BDS

BDS and South Africa, Pt. 1


This is cross posted from the blog, Divest This!

In a way, yesterday’s vote by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to reject a boycott of their Israeli counterparts at Ben –Gurion University is pure BDS: a high-profile boycott call at a prominent institution followed by rancorous debate followed by a “No” vote with enough posing built around the final decision to allow BDS advocates to characterize their latest loss as a victory. But the venue of this week’s BDS battle makes it more worthy of exploration than other routine BDS defeats.

By “venue,” I’m not talking about academia, although it is worth noting that academic boycotts are probably the least popular of all BDS variants flying as they do in the face of academic freedom. Academic BDSers have offered various explanations over the years why Israeli scholars and only Israeli scholars (although just the Jewish ones – with folks like Tel Aviv University graduate student Omar Barghouti clearly exempted) should be excluded from the world of scholarly inquiry because of their nationality. But outside of the BDS community itself, no one seems to buy the argument that one champions academic freedom by assaulting it.

And this vast majority of boycott haters has a voice. When academic boycott was all the rage within the British academic union, BDS champions had to contend with the global scholarly community’s unprecedented solidarity with their beleaguered Israeli colleagues. While this month’s boycotters were interested in nothing more than the headlines they could grab by getting a boycott passed at a prominent South Africa institution, less ideologically blinkered academic decision makers at UJ likely didn’t relish being told by some of the world’s greatest scholars and universities that, for purposes of a Israel boycott they too should be considered “Israeli academics” and boycotted.

So academia is not the topic here, South Africa is.

Why South Africa? To start with the obvious, the entire BDS enterprise is part of what BDSers themselves refer to as their “Apartheid Strategy,” a long-term propaganda campaign to “brand” Israel as the inheritor of South Africa’s Apartheid legacy. Just as Jews are giving a prominent place within the boycott and divestment “movement” (to support a fanciful claim that BDS has widespread Jewish support), so too South Africans willing to leverage their own experience to attack the Jewish state have become anchors for boycott and divestment champions everywhere.

Just try to edit a Wikipedia entry on any Israel-related boycott subject to point out that BDS began with someone other than Desmond Tutu (who was actually a relative latecomer to the divestment parade) and watch how fast it will be reverted to ensure Tutu’s name gets placed front and center of the BDS origin myth. This is not a simple academic/political Wikipedia squabble but a highlight to the criticality of prominent South African voices to the cornerstone BDS message that Israel is the new Apartheid, worthy of the same fate that befell the last one.

Entering a debate on South Africa’s role in BDS requires navigating some well-laid traps by Israel’s critics similar to ones encountered when Rachel Corrie is the subject of discussion.

In any Corrie debate, Israel’s foes demand to use her death to highlight a series of political charges against the Jewish state (notably that it’s guilty of deliberate murder and cover up). But if anyone responds to those political attacks on a political level (assigning some level of responsibility for Corrie’s death to her International Solidarity Movement enablers, to Palestinian weapon’s smugglers or to Corrie herself) and out come the Corrie baby photos and high-school yearbook pictures accompanied by charges that anything Israel’s defenders say represents gross insensitivity to the death of a young girl.

In a similar way, BDSers lie in wait hoping someone will make even a glancing criticism of people like Desmond Tutu, at which point they can pounce and insist that friends of Israel be bunched up with the Bohrs of pre-Mandela SA on one side of a political spectrum they self-servingly construct, while the BDSers and Tutu are on the other side representing all that is good and virtuous.

The fact that such rhetorical traps lie in wait is no reason to avoid discussion of the important issue of South Africa’s role in the BDS movement altogether. So with that as a somewhat-longish segue, tune in tomorrow (or at least sometime this weekend, parenting schedule allowing) for thoughts on this critical aspect of the boycott, divestment and sanction debate.

25 replies »

  1. In a similar way, BDSers lie in wait hoping someone will make even a glancing criticism of people like Desmond Tutu, at which point they can pounce and insist that friends of Israel be bunched up with the Bohrs of pre-Mandela SA on one side of a political spectrum they self-servingly construct, while the BDSers and Tutu are on the other side representing all that is good and virtuous.

    OK – I’ll bite – I think Tutu, the giggling archbishop, is a world-class hypocrite. He has his nose so deep in everyone else’s business that he seems unable to notice the stench of corruption or comment on the xenophobic murders of Zimbabweans in his own country.

    (By the way – that should be “Boers”, not “Bohrs”, and generally they are referred to as Afrikaners in modern times).

