On Tuesday, in an article of rare honesty, Israel's mainstream Ha'aretz Newspaper reported that the Israeli lobby in South Africa has been "outplayed" and "overpowered" by the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.
However, yesterday, Wednesday the 20th of September, Ha'aretz Newspaper censored the article by removing several key portions; so much for Israeli media freedom!
- And here is a commentary piece by Swiss human rights advocate, Adri Nieuwhof: http://goo.gl/fnrCU
The (original and uncensored) article is welcome and correct on several points, including making the case that the recent "boycott of Israel" actions by South Africa's Minister Rob Davies (see: http://tinyurl.com/cgjfh6g
) and Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim (see: http://tinyurl.com/ct9e4ra
) are not individual decisions but ANC positions and policy.
The article quotes Howard Sackstein, the well-known Israeli lobbyist and former employee of the notorious America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as (surprisingly) admitting that: "Israel’s policies and its human rights record towards occupied Palestinians are simply unacceptable to any member of the ANC ... and maybe to most enlightened people anywhere". We cannot agree more!
However, the article is wholly wrong that “much of the ANC’s latest emphasis on anti-Israel action is the result of trying to win Muslim votes in the Western Cape".
1. It is not the ANC pandering to the Western Cape province. Rather, it is the Western Cape province together with trade unions, churches, students and other stakeholders from across South Africa who are all insisting that our ruling party (and indeed our government) support the oppressed, the indigenous Palestinian people, by heeding their call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
against Israel until it abides by international law. It is simply a matter of the ANC carrying out its mandate by responding to the sentiments and positions that the vast majority of its members, constituencies and the South African population hold.
2. If the ANC's pro-Palestine policy is due to the Western Cape vote, as the Israeli lobby tries to claim, then how do they explain the ANC's long-standing support, well before the ANC came into power, for Palestinian self determination and end to Israeli Apartheid? The ANC has a long-standing relationship with the Palestinian liberation movement and it has nothing to do with votes, but with principle.
3. It is wrong and a tired practice of the Israeli lobby to continuously present the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a religious one between Muslims and Jews. Neither the Palestinian struggle nor our solidarity with the Palesitnian people are with a religion, rather, they are with an oppressed population struggling for self-determination and against Israeli racism and Apartheid. This is the reason that the ANC, and indeed all freedom-loving people, will support the Palestinian people.
Finally, the Ha'aretz article claims that we (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign) are "well-organized and "well-funded". We are indeed well-organized; And we would love to be well-funded, but we are not. The BDS movement like all social justice movements relies on you, members of the community, for the work that we do. We appeal to you to kindly consider making a donation to our work, click here to find out how you can make a contribution: www.bdssouthafrica.com/2012/02/donate.html
BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS in SOUTH AFRICA (BDS SOUTH AFRICA)
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PO Box 2318 | Houghton | 2041 | Johannesburg
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BDS South Africa is a registered Non-Profit Organization. NPO NUMBER: 084 306 NPO
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Pro-Israel lobby in South Africa is outplayed by BDS campaign, analyst says
- By Jeremy Gordin
- Haaretz Newspaper | www.haaretz.com
JOHANNESBURG - The well-organized, well-funded anti-Israel lobby in South Africa – mainly in the form of BDS (boycott, disinvestment and sanctions) – is overpowering the local pro-Israel lobby, a veteran analyst of Israel-South African relations told Haaretz.
According to Howard Sackstein ,whether pro-Israel groups can get back up on their feet depends on how rapidly they realize that they're up against “professionals,” and also how quickly they move away from counting only on personal relationships with personages in the African National Congress (ANC) and government.
Sackstein, an attorney currently working in telecommunications, studied international conflict resolution at Harvard University and worked for AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington D.C.
He was the founder and vice-chairman of Jews for Social Justice, the Jewish Anti-Apartheid movement, and led the only ANC delegation ever to visit Israel. Sackstein also took Nelson Mandela to Brussels on behalf of the World Jewish Congress.
He spent six years at the Independent Electoral Commission (1994 to 2000) ending as executive director of the IEC and becoming largely responsible for the 1999 South African general elections.
In Sackstein’s view, much of the ANC’s latest emphasis on anti-Israel action is the result of trying to win Muslim votes in the Western Cape, which is the only province in South Africa not controlled by the ANC. Many so-called “Coloureds” – who live mainly in the Cape – are Muslims.
“I think the Muslims in the Cape have got other priorities, but that’s not the point. The point is that the ANC is trying to woo them however it can, " he said, adding: "One point I would make finally is that the BDS campaign, spearheaded by Muhammed Desai and Zachie Achmat, is very well run and seems to be well-funded. Maybe local Jewish leaders have relied for too long on their relations with ANC leaders who have in case moved on now – such as former President Mandela – and it’s time for the Jewish leadership to do some hard strategizing. Maybe this should be their new year’s resolution,” he added.
In his view, pro-Israel groups need to put together more effective strategies, while simultaneously realizing that there exist circumstances over which they have no control.
“By ‘circumstances over which they have no control,’ I mean of course the policies and behavior of the Israeli government and leaders,” said Sackstein in an interview with Haaretz.
“You have to start by realizing that, whatever other pressures and influences and games-playing by ANC politicians that we discuss, Israel’s policies and its human rights record towards occupied Palestinians are simply unacceptable to any member of the ANC and the South African Left – and maybe to most enlightened people anywhere, including Israel.
“This is the one factor that can’t be changed by those who try to fly the Israeli flag locally,” he added.
Sackstein was commenting on the latest four main incidents that have recently strained relations between South Africa and Israel as well as between elements of the local Jewish community and the ANC-led government.
The latest incidents were, first, the decision in 2011 by the University of Johannesburg (UJ), under pressure by BDS campaigners, to cancel its bi-lateral agreement with the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on water purification projects in South Africa.
Second, at the behest of pro-Palestinian advocates, Open Shuhada Street, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies announced that he was to issue an official notice “to require traders in South Africa not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as products of Israel”.
Third, Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim “Ibie” Ebrahim said that Pretoria discouraged all South Africans from visiting Israel. He said: “Because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people, we strongly discourage South Africans from going there.” He later told a newspaper that “Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel.”
However, it seems that Ebrahim was “told” to temper the tenor of his comments on Israel and he later said that it was people on official business with Israel that should be discouraged from going there, not ordinary South Africans.
Finally, on 31 August, the Students’ Representative Council of the University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, declared an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.
“You know,” Sackstein said, “whatever fancy verbal footwork some people might do – such as, say, Minister Rob Davies regarding the labelling issue – the fact is that the most influential body in the ANC, and therefore in the country, the ANC’s national executive council (NEC), which is effectively the country’s presidium – I know for a fact that the NEC discussed Israel, Palestine etc. and decided that they would have a common front on the issue and that certain steps needed to be taken.”
In other words, said Sackstein, Davies and Ebrahim were not acting of their own accord, but effectively carrying out ANC policy.
The ANC, Sackstein recalled, had been very close to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, especially in the days before it became the government of South Africa and soon afterwards. In addition, the ANC policy is overall to be supportive of "oppressed people everywhere."
"Ebrahim said years ago that the ANC’s remaining struggles, besides its own, lay in east Timor, the Western Sahara and of course Palestine,” said Sackstein. “Besides, as I said earlier, the behavior of the Israel government doesn’t exactly enamour itself to leftist movements.”