Jeenah: Under BDS, Palestine solidarity irrelevant
The BDS strategy is problematic and unprincipled says Jeenah. Read why…
Minhaj Jeenah is chairman of the Muslim Youth
Movement’s Western Cape region, which is in turn a member of the National Coalition for
Palestine – which he admits is a BDS-SA-inspired coalition and which he believes is failing in its work.
While not as quick to specifically name BDS-SA as the
culprit in his piece “Why the Palestine solidarity movement in
South Africa has to evolve – or become irrelevant” as was Prof Steven Friedman, Jeenah makes no bones about who he holds accountable for the shambles
that the SA anti-Israel lobby finds itself in.
To be clear, Jeenah is no friend of Israel, he is simply
saying that the anti-Israel lobbyists in SA are doing a hopeless job, losing
ground and risk becoming irrelevant. Click here to read this piece in its
original form TheDailyVox.co.za or see below.
Little wonder after Prof FRIEDMAN:
BDS-SA INCOMPETENCE PROMOTING ZIONISM and this piece from Jeenah, that BDS-SA’s
response today which can be read here: VERBATIM
FROM THE HOUSE OF HORRORS was so vitriolic.
While BDS’ profanities and theologies were certainly not
called for, they are most telling of where the organisation, which has received
several black eyes during this week’s Israel Apartheid Week event, finds
I am publishing Minhaj Jeenah’s critique verbatim.
Why the Palestine solidarity movement in South Africa has to
evolve – or become irrelevant
Why the Palestine solidarity movement in South Africa has to evolve – or become irrelevant
The Palestinian struggle has captured the imagination of black South Africans since the 1970s, but of late the movement has been gripped by a dangerous form of populism. It’s time for the movement to undertake a critical shift in approach towards one that is principled and immersed in the programmes of the decolonisation movement in South Africa, argues MINHAJ JEENAH.
The Palestinian struggle for self-determination is a righteous struggle which is necessarily linked to the Black condition. Its resistance in all its forms, violent or otherwise, is a legitimate resistance.
Let’s be clear to set the terms of our engagement through this post: I’m not interested in compromising on or discussing these actualities.
Post-1994 saw certain significant changes to Palestine solidarity work, most notably during the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 when it was addressed more strongly as an issue of national liberation, and South African civil society was lobbied.
After the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel in 2005 and the launch of Israeli Apartheid Week, campus-based Palestine solidarity activism was strengthened and focused. Since then, the global BDS campaign helped define and intensify Palestine solidarity in South Africa – through campus-based structures, civil society, BDS South Africa, Muslim and Christian groups, anti-Zionist Jewish groups and unions.
There were also numerous efforts to form broad coalitions to coordinate solidarity work. The most recent such effort was the National Coalition for Palestine, formed during the 2014 massacre in Gaza, and now dominated by the NGO BDS South Africa.
Towards a critical shift
In the recent past Palestine solidarity work has been gripped by a dangerous form of populism.
After the massive solidarity march in Cape Town in 2014, Palestine solidarity activism has been characterised by the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. As part of a broader consumer boycott, this campaign aims to pressure Woolworths to remove Israeli products from its shelves. In what was, arguably, a bad tactical move Woolworths was targeted for a consumer boycott because the campaign was deemed “winnable” – for a number of reasons. There have been a few voices of dissent against the campaign, within the movement and externally, challenging the moral and tactical value of the boycott.
The “winnable” strategy, which is an approach that has dominated the BDS campaign in South Africa, is problematic and unprincipled – it reduces struggle to a list of feel-good victories rather than moving towards substantive change. Alas, almost two years later, the campaign has seemingly lost steam.
Nevertheless, #BoycottWoolworths succeeded in mobilising some (especially young) activists and now needs to be re-strategised into a new, more rigorous strategy. The campaign should build on its success and now cast the intense focus directly on Israeli products, not particular stores. #BoycottWoolworths must now become #BoycottIsrael.
