‘Apartheid’ label has become antisemitic tool, says Olga Meshoe-Washington
South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) published an open letter this week denouncing the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) report that blamed Israel’s “perpetual occupation” for the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
In the letter, addressed to Dr Navi Pillay, a former SA judge and UN human rights chief who led the COI, SAFI general manager Pamela Ngubane says the COI “is skewed in favour of portraying Israel as an apartheid state” and “a wilful violator of human rights”.
“This COI and its report panders to the biases of anti-Israel formations. We abhor these machinations against the Jewish State,” writes Ngubane.
She says that SAFI, together with a number of concerned Christian and secular groups, have made a submission [see full submission] to the COI in solidarity with Israel.
She says the “skewed” COI report “only emboldens Israel’s enemies and antisemites everywhere and will do nothing to bring peace to the region or combat anti-Israel extremism. In taking this position, instead of contributing to finding solutions to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the UN has become party to the continuation of this conflict”.
The open letter continues: “The UN COI should let the facts speak for themselves. For example, Israel has enshrined the safeguarding of freedom of religion in its national laws. This cannot be said of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, and certainly not of Hamas, the extremist group that governs Gaza with brutal force, and whose founding charter calls for the elimination of the Jews.
“Regarding the COI’s terms of reference, we recognise that the allusion to “international humanitarian law” is an attempt to lay the charge of “apartheid” against Israel, which would then make Israel a target of a criminal investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“As South Africans, we know what apartheid is, we lived through it and its legacy continues to blight our society to this day. Through this evil regime, black people were denied equal access to government services; citizenship rights; property ownership, equal rights and participation in the democratic process. To claim that this is the current status of Arab Israelis is to deliberately distort reality. The truth is that Arabs in Israel hold positions of power in the judiciary, parliament, and military and are even members of the governing coalition. This was unthinkable for the black people governed by white supremacists in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Respected South African anti-apartheid activists such as Benjamin Pogrund and Rhoda Khadlie have written extensively about the inaccuracy of the “Israel is an apartheid state” analogy.
“We sincerely doubt that our first democratically elected president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, would approve of a situation where the antisemitism of Hamas was put on the same moral standing as the righteous fight of black people against the white supremacy of apartheid. Mandela never sought to eliminate white people from the land of South Africa. Rather, he preached reconciliation, which earned him the love and respect of even his jailer on Robben Island. We ask this UN COI to consider the harm that allowing the apartheid label to be applied to Israel does to the legacy of anti-apartheid stalwarts like Madiba, who wanted all South Africans to live in peace.
“We had hoped that this COI would demonstrate that it is indeed an independent Commission of Inquiry, not a coordinated attack against Israel of the highest order of corruption and hypocrisy. This latest report has disappointed our hopes.”
In a related development, Olga Meshoe Washington, a South African Christian pro-Israel activist, defended Israel at an event hosted by the NGO UN Watch in Geneva, Switzerland, ahead of a UNHRC debate on the final presentation of the COI report.
The Jerusalem Post writes that Israel officials and critics of the report believe that it is laying the ground for charging Israel with the crime of apartheid in the future. It quotes Meshoe-Washington as saying that the suffering of blacks in South Africa under its apartheid regime has become an antisemitic tool by which to delegitimise Israel
“My people’s history and experience is being used as an antisemitic tool to politically, morally and with incredible pretzel-like twisting and legal gymnastics, legally delegitimize Israel with the hope to criminalize her,” she said.
She told her audience that the situation in Israel was incomparable to that of South Africa, so much so that a new definition of apartheid had been created to allow for what was a decades-old “lie” first conceived by Soviet and Arab propaganda to be levelled against Israel.
This dissociation is troubling, said Meshoe-Washington, who is the executive director of the pro-Israel NGO DEISI (Defend, Embrace, Invest in, Support Israel) International.
“It trivialises the humiliation and injustices endured by black South Africans who lived through apartheid and now still, together with their descendants, bear the scars of its legacy.
“It erases the very real, very lived experience of the brutality of apartheid, a reality that includes mothers who to this day do not know what happened to their children, and millions of black South Africans who had to flee their country and live in exile under fear of persecution purely because of the color of their skin,” she said.
“The weaponisation of apartheid by the UN and now the COI makes a mockery” of the UN, goes against its objective of upholding human rights and creates a barrier for future Israeli-Palestinian peace, she said, adding that it also belies both Israel’s modern role on the African continent and the West’s history with it.
Forty-four of Africa’s 54 countries have full diplomatic relations with Israel that include cooperative agreements in education, defense, agriculture, hi-tech, health and finance, Washington-Meshoe said.
This reality, however, is not reflected by the African voting pattern at the UN, even though African countries have forged close ties with Western nations that “colonised and enslaved our people and slaughtered us like animals”, she said.
“We have propped up the morally and legally corrupt notions that Israel is guilty of apartheid, colonisation and genocide,” she said. “To what benefit? Africa is now the global eye of terrorism, and slavery is rampant in no less than five African countries, some of which have had a seat on the UNHRC.”
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