Pro-Palestinian activists in South Africa believe that the dispatching of Israeli envoys to “defend the state” during Israeli Apartheid Week shows the effectiveness of the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Earlier this week the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli public diplomacy ministry planned to send abroad 100 Israelis — called the “Faces of Israel” and comprising settlers, Arabs, artists, experts in national security, gay people and immigrants from Ethiopia — “to battle the apartheid label in New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Dublin, London, Madrid, Johannesburg and Cape Town”, during the protest week, which takes place late in February in some regions and early in March in others.
The newspaper quoted the diplomacy minister, Yuli Edelstein, as saying: “Most of those who hate Israel have the same disease: ignorance. We are sure that the answer to the attempts to delegitimise Israel is not just to give facts and data but to bring Israel to them.”
Mbuyiseni Quintin Ndlozi, a student leader at the University of the Witwatersrand and a member of the campaign in South Africa, is part of an Israeli Apartheid Week speaking tour to Europe. He said he believed the move meant that the efforts of the global Palestinian solidarity movement were being felt by Israel.
“I think it’s important because what it means is that the effectiveness of activists around the world to try to mobilise the international community to boycott Israeli apartheid are being felt by the state of apartheid, so it’s a victory for us,” he said.
Salim Vally, spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, agreed. “Clearly the growing momentum of Israel Apartheid Week over the years has unsettled Israel,” he said.
“The correct comparison with apartheid South Africa has unnerved them. They can no longer hide behind or feed on Islamophobia or a clash of civilisations, because more and more people see similarities between [apartheid and] what the Palestinians are fighting for, which are basic human rights.
“This is another desperate attempt by Israel to whitewash what reality is,” he added. “It’s like the South African apartheid regime of the past sending coloured people from the tricameral Parliament overseas to make a case that there was no discrimination in South Africa.”
But Ben Swartz, spokesperson for the South African Zionist Federation, said it was “imperative” that Israelis be given a chance to speak and be heard.
“The solution to the conflict in the Middle East is about parties sitting down and talking to one another. I think it’s important that Israelis are given the chance to be heard in discussions and dialogue when it comes to resolving the conflict.”
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa co-ordinator Muhammed Desai said dialogue was far from the minds of members of the “Faces of Israel” delegation. “These people are not coming here for dialogue, they are coming here to justify apartheid and we are not interested in people who are coming here to justify apartheid,” he said.
Now in its eighth year, Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual series of international events held in cities and campuses around the globe. According to apartheidweek.org, “its aim is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns as part of a growing global movement”.
Twenty-five organisations, including Cosatu, the South African Students’ Congress and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine of the South African Council of Churches, will participate in Israeli Apartheid Week South Africa, which takes place from March 5 to 11.