Some observers get very touchy at the mention of a pro-Israel lobby sweeping the corridors of power to influence opinion formers, politicians and media in order for them to look favourably upon the Zionist state. Quite why they get so defensive is beyond me when it is quite clear that millions upon millions of Euros, dollars, pounds and shekels are thrown openly in an organised campaign to convince the world that Israel really is a benign little country; indeed, that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East". Such propaganda — "hasbara" — ignores the fact that Israel has launched three vicious wars in the past decade against its Palestinian neighbours in the besieged Gaza Strip; continues to operate a racist regime which discriminates against its own Arab citizens — one-fifth of the population; and makes the lives of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank as miserable and difficult as possible.
However, as I discovered during a recent visit to South Africa, it's not just the elected great and the good who are being targeted for free junkets to Israel. It seems that the pro-Israel lobby groups are aiming to seduce the rising stars of the future in a get-them-young strategy. Students in Johannesburg told me how they have been approached and offered free trips to Israel, and the problem has become so great that those belonging to the SA Students Congress (SASCO) and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) have now signed pledges publicly rejecting the propaganda junkets.
In particular, those who are running in the current Witwatersrand University SRC student government elections have signed the pledges. It is no coincidence that they were targeted because during the last student elections the SASCO/PYA won all of the seats in Wits' SRC student government.
"They are obviously trying to work out who will be the stars of the future in politics and media, and they are being courted by these lobbyists with offers of free trips to Israel," one pro-Palestine student told me. "When we discovered what was happening someone from last year's elections felt obliged to resign from his position." The resignation letter was accepted earlier this month.
This particular method of targeting students resonates particularly with the young people who know their country's history as the very same method used during the 1980s in an attempt to smash the comprehensive international boycott of the Apartheid regime. The South African government and its lobby groups brought gullible students from campuses in Europe and America to South Africa on so-called "fact-finding", "see for yourself" visits.
The anti-apartheid movement at the time saw these freebies for what they were; brainwashing propaganda trips. For Israel to launch similar enterprises has angered those old enough to remember their use by the White-only, Apartheid government in South Africa, as well as the students. The Zionist state's bribes are seen as a bid to break Israel's increasing isolation in the international community.
One seasoned campaigner believes that the pro-Israel lobby is becoming more determined to smash the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) programme. "The focus on Wits University is aimed at circumventing the national policies of student organisations that have endorsed the BDS boycott of Israel by attempting to take student leaders on these apartheid-era propaganda junket trips," said veteran campaigner Naazim Adam.
Clearly, though, the student bribes are not working. While it is only recently that bribes have been seen as necessary but unpleasant in business circles, South Africa's students are now giving the Israelis a lesson in honesty, integrity and morality, as well as displaying solidarity with the Palestinians. Such a lesson, as Israel is finding out from these dynamic young people, is something that shekels can't buy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.