There has also been dangerous courting with the ANC, with some solidarity groups becoming apologists for the ruling party and feting it in rallies as if it’s the vanguard of Palestine solidarity. Although the party has stated its commitment to the BDS campaign, its role has been contradictory, with its government often working contrary to these commitments.
It’s deeply concerning and offensive that apparent support for the Palestinian course is often used (particularly before elections) as an ANC buffer to pacify people sympathetic to the course at the expense of interrogation of problematic policy (and, yes, to get votes).
This inability to properly politicise Palestinian solidarity and approach it with principle rather than just tactic has also seen many ad-hoc airy-fairy events that result in minimal understanding of the complexities of Palestinian activism. Admittedly, there have been more substantive campaigns, such as the current campaign to arrest Shimon Peres, but these have not led to large-scale mobilisation.
There is, now, a need for the Palestine solidarity movement in South Africa to undertake a critical shift in approach.
The South African movement for solidarity with the Palestinian people needs a process of difficult reflection. It must divorce itself from reductionist praxis and undertake serious mass engagement with the political complexities of the Palestinian struggle and internationalism.
The movement must be claimed as a radical collective movement that is intersectional and decentralised. It must direct both our revolutionary anger and our love for freedom, justice and equality through principled, uncompromising and intelligible strategies.
It is, therefore, also clear that solidarity for the Palestinian struggle must be immersed in the programmes of the decolonisation movement in South Africa. The movement will be compromised if it regards its victimhood to the exclusion of other colonial sufferings.
Key to these solidarity strategies is a more strengthened commitment to force unconscious capital, government and academic institutions to submit to the call from Palestinian comrades to isolate Israel. Consistency in praxis, also, includes uprooting and discomforting Zionist sentiment, in order to de-normalise and remove racist ideology from our spaces.
Israel must fall.
Minhaj Jeenah is the Chairperson of the Muslim Youth Movement Western Cape region, which is a member of the National Coalition for Palestine. Follow him on Twitter @minhajjeenah
This is part of a special series called Apartheid 2.0, which The Daily Vox is running this month in partnership with AlJazeera’s Palestine Remix.
Featured image by Ihsaan Haffejee
Read the series:
Israel not target of Obama’s UN ire, Trump is!
Why is Bibi acting so mad about the US not using its veto?
Au Contrère: A blog by ANT KATZ
Do Bibi Netanyahu and his government get that the US allowing the UN anti-Israel Resolution to pass this week was not targeted at the Jewish state?
Because this fact is quite transparent and Israel’s PM is certainly no fool. So what is Netanyahu playing at?
Of course he is angry about the UN Resolution. So are all people who love Israel. The Obama administration may well have drafted and promoted the Resolution on Israel. But not because Obama, America or the present administration are anti-Israel.
There is only one logical purpose in what is being viewed as a sea of anti-Israel madness in the White House and State Department… and that is that they fear Donald Trump and his incoming Administration and State Department may tip the very, very delicate scale of seemingly pragmatic even-handedness that exists between the US and the Arab world.
In a blog I posted last week, US unlikely to open Embassy in Jerusalem, I wrote why I did not think the US’s Embassy would move to Jerusalem – as much, I added, that I would sincerely like to see the move.
This issue has been on the table since it was unequivocally decided by US lawmakers in 1995 to shift the embassy and acknowledge Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Congress sent to then-President Bill Clinton to action the move. Neither Clinton, nor the successive eight-year-long governments of George Bush (the Younger – and stupider); nor that of Barak Obama, had made any moves in that direction.
Trump and his team are taking no advice on this issue from State or the White House. So scared is the Obama administration of Trump’s rhetoric (the dangers it could impose on the ground), that it has seen fit to send him a stern warning of just how seriously they believe he could be blundering into this eons-old balancing act without understanding the consequences.
Trump, therefore, was the target of the US administration’s actions.
Israel was simply the instrument they chose to get the message across to him.
