Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mirrors: the new South Africa supports BDS

As a Jew, I was once puzzled by the intense military and economic effort of Israel to sustain apartheid in South Africa. For Jews have long fought the oppressor, active in socialist, anarchist, communist and anti-fascist movements, and as many of my fellow delegates to Palestine emphasized, the civil rights movement in the United States. See here.


It is superficially surprising that a race state - apartheid South Africa - where the Boer party, soon to become dominant, supported the Nazis during World War II (as well as identifying with segregation in the US later) - should be a special ally for Israel.

But Isreal is itself a settler state, in which those who dispossessed (and who after 1967 occupy and dispossess anew) the people living there, were religiously motivated. For the Boers trekking into South Africa and attacking blacks were motivated by a similar "Christly" vision.


And the Israeli military and government elite looked into the eyes of the South African apartheid elite and saw a common purpose. Under Prime Minister Verwoerd, South Africa created "bantustans," phony states in which the workers, exploited under South Africa's laws when they "emigrated" to work (no black could hold a position over a white, for example), were treated as being citizens of a separate, "independent" government. South Africa would provide them no protection or assistance, and the puppet bantustans were too poor and ineffectual.


The bantustans resemble the Palestinian Authority. Israel controls the borders (it has divided the Occupied Territories into 3 zones, only one of which has even formal Palestinian rule), has an army while the PA has not, has airports while there are none in the Occupied Territories, and controls the economy.

After Palestine was given a nonmember observer status by an overwhelming vote in the United Nations, Israel withheld the money derived from Palestinian trade - the money belonging to Palestinians - so that government workers could not be paid (ordinarily, Israel only takes an illegal and immoral cut out of this money for its "handling" expenses).

The workers are now on strike, and an emergency loan from some Arab countries has facilitated an offer of half their wages...


Israeli leaders hoped to emulate the bantustans. They purchased raw materials from South Africa and marketed them or products made from them as "made in Israel"...

Israel boycotted the great international boycott of South Africa that occurred in solidarity with those whose humanity was denied by apartheid.

They acted, in the Middle East and Africa, as Europeans had acted against them...See here and here.


Against the boycott, Israel also provided nuclear secrets and weapons to apartheid South Africa.

It supplied the bulk of South Africa's conventional weapons - 35% of Israel's arms trade.


Apartheid matches apartheid. Democracy Now Friday morning reported on a film by Anna Nogueira, a South African, and Eron Davidson, an Israeli, called "Road Map to apartheid" about Palestine. It is narrated by Alice Walker. See here.

They made the movie to make the apartheid - and the creepy cooperation of the apartheid regimes once upon a time - plain.


The South African people produced a great movement to overturn apartheid - one supported by an international boycott and divestment campaign - and then, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, showed the world the way to political healing with Truth and Reconciliation commissions.


Today the ANC government has moved against the old apartheid alliance and for justice for Palestinians.

As others boycotted South African apartheid, the South African government joins the international boycott against Israeli apartheid.


If the human rights of every person in Palestine and Israel are to be upheld, there needs to be a sharp movement from below to invigorate a two state solution (or a one state democracy with full protection of individual rights). South Africa's action is an important step.


Omar Barghouti, with whom the Dorothy Cotton Institute-sponsored delegation met with in Palestine and who argues very specifically and brilliantly for nonviolent non-cooperation with evil, sent the following report from Ali Abunimah (see here for accompanying photographs):
In historic decision, South Africa’s ANC makes support for Israel boycott its official policy

Electronic Intifada - Thursday 12/20/2012

In Johannesburg, a graffiti artist helped promote this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week.
(Minhaj Jeenah / BDS South Africa)

For the first time ever, the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa, today made the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel part of its official policy.

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa said the decision “by the ANC’s National Conference, its highest decision making body, is by far the most authoritative endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.”

In a press release sent out by email, BDS South Africa explained:

In October 2012, the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference (ISC) declared its full support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.

Today, Lindiwe Zulu (member of the ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee and special advisor to President Jacob Zuma) announced at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference plenary session, the ANC’s official endorsement, as captured in Resolution 39 (b), of the ANC’s October International Solidarity Conference (ISC) and all its resolutions, which includes a resolution on BDS. Giving muscle to resolution 39 (b), the ANC has committed to set up a steering committee to implement these ISC resolutions. In addition, the ANC adopted resolution 35 (g) that specifically called for “all South Africans to support the programmes and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”

Solidarity with Africans mistreated by Israel

BDS South Africa also applauded the ANC National Conference for passing a resolution that “abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans” and to “request that this matter should be escalated to the African Union.”

Failed effort by South African Zionist groups

In the days leading up to the conference, Jewish communal and Zionst organizations had expressed worries about the impending vote. JTA reported on 18 December:

A marked anti-Israel swing by the South African government in recent months has caused consternation among South African Jews and Christian supporters of Israel.

