OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Misunderstanding the word ‘apartheid’

Time and time again, Israel is falsely accused of many things both by well-meaning activists caught up in the fray of misinformation or organizations hell-bent on Israel’s delegitimization and destruction.

Africans for Peace logo.
Africans for Peace logo.
McKenna Bates
McKenna Bates

Africans for Peace is an organization made up of student activists, many South African, who have experienced apartheid and adversity in their own countries and strive to make a difference in others. Their goal is to provide “an African lens to the global debate on peace and stability on our continent and around the world,” as stated on their website. From speaking engagements on the current state in Venezuela to strongly worded petitions to end ongoing slavery in Libya. My Israel club, the George Mason University Israel Student Association, was going to host a talk featuring Africans for Peace with the support of CAMERA on Campus during our university’s annual International Week, dedicated to celebrating the diversity of the student body, before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Africans for Peace is known for being active in speaking up for the rights of the oppressed in many fields. Their mission is to “be a force for independent civil dialogue and conflict resolution,” and their work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has done just that. Many of their activists travel the globe discussing how problematic and offensive it is to compare the situation in Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories to apartheid South Africa, and how the BDS movement actively silences constructive conflict resolution.

Time and time again, Israel is falsely accused of many things both by well-meaning activists caught up in the fray of misinformation or organizations hell-bent on Israel’s delegitimization and destruction. The BDS movement has imposed itself as one of the leading accusers of this false claim. Likening Israel to apartheid South Africa, BDS claims to take inspiration from South African anti-apartheid movement and models itself after those. However, many groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, Africans for Peace and even the German government have condemned this analogy and BDS itself, and have pointed out that BDS activists often go beyond simply advocating for sanctions of Israeli businesses. Activists have boycotted non-Israeli Jewish businesses, harassed Jewish and Israeli professors and students, supported and called for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, and have even gone so far as to harass non-Jewish and Jewish celebrities and individual Jewish students for any associations with Israel.

After visiting the region and seeing the facts for himself first-hand, Klaas Mokgomole, a current member of Africans for Peace and a former member of BDS South Africa, stated that he “came to understand that the analogy of apartheid in Israel was an abuse to the memory of apartheid, just as it is possible to abuse the memory of the Holocaust or slavery in a similar manner … as a former BDS activist, I encourage those involved in BDS to not blindly believe everything the movement says because if you accept their propaganda uncritically, you are not contributing to peace, but to further needless bloodshed.”

It’s not just Mokgomole who has this opinion. Another Africans for Peace activist, Tshediso Mangope, stated in another article, “… this is not too difficult for me to grasp as a black man, whose painful past is always used as a footnote by others. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things that, in my view, Israel should have handled differently, but it is grotesque naivete to reduce Israel to an apartheid state.” Nkululeko Nkosi adds that “those who apply the term ‘apartheid’ to the Israel-Palestinian impasse are guilty of perpetuating that same theft [appropriation], by denying the uniqueness of the racism and hatred that we faced, and which we have overcome with much blood and tears.”

When accusations of apartheid are levied against Israel, it cheapens what apartheid has meant in the past and what it currently is understood to mean. The Palestinian and Arab-Israeli experience in Israel is undoubtedly unlike the black South African experience. In Israel, Arab-Israelis are full citizens with the same rights as Jewish Israeli citizens, and there are many government-sponsored social services, scholarships and organizations that actively work to better the Arab-Israeli experience. In the Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas maintain that they are an independent government from Israel and govern over infrastructure, social institutions and more, and as such takes responsibility for the treatment and daily experience of Palestinians in that regard. Checkpoints and security barriers were originally placed for security purposes due to terrorism against Israeli civilians. Israel and the P.A.-controlled territories are seen as two separate entities, and while Israel may have certain responsibilities for specific areas (for example, infrastructure in eastern Jerusalem, joint security in Hebron), Palestinian citizens are not Israeli citizens and thus are not affected in the ways that using the term “apartheid” would demand.

It’s incredibly important to listen to South African perspectives on the use of the word apartheid, as it is their word (quite literally, “apartheid” means “apartness” in Afrikaans), used to describe their unique oppression and wrongdoing done to their own people. Weaponizing this word for other political purposes is, in these activists’ own words, offensive, appropriative and problematic, and that understanding needs to be shared.

Africans for Peace, through their advocacy work, aim to share this knowledge and spread awareness of this injustice; after all, when the claim of apartheid is used incorrectly or manipulated, it not only cheapens the South African experience under real apartheid, but also takes away from the actual challenges that Palestinians face.

McKenna Bates is a CAMERA Fellow at George Mason University. 

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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