  2. The stench of hypocrisy oozes out of every single pore in the body of this witch doctor called Desmond Tutu.

  3. oh ffs Akus; I always regarded you as one who is scrupulous in your adherence to the principle of truth and accuracy. Attack Tutu as much as you like, but for god’s sake attack him accurately. This statement is the antithesis of the truth:

    “he seems unable to notice the stench of corruption or comment on the xenophobic murders of Zimbabweans in his own country.”

    There is no one who has been more outspoken in his attack on corruption and very specifically, the xenophobia against Zimbabweans and other foreigners in SA. He was vilified and attacked by Zuma after this: (see wikipedia)

    Tutu warned of corruption shortly after the re-election of the African National Congress government of South Africa, saying that they “stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves.”[25] In August 2006 Tutu publicly urged Jacob Zuma,.. who had been accused of sexual crimes and corruption, to drop out of the ANC’s presidential succession race. He said in a public lecture that he would not be able to hold his “head high” if Zuma became leader after being accused both of rape and corruption. In September 2006, Tutu repeated his opposition to Zuma’s candidacy as ANC leader due to Zuma’s “moral failings
    I could link you to countless reports of speeches and to youtube clips of his speeches against xenophobia. The wilful ignorance and perversion of focus on this site just degrades the whole Israel activist cause. It is so dispiriting to have to fight against this when we should be unified in our efforts to be effective.

    As for benorr: your adolescent glee in repeating your racist tactic of the witch doctor gibe is just pathetic. You have no moral standing in countering racist antisemitic imagery when it happens. I would be more disgusted to have you stand beside me as an ally at an Ahava counterdemo than a member of the EDL.

  4. @ Amie. The fact about Tutu that you have pointed to shows you the hypocrasy of the man. All those crime that were mentioned by Tutu were committed by South Africans and other Africans yet he does not call for English institutions to boycott South African academics.

    When it comes to Israel all crimes are atrributed to the country and to the people who live in the counry and thus Israelis become deserving of punsihment.

    Also i cant find the link but he wrote a disgusting article for the sunday times in south africa.

  5. Amie – the day Tutu takes “The Elders” for a tour of South Africa to expose the corruption, violence, and xenophobia and calls for international investigations of the misdeeds that are committed there daily, or for a UN debate in the Security Council, I’ll take your point. You seem to know a great deal about South Africa – the crime statistics alone make Cast Lead look like a typical month in South Africa.

  6. Akus: what you now argue is a perfectly valid point. but has nothing to do with the demonstrable falsity of your statement that

    he seems unable to notice the stench of corruption or comment on the xenophobic murders of Zimbabweans in his own country

  7. Amie, the question of Tutu’s comments within ZA do not change the fact that Tutu, like Mohandas and Arun Gandhi, ought to stick to their geographical areas of expertise, and in particular cease the use of their weighty names in an ignorant and hypocritical fashion against the sole state in the Mideast to respect democracy and human rights.

  8. There is a long list of anti Israel/Semitic statements made by this this Jujuman.

    He pretends to be a ‘Human Rights Defender’,but he really excels in promoting hatred for Jews and Israeli’s.

    amie,if you are anything like that witch doctor of your.I will give you a wide berth

  9. Third-world reaction to the Mideast is all too often based upon little more than the ignorant and indeed bigoted assumptions that
    – the Mideast dispute is not one between racially-similar Semites but between white Jews and brown Arabs
    – that in such a dispute the “white” is always wrong and the “brown” is always right.

    Examples:
    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/303/
    http://www.amazon.com/Why-Hate-Israel-Candid-Account/dp/1596890053

  10. Amie – I’ll rephrase my earlier comment:

    While Tutu delights in shining an international spotlight on Israeli activities he disapproves of, and condemning Israel in no uncertain terms,I have yet to see him demand that South Africa meet the same standards or be be subject to the same degree of investigation by outside bodies – for example, a committee of Israelis …. – as he has frequently demanded of Israel.

    OK?

  11. It was Helen Suzman that should have been awarded the Noble Peace Prize instead of this racist and bigot Desmond Tutu.

    A man with a moral (twisted) conscience

    Helen stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid,she didn’t run off to London to hide,only to return as a hero.

  12. I haven’t heard of Tutu condemning Mugabe or the increased criminality in South Africa after Mandella took control.

    Why is that?

    I am an avid news reader.