This concern reached a climax with the possibility of the passage of a boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, resolution at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference in Mangaung, which ends Dec. 20.

The groups mounted intense efforts to forestall the resolution:

The [South African] Jewish Board of Deputies sent a letter to the ANC prior to the conference in which it calls for evenhandedness on the Israel-Palestinian issue, and asks that the letter be read out loud at the conference if the resolution is proposed.

An open letter to the ANC signed by a number of religious leaders was published on the front page of South Africa’s widest-circulating paper, the Sunday Times. It called on the ANC not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Titled “Choosing Peace”, the letter outlined the violence and battles throughout the ages for control of Israel.

The effort to call for “evenhandedness” and “not to take sides” indicates the weakness of anti-Palestinian groups who can no longer dream of a pro-Israel policy. Israel was one of the closest allies and biggest arms suppliers to South Africa’s former apartheid regime until the 1994 transition to democracy.

Growing solidarity in South Africa

Recently high-level South African church leaders, shocked at what they saw then they visited Palestine, also expressed support for the boycott.

In August, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim advised his country’s citizens not to travel to Israel “because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people.”

Prior to October’s decision at the ANC’s International Solidarity Conference – that set the stage for today’s vote at the National Conference – more than 150 former anti-Apartheid activists from around the world signed a statement calling on the ANC to support the boycott.

Today, those voices and those of solidarity groups in South Africa, proved to be more effective than the appeals of the once mighty anti-Palestinian groups."


DemocracyNow! December 21, 2012

"As the ANC Votes to Support BDS, a New Film Compares Life in Palestine to Apartheid South Africa

AMY GOODMAN: "Hamdulillah," The Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour. In his YouTube posting about this song, The Narcycist wrote: "To say 'Hamdulillah' is to be grateful for what one has. The images of the past decades have cast a veil on our identity as a people. We, as international brothers and sisters, are now witness to injustice in real time. We watch our Wars in HD. It is time for us to claim our faces back," he says. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, a new report says four Israeli attacks launched on journalists and media facilities during the bombardment of Gaza last month violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian objects. Human Rights Watch issued the findings Thursday on the attacks that killed two Palestinian camera people, wounded at least 10 media workers and damaged four media offices. One strike also killed a two-year-old boy, Abdelrahman Naim, who lived across from a targeted building.

The report comes as the ruling party in South Africa has voted to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, known as BDS. On Thursday, the African National Congress declared it was, quote, "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel." Several high-level South African church leaders recently visited Palestine and said they were shocked at what they saw. In August, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, issued an advisory not to travel to Israel, quote, "because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, South Africans are no stranger to the complex issues facing Israelis and Palestinians. Now a new award-winning documentary examines the apartheid analogy commonly used to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film is narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. This an excerpt from the trailer for Roadmap to Apartheid.

ALICE WALKER: This is the beautiful land of Israel and Palestine. The world’s three most prominent religions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—consider it holy land. Each year, millions of people from around the world come here to pray for peace and prosperity. Yet this land is also a major center of conflict in the world today.

For Jewish Israelis, the conflict centers on protecting a homeland created for the Jewish people in 1948. For Palestinians, it is about resisting decades of colonialism, expulsion, occupation and apartheid.

Most people identify apartheid with the grotesque system of control that existed in South Africa from 1948 to 1994, in which the white minority ruled over the black majority, stole their land, and deprived them of basic rights. It was a system reviled by the whole world, and it eventually crumbled under the combined pressure of internal resistance and international sanctions. Today, the word is back, and with it, too, is a growing global movement to end the Israeli form of apartheid.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the trailer of Roadmap to Apartheid. The new film puts archival footage and interviews with South Africans, alongside similar material that shows what life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel. Roadmap to Apartheid has just been released to the public after a year-long film festival run, where it’s won a number of awards.

For more, we’re pleased to be joined by its co-directors, Ana Nogueira and Eron Davidson. Eron is a longtime media activist, born in Israel, now living in the United States. Ana was born in South Africa, longtime journalist, former Democracy Now! producer, founding member of the New York City Independent Media Center and its newspaper, The Indypendent.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ana, let’s begin with you, why you took on this project, this film.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Thanks, Amy. It’s good to be back in the studio.

Well, as you know, I was born in South Africa. And when I came to this country, I was only 11, but I was the youngest of seven children and learned about what apartheid was like through them and through research and looking into it. And then, when I started working at Democracy Now! in 2001, the Second Intifada had just begun, and so I was learning about the Israel-Palestine conflict through our daily coverage of the Second Intifada. And that’s where I began to pick up on the similarities with the apartheid analogy and the apartheid experience in South Africa. So, I thought it was important to really flush that out. And I met Eron, and he’s Israeli. We decided to do this project together and really present a thesis as to why the analogy is so powerful.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, it’s a very controversial analogy, Eron, and you come from South Africa, apartheid well known in this country and the struggle against it.

