I’m one of those frustrating young millennials who refuses to accept what I’m told until I’ve done my own investigation. In other words, I am not a “herd boy” but have a mind of my own.
But when it comes to Israel/Palestine, this was not always the case. My thinking lined up with that of the BDS movement which clearly had the well-being of the Palestinians at heart. By encouraging the world to apply Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, Israel could be brought to heel and the Palestinians would achieve a state of their own.
What impressed me was a statement by Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of BDS in which he clearly spelt out the aims of the movement.
“BDS is a non-violent human rights movement that seeks freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people, based on international law and universal principles of human rights. … BDS has … categorically rejected all forms of discrimination and racism, including anti-Semitism as well as dozens of racist laws in Israel.”
This was my belief until the night I attended a BDS demonstration against a performance by an Israeli pianist at WITS. This, I believed would be the ideal opportunity to display the nobility of our cause – until the chanting and singing took a sinister turn and became “Kill the Jew”, led by one of the foremost personalities of BDS.
While the lot of the Palestinians was supposedly our main concern, this was nothing less than a disturbing display of blatant anti-Semitism. My unease was such that I decided to no longer simply accept everything I was told about the Jewish state but to find out for myself if there wasn’t another narrative.
I began to research the history and essence of this conflict which was nothing less than daunting. Type “The Israel Palestinian Conflict” into Google and there are over 2.8 million sites!
In so doing I came across an article by Barghouti indicating that the goal of BDS had now shifted away from challenging the occupation, to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish State. He stated that the ideology of BDS was opposed to the formula achieved under the Oslo Accords which called for two independent states existing side by side with secure borders.
While I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on the subject, what I now know is far removed from what I knew that night at WITS. Since then, I’ve undertaken the same journey as Mmusi Maimane – I booked a flight to Tel Aviv to see how things in this “apartheid” practising, “Nazi”-influenced, “fascist-run” state actually worked; something I would urge anyone to do if they wish to see the true picture.
As a former Treasurer of an ANCYL branch at Wits I was somewhat surprised to even be allowed into the country. Instead the experience was life-altering.
The first myth to explode was the constant accusation of Israel being an “apartheid” state. I had only to walk the streets exploring shops and malls, taking bus rides and absorbing the enormous mix of ethnicity that filled the pavements of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa etc, to see that apartheid as I understood it did not exist in Israel in the Knesset, the schools, the universities, hospitals, buses etc. What I realized was that the constant barrage of this highly emotive term by Israel’s critics, including BDS, had established Israel’s culpability in the minds of both the media and the public. Few bothered to question its validity.
Few would know, for example (me included) that Israel had several fully equipped field hospitals just inside its border with Syria, which have treated thousands of Syrian refugees escaping the genocide only meters away. Also, while an average of 180,000 Palestinians are treated annually in Israeli hospitals it remains unreported in the local media.
As I took in the realities of Israel I was hit by the sheer hypocrisy practised by BDS, the UN and the world in general.
I discovered that despite Omar Barghouti calling for a cultural and academic boycott of the Jewish state, he was studying for a PhD at Tel Aviv University. When questioned about the morality of this, he responded that it was a personal matter and would not comment. When pressed about his attendance at an Israeli university, Barghouti said Palestinians "cannot possibly observe the same boycott guidelines as asked of internationals".
A petition bearing over 184,000 signatures demanded his expulsion was refused by the University on ethical grounds.
While in Israel I had the opportunity to examine first-hand the anti-Israel and plainly anti-Semitic indoctrination of the Palestinian population and, in particular, children, under Mahmud Abbas who lauds the actions of terrorists by naming streets, sports stadiums and schools after them and dishing out financial rewards to their families.
Critics of Maimane’s visit are quick to bring Nelson Mandela into the equation while ignoring Madiba’s visit to Israel in 1999. Despite his criticisms of Israel’s policies he never wavered in his support of a two-state solution.
While Madiba committed this country to playing an honest role in seeking a solution to the conflict, he was sufficiently pragmatic to understand that this could only happen if he gained the trust of, and maintained open contact with, both sides. Clearly, Maimane has the same understanding and should be commended for his foresight.
The further hypocrisy of the ANC in condemning Maimane’s visit while co-operating with the escape of Omar al-Bashir, displays an astounding selective morality. Also, some of our decisions while serving on the UN Security Council will carry shame for years to come.
Instead of BDS, the ANC and other enemies of Israel decrying the actions of Mmusi Maimane, they should be grateful that we have at least a handful of politicians honestly pursuing the quest for peace in the Middle East.