Overcoming prejudices

On Tuesday August 24 Jewish Voices South Africa (JV) and the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) organised a joint placard demonstration. The protest was a festive and peaceful affair that attracted people from diverse organisations and walks of life.

The intention was to organise against Israel’s so-called security barrier, better known in Israel and Palestine as an apartheid wall or a wall of occupation. At stake was the illegality of the partition. Our joint action, the first between a Jewish organisation with established roots in the Jewish community and a Palestinian solidarity movement, was motivated by several imperatives.

In the first place we wanted to give lie to the myth that only fringe groups oppose the actions of the current Israeli government. The demonstration sought to show our solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian groups seeking a peaceful and just settlement in the Middle East. This Friday Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace movement, will demonstrate with other Palestinian groups against the Israeli occupation. We also received letters of support from other Jewish organisations, including Britain-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the European Jews for a Just Peace, a network of 18 Jewish organisations in 10 European countries, as well as the Italian Network of Jews against the occupation (Rete Ebrei contro l’Occupazione).

In the face of a growing international consensus, those that remain silent about the illegality of the occupation and its threat to the security of Israelis and Palestinians, show themselves to be on the fringes of world and Israeli opinion. In their actions they show a lack of empathy for the lives of Israelis and Palestinians by refusing to come out strongly against the conditions of their insecurity. In this regard JV, like many similar organisations around the world, reflects the mainstream.

The demonstration sought to protest against the idea that Israel’s security lies in unilateral and illegal so-called security measures. Like many in the Israeli peace movement, JV has argued that, in the first place, the main threat to Israel comes from the violent and illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The conditions of peace lie in the dismantling of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and the withdrawal of Israeli military forces and settler populations from these areas. Currently Israel is continuing to expand these settlements in a policy it euphemistically calls “thickening”.

By organising this demonstration with the PSC, JV sought to overcome several prejudices. The PSC, like JV, is home to a diversity of opinions that are reconciled by a common interest in a peaceful, just and democratic resolution to the conflict.

In the first place, we wanted to reflect that there is growing Jewish opposition in South Africa, Europe, the United States and Israel to the occupation of Palestinian territories. We wanted, in addition, to overcome the idea that Jewish opposition is exclusively a matter of private conscience, or that when there is criticism it is confined to community newspapers and publications.

By working with the PSC, JV asserts that what is at stake in the Middle East is a human rights crisis of concern to all democratically minded people.

It is important that the conflict is not seen to be a struggle between Jews and Muslims. The form and manner of the demonstration — peaceful and reflecting a diversity of organisations — proves that opposition to the actions of the Israeli government in South Africa is not the preserve of extremists and religious fundamentalists. We have sought to expand the domain of critical, tolerant discussion in South Africa by disproving the claim that opposition is necessarily ill-informed, isolated and anti-Semitic.

Moreover, we have sought to show how the conflict in the Middle East raises universal democratic demands for rights to land, water and work. It makes solidarity with the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements relevant to all organisations fighting for these rights in their respective countries.

Ivor Chipkin is chairperson of Jewish Voices South Africa

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