During the Apartheid years, South Africa was seen as the world’s number 1 pariah state. Officially excluded from the family of nations, South Africa was subjected to harsh policies of academic, economic, sporting and other boycotts. Many, including poster-child for the BDS movement against Israel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have claimed that thanks to international policies of isolation and boycotts, the heinous Apartheid regime was brought to its knees and eventually ended.
Tutu and other proponents of the Boycott Divestment and Sanction campaign rationalize their attempts to isolate Israel by making odious comparisons between the Jewish State and Apartheid South Africa. As someone who grew up in South Africa, bore daily witness to the daily workings of the Apartheid machine and now lives in Israel, this campaign is racist and nefarious to say the least. While Israel is far from perfect and there are instances of individual racism, just as there are in any other country, Israel is FAR from being an Apartheid State. Words like Apartheid have become the stick by which to smack the proverbial horse. Naturally there are those who will deny that these accusations are anti-Semitic by crying Mazel Tov! Gefilte Fish! We love the Jewish people – we just hate Israel. While in some circles it has become decidedly politically incorrect to attack Jews, the Jewish brand or State has been declared open season for battle.
This brings me back to the accusation I have made in the title of this post. The South African Ministry of Trade and Industry have passed a ruling calling for goods imported from the West Bank to have their “made in Israel” labeling removed. “For now, there is no decision but people should know that South Africa recognises Israel inside the 1948 UN borders,” Macdonald Netshitenzhe, the trade ministry’s director for trade policies and legislations, said. “Now coming to the issue of Palestine and Israel, a product from Israel has to be manufactured or produced within the borders of 1948.Under the 1948 boundaries, territories occupied after 1967 such as the Gaza Strip are not included. Therefore for the goods or vegetables which are grown in the area where Israel invaded other Arab countries, South Africa says, you better say these products are grown in Palestine or Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Netshitenzhe added. (courtesy News24.com)
It seems that the country that famously defeated discriminatory policies after the first democratic elections in 1994 has done an about turn and is fast hurtling downhill back towards its racist past. This time, instead of discriminatory laws being passed based on race; South Africa is claiming its “moral high ground” to pass racist laws against the Jewish State. And yes, they are racist. By singling out one country for opprobrium and sanction because its identity is defined along ethnic-nationalist lines, that is APARTHEID. By resorting to ridiculous kangaroo courts such as the Russell Tribunal which placed the State of Israel on trial for “crimes against Apartheid” you are perpetrating anti-Semitism. By ignoring the human rights abuse and transgressions of some of the world’s greatest offenders, one of which is on your border (hello Robert Mugabe) or ignoring the plight of your own citizens and rather choosing to focus on Israel that is Apartheid.
We should not dismiss the actions of the South African government or pooh-pooh them with the excuse that South Africa means little in the grand Western political scheme of things. We need to take heed very carefully. The actions of this government who many see at the benchmark by which we measure racism are proving popular with many other countries, including Denmark who may follow suit.
Many forget who truly stands to lose when boycotting Israeli manufacturers. Apart from hurting importers of Israeli goods, boycotts will lead to the loss of jobs for many Palestinian workers in factories or on farms. While proponents of this action are motivated by ideology the end result can prove to be disastrous for those they intend to help. Peace in my belief will come from the ground up and not by sowing division.
To the South African government whose policies of quiet diplomacy and lack of action have meant that dictators like Robert Mugabe can continue to starve their people, or red-carpet treatment of Jean-Bertrande Aristide of Haiti, Bashir of the Sudan, Assad of Syria or the Foreign Minister of Iran and others makes its own statement, I ask when are you going to start labeling goods from these countries? South Africa, where once you could have played a vital role in the brokering of a lasting peace in the Middle East, you have lost all credibility.