationships with Israeli academic institutions that operate "in the occupied Palestinian territories," or otherwise enable "gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories."
While the university does not currently maintain any such formal ties with Israeli counterparts, the demand was nonetheless the subject of a two-year campaign by backers of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) in South Africa, with which Manjra is affiliated. Proponents claim the BDS campaign seeks to isolate Israel in order to uphold international law and rectify the historic injustice of the state's establishment, though leading Jewish groups in South Africa, the United States, and globally have denounced it as antisemitic for denying the Jewish people's right to national self-determination.
Members of the South African Jewish community have raised concerns about some of Manjra's past statements, including his repeated invocation of the fringe "Khazar theory," which maintains that modern-day Ashkenazi Jews are largely descendants of an extinct Turkic tribe that converted to Judaism en masse in the Middle Ages, rather than ancient Levantine Jews. While rejected by the majority of scholars of Jewish history and genetics, the theory was nonetheless popularized following the 2008 publication The Invention of the Jewish People, a best-selling work written by Professor Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University, which argues that most modern Jews descend from converts.
Sand's claims have come under dispute for sharply contradicting multiple genetic studies released prior to the book's publication, as well as research published two years later in Nature and the American Journal of Human Genetics, which found that Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish communities share many genetic similarities, including significant Levantine ancestry.
A 2012 study published by geneticist Eran Elhaik that appeared to back the Khazar theory was received with much criticism by peers in the field and other scholars, and was challenged by several subsequent studies, most notably one published in 2013 that uncovered "no evidence ... of a Khazar origin for the Ashkenazi Jews."
Despite the scant proof and notable evidence to the contrary, the theory nonetheless continues to be highly regarded in many antisemitic and anti-Zionist circles for supporting the idea that Jewish peoplehood, and the Zionist movement's call for Jews to exercise their collective right to self-determination in their historic homeland, are based on a fabricated narrative. The theory has been championed in such a vein, for instance, by Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan, who has called Jews "termites" and "Satanic," and David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who maintains that Jewish groups were behind the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.
Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League, told The Forward in 2017 that white supremacists and similar groups have upheld the Khazar theory since the early 20th century, in an effort to disassociate modern Jews from the ancient Israelites. "It's a way to remove Jews from their own identity story," he said.
Manjra has appeared to promote Sand's book and the Khazar theory in an effort to portray Ashkenazi Jews as foreign interlopers in the Middle East, telling a Jewish Twitter user in a January 2017 exchange, "If you want your homeland look up Khazaria."
Likewise, in a 2014 open letter to Helen Zille, then leader of the Democratic Alliance opposition party, Manjra wrote, "Most Jews are not even Semitic, they are European — so I'm not sure whether they are really children of Isaac."
In a comment on Disqus months later, he acknowledged that while "some Jews" lived alongside Palestinian Arabs in the Levant for centuries, European Jews came "as colonialists" and, "as Shlomo Sands compelling writes, are converts to Judiasm [sic]."
Manjra has shared other controversial views online, writing in 2017 on Twitter in apparent response to a comment by Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "Damn, he sounds like an ultra-orthodox Jew. Both shud [sic] be relegated to the dustbox of history. And their minions."
"[T]heir minions are those who invoke religious authority to steal & occupy land of, and oppress others. Pity the irony," he added in a subsequent tweet.
He also called Marwan Barghouti — an imprisoned Palestinian political leader who was convicted of five counts of murder in an Israeli court — "the Palestinian Mandela" in 2015, and repeatedly compared Israel and Zionism — a diverse movement that supports the establishment of a Jewish nation-state — to ISIS. "I think that ISIL are anachronistic and violent group and i think they derive their ideology not dissimilar to zionism," he wrote on the online discussion platform Disqus in 2015. "[T]hey both have millienialist tendencies, take a literal reading of scriptures, think they are chosen, are violent and god has given them their earth to inherit."
When contacted for comment, Manjra told The Algemeiner he would not be able to provide any response until Saturday night due to what he described as urgent commitments.