United front against occupation

An article in the South African Jewish report accused Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of "preying" on Israel, together with Hamas. (David Harrison, M&G)

An article in the South African Jewish report accused Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of "preying" on Israel, together with Hamas. (David Harrison, M&G)

The abhorrent criticism of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in the Jewish Report by Leon Reich, who compared Tutu with Hitler, deserves to be condemned. As an Israeli academic born in South Africa, I wish to reiterate the importance of Tutu’s recent plea to Israelis carried in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on August 14 2014.  

I applaud Tutu’s principled inclusion of Israelis, and of Jews more widely, within the moral community of “decent human beings” called upon to oppose the occupation of Palestine, and its manifestations in the latest war on Gaza.

The anti-apartheid struggle, I believe, informs the inclusiveness of Tutu’s position, and for good reason.
The legacy of the United Democratic Front in South Africa might serve as potential model for thinking about forms of Jewish-Palestinian solidarity that continue to be maintained in Israel despite the frightening erosion of the public sphere there.

In contrast to Reich, I would like to draw attention to the shared endeavours of Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian activists striving to end the occupation and to promote co-existence. Relevant organisations include Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Breaking the Silence (an organisation of Israeli soldiers who speak out about their military service in the occupied territories); Machsomwatch (Checkpoint Watch, a women’s organisation that monitors checkpoints and military courts); Ta’ayush (an alliance of Jews and Palestinians that uses non-violent direct action in resisting the occupation); and Zochrot, which aims to educate Jewish Israelis about the Palestinian Nakba and to promote the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

During the struggle against apartheid, South Africans of all races and religions engaged in daily acts of affirmation, teaching themselves and one another that a nonracial South Africa needed to be brought into being through ongoing performances of solidarity and political contestation across the fault lines of class, ethnicity, religion and gender.

In this spirit, I urge South Africans to endorse Israeli opposition to the occupation. This might involve becoming familiar with the agendas of the various activist organisations, serving on their international advisory boards, or convening a conference of Israeli anti-occupation and human rights nongovernmental organisations to share the lessons of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Dr Louise Bethlehem teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem

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