ERON DAVIDSON: From Israel. I was born in Israel. And yes, the analogy is very controversial—but getting more common now. In the past eight or so years, the analogy has been getting quite common, yet used somewhat rhetorically. And that’s why we wanted to make this film, is to kind of break down that carefully, where that analogy fits and where it doesn’t.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to go to a clip from your film, which we first hear from the South African journalist, Na’eem Jeenah, and then Allister Sparks, a veteran apartheid-era journalist.

NA’EEM JEENAH: Now, in the South African context, the attempt by the apartheid government was to de-citizenize more than 80 percent of the South African population and then give them new citizenship in some kind of a fantasy entity—Bophuthatswana, Transkei, etc., so the South state could say, "You have no claims over us; you’re a citizen of Bophuthatswana. Social benefits, etc., is what you should be looking for there."

ALLISTER SPARKS: The godfather of the system was Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd.

DR. HENDRIK VERWOERD: In South Africa, you can only achieve peace by separating the nations.

ALLISTER SPARKS: And he spelled out the whole bantustan concept. He said the black people have got to be given their own country. They embarked upon this remarkable experiment of trying to cut up the country into bantustans. And these were created, at least on paper, 10 of them, and the move began to advance them towards independence.

LUCAS MANGOPE: My government would like to continue as we are, an autonomous and independent country, preferably with extended borders, continued friendly and cordial relations with our neighbors, and, if possible, international recognition.

YASMIN SOOKA: Most of them were stooges and really puppets of the apartheid state.

ALLISTER SPARKS: To give some veneer of reality to the fantasy of the bantustans, the the Afrikaner government threw money at them, built elaborate parliaments, housing for ministers, built airports, sports stadiums. It was to create separate states. It was not so much a two-state solution as a multi-state solution.

When I look at Israel, when I traveled through the West Bank, I was looking at bantustans—totally unviable, impossible states. In many respects, it struck me as being significantly worse than apartheid.

NA’EEM JEENAH: Bantustans, as much as we abhorred them in South Africa, bantustan leaders actually had more power and more control than the Palestinian Authority has. What Oslo did was create an authority, which allowed Israel to still control the occupied Palestinian territory, but control it through a Palestinian authority. Ostensibly, there’s a Palestinian—some kind of Palestinian authority that’s controlling, that’s in power of the occupied territory. In fact, Israel controls the borders. Israel controls taxes. Israel controls all kinds of things—access in and out of that area.

ALLISTER SPARKS: To me, the big analogy was that South Africa, in taking these two choices, where you’ve got two or more nationalisms laying claim to the same country, you either have got to find a way to live together, or you’ve got to have a fair partition. The big similarity between apartheid South Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian situation is that both decided to have a partition solution, and, in both cases, it was a grotesquely unfair partition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Allister Sparks, a veteran apartheid-era journalist, and then we also heard from South African journalist Na’eem Jeenah. The bantustans and the parallel in terms of what’s going on in the Palestinian territories today?

ANA NOGUEIRA: I think that’s one of the most important similarities to look at, because ultimately it shows where we’re going, where we’re heading with this. As the clip showed, you know, South Africa tried to set up a multi-state solution, to de-citizenize the majority population, put them into these ghettos or bantustans. And it failed. The whole world saw it for what it was and refused to recognize it.

Israel was one of the few countries who actually did recognize it, in an attempt to legitimize this strategy. Ariel Sharon apparently told one of the Italian former prime ministers that the bantustan solution was the situation for Israel and Palestine. And we’ve seen over the last 20 years that the attempt to create a two-state solution has failed, and Israel has done everything in its power to thwart that. Even the most recent U.N. recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, as soon as that was—you know, that referendum was held to the world and everyone supported it, Israel immediately showed everyone who’s boss by announcing the building of 3,000 settlements, withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, which cripples the Palestinian economy. So, this two-state solution really is a farce, and it really is more of a bantustan.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip from Roadmap to Apartheid, when narrator Alice Walker explains part of the history of the Afrikaner movement.

ALICE WALKER: A deeply religious people, the white Afrikaners of South Africa believed they had a God-given right to a land that they considered mostly uninhabited. In what is known as the "Great Trek," what Afrikaners consider their equivalent of the Exodus, thousands trekked into the wilderness in search of the promised land. The Afrikaners pushed into land the Africans considered theirs, and many battles ensued. Armed with guns and protected by a circle of covered wagons, known as a "laager," the Afrikaners easily beat back the indigenous masses that outnumbered them.

