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Apartheid has become an antisemitic tool, activist tells Swiss body

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When activist Olga Meshoe Washington spoke in Geneva, Switzerland, in mid-June, she didn’t mince her words about how South Africa’s apartheid history was being manipulated by those who would like to see the destruction of the Jewish State.

“The suffering of blacks in South Africa under its apartheid regime has become an antisemitic tool by which to delegitimise Israel,” she said at an event hosted by UN Watch.

The gathering was held in advance of a United Nations Human Rights Council debate on the first presentation of what will be an annual report by the UN’s three-member Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel, otherwise known as the COI on Israel.

Now, speaking to the SA Jewish Report from the United States (US), where she lives, she says, “I want to assure the Jewish people that they’re not alone. There have been periods of history where others forsook the Jewish people – turned them in, sold them out.

“Christians, unfortunately, were part of that. And being a Christian, I want the Jewish people to know that this history won’t be repeated at least not in my lifetime and G-d willing, not in my sons’ lifetimes. I want to ensure that the world knows that the Jewish people do have a right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.”

Washington may be the daughter of South African politician Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, but she’s very much her own woman. On her social-media platforms, she describes herself as: “Wife. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Speaker. Attorney. Entrepreneur. Transformation Agent. Zionist. Generation Changer.”

Along with all that, she’s executive director of the pro-Israel South African non-governmental organisation DEISI (Defend, Embrace, Invest in, Support Israel) International, and Club Z’s national director of programming and engagement. Club Z “cultivates the next generation of proud and articulate Jewish leaders. It connects teens to their Jewish identity, Israel, Zionism, and a community of like-minded activists at a key point in their lives”.

Washington has faced bullying, gaslighting, harassment, and abuse for being a Zionist, at home and abroad. “I’ve been called lots of names and questioned about my Christianity, intelligence, and blackness. By that I mean I’ve been called a ‘sell-out’, that I’m not really black because I hold this particular view. I’ve been told that I’m not intelligent – that I don’t think for myself, and that I’ve been paid to do, think, and say what I believe, and also that I’m doing a disservice to my faith. All of which are absolute lies.

“There have also been a few events in the US and South Africa where the threat of violence was very real. But my parents told my brother, sister, and me that popularity isn’t what we strive for. We strive to do and say the right thing.”

She says the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in South Africa is a group of “bullies who are taking South Africa back to apartheid-era days. There’s no dialogue with them. They restrict freedom of movement, association, belief, and opinion. They use young people – especially young black people – as pawns for their own gain. They aren’t bettering Palestinian lives.”

Asked how she became a Zionist, she says, “I grew up in a Christian household. So in that, I knew that standing with Israel was the right thing to do. I also knew that the Jewish people had a right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. That made me a Zionist.

“Then, in 2014, my father came back from a speaking tour in the US and Canada where he had been made aware of BDS on campus. He then started DEISI [pronounced ‘day-zi’] both as a reactive and proactive response. That year, I was also invited to speak on the topic of Israel for the first time.”

That was when she started doing her own in-depth research, and “I felt I needed to speak up.” Also that year, she spoke at a solidarity rally at Huddle Park during Operation Protective Edge. “When I spoke at that rally, that’s when I felt like I had a responsibility to be part of the conversation.” The rest is history, and she’s now a force to be reckoned with when speaking about Israel.

She aims to be active in the promotion of education and understanding. “We spend far too much time being reactive,” she says. “Rather, we need to work on nurturing relationships, explaining what Zionism is, the principles involved, what Israel is, and who the Jewish people are. This needs to be done in an authentic, meaningful way.

“We also need to engage in discussions on human rights. This used to be about land, but now people feel that if they believe in human rights and justice, they have to be anti-Israel. So we need to have real-life conversations to help people see the bigger picture. For example, one cannot talk about justice by pointing a finger at Israel and turning a blind eye to slavery that continues to happen on the African continent.”

Her own memories of her family’s suffering under apartheid, as well as numerous trips to Israel and a deep understanding of the Middle East has made her shout from the rooftops that Israel isn’t an apartheid state. “Not enough people know what apartheid was, and they are therefore being manipulated. We need to remember and safeguard our history, and appreciate its nuance and details. Because when it’s juxtaposed with what Israel is or isn’t doing, we’ll be able to say, ‘That’s not the truth.’”

To the South African Jewish community she says, “Please don’t give up hope. I understand that with the attitude of the South African government towards Israel, things can feel quite dark. But it’s the attitude of the few who are very loud.

“Also, please don’t make excuses about why people are antisemitic. If someone shows themselves as your enemy, take them at their word, and if they show themselves as your friend, take them at their word. Allow people from outside the community to be supportive and lead the way in building relationships with other communities. There are people like me and my family who won’t keep quiet in our stand for Jerusalem, Israel, and the Jewish community.”

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