Why does Obama want Trump to slow down and assess the motivations of Presidents going back over 20 years? Here are some of the reasons that have been mooted by Obama’s predecessors:
- It would send out a message that could jeopardise the security of both the US and Israel. And, what’s more, it would kibosh any future role that America could play as an ‘honest broker’ in any mid-East peace talks as it will have already taken what is probably the world’s hottest political potato (the future of Jerusalem) and placed it squarely on the table as a fait accompli – a done deal – leaving scant space for a ‘no pre-condition’ meeting;
- It is essential that the US ensure it remains on very good terms with Saudi-aligned states in the neighbourhood – and especially so with Israel’s friendly neighbours Egypt and Jordan. The beat of the Trump drum could see these countries having to leave America/Israel’s sphere of influence under renewed pressure from fellow-Muslim states and become client-states of Russia which is working hard on becoming a bigger role-player in the region, (or even China, Iran, North Korea…);
- Israel gets the most advanced American armaments, while Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States get second-tier weapon systems. This may change if any US President risks being accused of bias in this regard and result in Israel not getting them, or a business-friendly Trump selling the best to everyone;
- Worldwide anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitism would gain another stick to beat Israel with, just as they did after the rocket-firing provocation that led to the outbreak of the 2013 Gaza incursion. That event was so masterfully exploited globally by BDS-acolytes that I have little doubt Hamas knew its provocation would lead to hundreds of Arab deaths. The sick interpretation of Islam by militants denies any value to life lost (actually, it rewards it) in its propaganda war against Israel and the West;
These and similar reasons, quoted by successive Presidents to explain the dangers of implementing Congress’s 1995 decision to relocate the Embassy, are what has forced the current administration to do something it would otherwise have been loath to do.
By not exercising its veto on the settlements issue, the incumbent administration was firing a shot across Trump’s bough – albeit using Israel as their weapon.
There can be no doubt that Obama & Co. realised fully the potential risk of negative implications that Israel and the world would face as a result of the Resolution being passed.
That they did it anyway, is indicative of the enormity of the risk they feel of allowing Trump, with all good intent but bad understanding of the situation, to continue down the path of over-placating Israel while creating a more dangerous future.
As I wrote last week, I would love to see all Embassies move to Jerusalem. Heck, I would also like to see the annexation (Golanisation) of the West Bank everyone is suddenly talking about.
But does the short-term gain of such moves create a greater long-term risk to Israel? If so, I urge Israelis and Zionists, to think whether it is the actions of Obama’s outgoing administration sending a message to Trump, or the latter’s reckless and uninformed statements, that is placing them at more risk.
US unlikely to open Embassy in Jerusalem
Ant Katz writes that he sees little likelihood of an Embassy move, even though he would like to see it
The US Congress mandated the moving of its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem many years ago, but the nation’s security services have warned that such a move could endanger US facilities and personnel in the wider region. Here’s why even Trump will likely backtrack…
Donald Trump campaigned on the promise to move the embassy and last week, the Trump Transition Team made the announcement on their website: US Ambassador to ‘work from Jerusalem’ which both Trump and his ambassador-to-be David Friedman consider the country’s capital.
Despite much speculation to the contrary, Trump’s team now seem to be back-tracking and all that exists in the public domain is that Ambassador Friedman will “work from” Jerusalem. Many pundits see this as an intention to relocate the embassy – but (as much as I would like to see such an action take place) – I think the risks will outweigh the benefits and the associated risk may be more than it is worth.
Yesterday the Palestinian Authority added its voice, with Mahmoud Abbas threatening certain sanctions on Israel if the move goes ahead… really!
I somehow think pragmatism will prevail and the term “work from Jerusalem…” will become the real state of play.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is a public law of the US passed by the 104th Congress in 1995 under the Presidency of Bill Clinton.
It was passed for the purposes of initiating and funding the relocation of the Embassy of the US in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no later than 1999, and attempted to withhold 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the State Department specifically for “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad” as allocated in fiscal year 1999 until the new US Embassy in Jerusalem had officially opened.
