By all accounts the recent trip to South Africa by a delegation of Israeli parliamentarians was an utter failure. The group sought to downplay its regime’s crimes and increasing isolation, but, instead, the main headlines were that they were rejected by the Parliament of South Africa precisely due to those crimes and violations of international law.
The decision adopted by the Parliament of South Africa was a welcomed by various groups including South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP), ANC, COSATU and Palestinian political parties Fateh, the PFLP and Hamas. In addition, notable figures including Mandla Mandela and Ronnie Kasrils also commended South Africa for its position, with the former saying that the act of shunning the delegation was true to the spirit of his grandfather – our beloved Madiba.
We may not agree on much with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) but we do however agree that South Africa bears a great responsibility, to teach Israel that crime does not pay, Israel must either respect international law and human rights or it too be a case study in years to come on what apartheid (and a successful struggle against it) looks like. We remind the SAJBD (which is more a lobby group that religious body) that when we black people in this country were being tortured, killed and our bodies secretly disposed of by the apartheid government both the SAJBD and Israeli regime were more than happy to continue to lend aid to the oppressor. It is therefore not only deeply offensive but also very patronizing that the SAJBD and Israel today speaks about “painful history of oppression” – the SAJBD is manipulating our history for their own agenda!
If the SAJBD is really honest about our history, then they must surely agree that reconciliation only came after political liberation, not before. Will the SAJBD champion the South African story of boycotts and sanctions that played such a significant role in our struggle? After all, the father of reconciliation, Archbishop Tutu, was himself one of the greatest proponents of sanctions against Apartheid South Africa (and today against Israel). He says: “The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees…Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of “normalcy” in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo. Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.”
So before we sip on the reconciliation juice, Israel needs and must give up its apartheid policies, its unlawful occupation and illegal settlements. If Israel is really serious about peace it will end its human rights abuses and violations of international law. As the delegation leaves South Africa we ask that instead of taking selfies outside our parliament like high school students on a school trip, they begin to reflect on the real issues, real peace. Indeed, the Israeli delegation must go home and narrate how this country is a profoundly hostile environment to Israeli human rights abuses and a thriving ground for the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement!
Kwara Kekana, BDS South Africa spokesperson