This image of the heroic settlers in their laager fending off the savage masses became the dominant mythology in Afrikaner history, morphing into the philosophy of apartheid in 1948. Under apartheid law, the one standard against which everything was judged was the security of the state, and the state meant the Afrikaner people. With every law enacted, the freedoms of the majority were whittled away in order to protect the privileges of a white minority.

In Pretoria today stands a monument to the Great Trek, a shrine to this history and philosophy. A concrete laager, that iconic image of the Afrikaners’ military defense tactic, completely surrounds the monument—a physical representation of a state of mind that sees enemies everywhere and will do anything to protect against them.

AMY GOODMAN: That is a clip from Roadmap to Apartheid, narrated by Alice Walker. And I wanted to turn to another one, how you explore how Israel was one of the closest allies and biggest arms suppliers to South Africa’s former apartheid regime. This clip is narrated by journalist Ali Abunimah and Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance.

ALI ABUNIMAH: The South African Defense Forces, as they were called, their army and navy was almost totally outfitted by Israel, because South Africa couldn’t get weapons from other countries. Israel was one of the only countries willing to break the arms embargo.

SASHA POLAKOW-SURANSKY: Well, the alliance started in earnest in 1973. By 1979, about 35 percent of Israel’s arms exports were going to South Africa, so they became a crucial client and also a crucial source for export revenue that Israel couldn’t give up easily. And it involved everything from tanks to aircraft, to ammunition, you name it. After ’77, there was a mandatory U.N. arms embargo. Israel violated the U.N. arms embargo openly, and many Israeli officials are happy to admit that. If you talk to South African defense officials, especially people from the air force, they tell you that Israel was an absolutely vital link and was a lifeline for them during the 1980s.

After 1977, the ideological component becomes much stronger. The top brass of the two militaries really felt that they were in a similar predicament and that they faced a common enemy. They also had a very similar conception of minority survival. There was a sense that Afrikaner nationalists were similar to Israelis, a beleaguered minority surrounded by a hostile majority.

AMY GOODMAN: That, a clip from Roadmap to Apartheid, Sasha Polakow-Suransky and, before that, Ali Abunimah. Eron Davidson, you were born in Israel. This is obviously an extremely sensitive comparison that many object to.

ERON DAVIDSON: It’s true. It is. It’s gaining more ground and becoming a more common discourse, though. And yeah, as you saw in the clip, the government ties through the '60s, ’70s and ’80s were extremely deep. They armed each other with nuclear weapons. The Israeli government did what's called "sanction busting." Where South Africa couldn’t export products, it sent them to Israel; they manufactured them and then sent them out to the rest of the world, labeling it "made in Israel." So—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And now, obviously, the whole divestment movement is again another parallel in terms of what happened, in terms of resistance or worldwide resistance to the continuation of the oppression of the Palestinians, as it was in South Africa.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Yeah, there’s a very fast-growing global movement that is modeling itself on the anti-apartheid movement of the '80s and, you know, taking its cues from there, recognizing that apartheid ended as a result of internal resistance, as well, so there needs to be a Palestinian resistance, as well. But it was supported by this global movement that used boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure the apartheid government to change its ways. And this recent ANC announcement that it's going to abide by this BDS call by the Palestinians is very heartwarming and probably going to have a domino effect in terms of more states getting onto this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a last clip from Roadmap to Apartheid. This is Eddie Makue with the South African Council of Churches. Later in the clip, we hear from Ali Abunimah and South African reporter Na’eem Jeenah.

EDDIE MAKUE: I have been able to visit Israel and Palestine on more than two occasions. And what I experienced there was such a crude reminder of a painful past in apartheid South Africa. We were largely controlled in the same way. The continuous checking at the roadblocks, and to see these young men and young women standing at the roadblock, having to perform the duties of a military junta, these parallels with Israel pained me severely while I was traveling through that lovely country.

ALI ABUNIMAH: The settlements are linked by modern superhighways, which are Jewish-only roads. Palestinians are not allowed to use them. And these superhighways crisscross across Palestinian land, linking the settlements together and linking them with Israeli cities inside the 1948 borders.

NA’EEM JEENAH: The separate roads that you find, the kind of whole settlement infrastructure that you find in the West Bank, for example, you know, which in South Africa we didn’t dream that we’d have roads that would be only for whites.

ALICE WALKER: In 2008, there were 800 kilometers of Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, or as the Israeli military prefers to call them, "sterile roads." Settlers are issued yellow license plates so that the military can distinguish them from Palestinian drivers.

AMY GOODMAN: A clip of Roadmap to Apartheid. Ana Nogueira, the film is now out on DVD?

ANA NOGUEIRA: Yes, you can find the film on our Roadmap—on our website,, or on Journeyman Pictures’ website. There’s online and broadcast sales, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Ana Nogueira and Eron Davidson, I want to thank you so much for being with us."

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