  13. JerusalemMite: haven’t heard of Tutu condemning Mugabe or the increased criminality in South Africa after Mandella took control.

    Your avid newsreading has somehow avoided the dozens of columns in media including the national newspapers of the UK and speeches on youtube doing just that which the most cursory of google searches throws up.

    just one from wikipedia:
    Tutu has often criticized Robert Mugabe in the past and he once described the autocratic leader as “a cartoon figure of an archetypical African dictator”.[21] In 2008, he called for the international community to intervene in Zimbabwe – by force if necessary.[3

    Akus: I am not aware that he as called for sanctions or investigations of SA from outside bodies. but the above gives the lie to the claim that he has not called for international intervention in Zimbabwe – even by force.

    I can agree 100% with Toko’s comments that Tutu is being reckless and harmful in speaking ignorantly out of his area of expertise. My only issue is misdirecting criticisms by basing them on patently false facts and assumptions. It is lazy and counterproductive in that it damages the credibilty of the arguments and counterarguments of Israel activists.

    When it comes to benorr, your use of racist dehumanising language indelibly blights the charge of racism or bigotry coming out of your mouth. It is basically on the intellectual level of I know I am but what are you. Yes of course benorr, I am *exactly* like that witchdoctor of “mine”. You will recognise me in the Ahava pen as the one wearing skins and a bone through my nose making monkey noises so you will have no difficulty giving me a wide berth. You will have a have a hooked nose, and be singing got to pick a pocket or two, I presume?

  14. amie……”You will have a have a hooked nose ,and be singing got to pick a pocket or two,I presume.

    amie if I were to pick a pocket or two it wouldn’t be your pocket,which would be empty just like your head.

  15. to benorr: Yes, well done I have no answer to such devastating repartee. I have met my match.

    to everyone else:

    My only issue is with inaccurate attacks which misdirect the real sting of the case against people like Tutu. Lazy assumptions voiced as playground catcalls instead of sound research detracts from the credibility of the Israel activist cause. We should maintain a reputation that when we make an accusation, it sticks because it is well founded and justified.

  16. Incidentally Akus I was witness to an event involving Tutu which goes some way to explain his disconcerting nervous giggle, but to narrate it would be wasted in this forum.

  17. amie, with due respect for your personal knowledge and experience with Desmond Tutu, since we don’t have the benefit of his Christian tolerance but instead are the subjects of his intolerance, misunderstanding (perhaps deliberate) of our scene and suffer from his condemnations it is difficult to appreciate him as a force for good.

  18. Gerald Kreeve:
    I repeat ad nauseum and for the last time:

    My only issue is with inaccurate attacks which misdirect the real sting of the case against people like Tutu. Lazy assumptions voiced as playground catcalls instead of sound research detracts from the credibility of the Israel activist cause. We should maintain a reputation that when we make an accusation, it sticks because it is well founded and justified.

  19. Gerald Kreeve: we don’t have the benefit of his Christian tolerance but instead are the subjects of his intolerance, misunderstanding.

    Thank you for spelling out to me the pain which “we” are feeling. Why do you think your “suffering” from the condemnation is exclusive of anything I might experience. Consider that my pain might be the greater for feeling betrayed by someone I could once unreservedly admire.

    Yet I manage somehow the trick of being able to retain some objectivity and seeing him not as an force for good, but not as a pantomime villain either.- as a flawed misguided human being. Whereas Kasrils is and always has been both a villain and a buffoon and has no redeeming qualities in my eyes whatsoever.

  20. amie
    “Thank you for spelling out to me the pain which “we” are feeling. Why do you think your “suffering” from the condemnation is exclusive of anything I might experience”
    I assumed that you had a greater insight into his behaviour because of your personal acquaintance with him. It would not be surprising if you identified with our reaction. .

  21. Matzpen to drag in the concept of ‘Holocaust’ (the only mention of it on this page) is deeply cynical and dishonest.

  22. Gerald maybe you are not familiar with Matzpen… He is a schoolbook example of a CIF graduated vicious hater of Israel. As you can see from his post he is afraid that someone mistakenly consider him an Israeli.

    Anyway I suggest you to read the article he has linked to – this is an other textbook example of far-leftist antisemite hate speech published by the Socialist Worker and written by a Theobalde.

    A short introduction of the author:

    Sherry Wolf , a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on Palestine, Sexuality and Socialism, How Can We Unite and Fight the Right and other topics at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of theInternational Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation(Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.

    Sexuality and socialism!? WTF? (pun intended)
    And what is the modest fee?