Nobel Peace laureate and former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu has raised eyebrows and ire by declaring his support for the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement targeting Israeli “apartheid” and other crimes against the Palestinians.
Tutu, the civil rights leader whose campaign against white minority rule and racial segregation, or apartheid, in South Africa earned him the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, criticized Israeli policies and actions regarding Palestine on Sunday, the start of the 10th annual Israeli Apartheid Week. The international event, organized by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions(BDS) movement, seeks to bring attention– and economic consequences– to Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.
“People who are denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings,” Tutu said of the Palestinians. “Those who turn a blind eye to injustice perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
“I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under apartheid,” Tutu continued. “I have witnesses the systematic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
Tutu stressed that international solidarity of the sort embodied by the BDS movement is critical to ending injustices like apartheid.
“We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through… non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime,” he said.
“I associate myself with the objectives of the 10th International Israeli Apartheid Week,” Tutu added. “It doesn’t matter where we worship or live. Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, atheist, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Gaza– we are members of one family, the human family, God’s family.”
This isn’t the first time Tutu has spoken out against Israeli policies and actions. After visiting the region in 2002, he railed against Palestinian “humiliation and suffering” caused by Israeli’s ongoing illegal occupation and said that Israel would “never get true security and safety through oppressing another people.” For speaking out, Tutu was labeled an “anti-Semite” and a “black Nazi pig” when he visited Jerusalem.
Most Israelis and their supporter bristle at the use of the term “apartheid” to describe the policies and actions of the Jewish state. But a significant, and growing, number of prominent international observers, including a handful of vocal Jews, Israelis and even Holocaust survivors, have accused Israel of practicing a form of apartheid:
-Jimmy Carter, former US president awarded Nobel Prize for Israel-Egypt peace accord: “Israel… perpetuates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa.”
-Baleka Mbete, African National Congress (ANC) chairwoman: “[Israel is] far worse than apartheid South Africa.”
-Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace laureate: “There will be peace in this country, but only when Israel ends apartheid and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
-Richard Falk, Jewish-American UN human rights expert: “It seems incontestable that Israeli measures do divide the population of the Occupied Palestinian Territory along racial lines, create separate reserves for Palestinians and expropriate their land… acts potentially amounting to segregation and apartheid.”
-Suzanne Weiss, Holocaust survivor: “The Palestinians are victims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid… The Israeli government’s actions toward the Palestinians awaken horrific memories of my family’s experiences under Hitlerism: the inhuman walls, the checkpoints, the daily humiliations, killings, diseases, the systematic deprivation.”
-Yitzhak Laor, prominent Israeli poet, author and journalist: “The system preserving this apartheid is more ruthless than seen in South Africa, where the blacks were a labor force and could therefore also make a living.”
Just as the United States supported South African apartheid for decades, even in the face of growing international outcry, Washington, and the majority of the American people, back Israel today. The majority of Israelis support what have been described as “apartheid policies” against not only the Palestinians, but also against Israel’s Arab citizens, who by law enjoy most of the rights conferred to Jews, but in practice face widespread discrimination.
South African church leaders have joined Tutu in voicing their support for the BDS movement.
“We urge churches to campaign for greater awareness on all Palestinian struggles in general and the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular,” the South African Council of Churches said in the closing statement of its conference last month.
“It was very traumatizing to see the type of restrictions and land invasions where the land has been taken away from the [Palestinian] people for [Jewish] settlements,” lamented Reverend Ziphozihle Siwa, president of the South African Council of Churches, who has visited Israel and Palestine.
Some prominent international observers, including Falk, the UN human rights rapporteur, have called Israel’s illegal Jewish settlement construction and expansion a form of “ethnic cleansing.”