The act also called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. Israel’s declared capital is Jerusalem, but this is not internationally recognised, pending final status talks on the world’s most complicated political situation.
Successive Presidential administrations have, however, withheld recognition of the city as Israel’s capital – despite the Law having been adopted by the Senate (93–5), and the House (374–37). Since passage, therefore, the law has never been implemented. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have viewed it as a Congressional infringement on the executive branch’s constitutional authority over foreign policy and have consistently claimed the presidential waiver on national security interests.
So, President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign trail claims of wanting to “move the Embassy to Jerusalem” has become David Friedman’s statement of hoping he will work from the city.
Although Trump’s transition team continues to affirm the intention to move the embassy, it is a toothless statement as they offer no timeline. And, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, in a forceful speech at Tuesday night’s Chanukah party at the Washington embassy, encouraged Trump to make good on the pledge (even saying it was long past due) – the likelihood is that when Friedman takes office it will be a case of his “working” from Jerusalem – without moving the Embassy. In any case, it would take years to acquire a site in overpacked Jerusalem and design and build a new Embassy.
Dermer enumerated some of the positives for the move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which were subsequently outlined in a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday.
There is already US Consulate in Jerusalem, likely where Friedman will work from.
JTA’s Ron Kampeas broke it down further today, writing:
Here’s what the “for” argument looks like:
- The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is ancient.
- No other country is denied representation in its capital.
- Done correctly (i.e., with lots of pre-move assuaging of nerves in Arab and Muslim lands allied with the West, and with a site in western Jerusalem), it should go smoothly, especially because relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours are closer than ever due to shared interests in crushing the Islamic State and stopping Iran.
Here’s a summary of the “against” case:
- The Palestinians have a claim to the city and moving the embassy before a final-status agreement pre-empts their claim.
- The city is a tinderbox and any disturbance of its status quo will lead to violence.
- Israel’s allies in the Arab and Muslim world (both unofficial and official) may reluctantly go along, but its enemies – particularly Iran, which annually commemorates the “loss” of Jerusalem, and the Islamic State — will seize the opportunity and stoke violence.
- And those Arab allies? Even the dictators have to answer to their constituencies, who would likely be violently against. This could endanger whatever nascent comprehensive peace is in the works.
Other writers such as Eli Lake at Bloomberg gets at some of the ‘against’ arguments, particularly regarding tentatively improving relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
But, beyond the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ there is also the UNPREDICTABLE. That, readers, is what concerns me – in the eventuality of their transpiring…
Back to a paraphrasing of Ron Kampeas’ assessment on some things we can’t know about the move until it actually happens:
In the early 1980s, then-PM Menachem Begin used incentives to get journalists to move from Tel Aviv to the press centre in Jerusalem, Beit Agron, because he wanted them to recognise the city as Israel’s capital.
Plenty of news agencies did, with an unexpected result: Whereas the journalists occasionally visited with Palestinians while based in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem they got to know Palestinian leaders well and media understanding of the Palestinian story deepened — not necessarily to Israel’s benefit, says Kampeas.
The Americans maintain a consulate in eastern Jerusalem. Some Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups complain that its staff has ‘gone native,’ – and reflects the opinions of the Arab population. The Tel Aviv staff, by contrast, is ensconced in the most western corner of Israel and has a positive outlook on Israel. “What happens to that attitude once they move 40 miles up the hill to Jerusalem?” asks Kampeas.
WHO DROPS BY? AND WHAT ABOUT THE CONSULATE?
Israel frowns on diplomats taking meetings with Palestinian officials in Jerusalem as it signals recognition of Palestinian claims to the city. “Does that policy stick if the embassy moves there?” is another question on Ron Kampeas’ lips.
Would Palestinian officials even agree to enter as they would no doubt not recognise it?
What happens to the consulate in eastern Jerusalem that deals with Arab issues? Its continued presence would undercut Israeli claims to the entire city. Does Israel’s government agitate for its removal? And, if Palestinian representatives do meet their US contacts, where is that done?
JERUSALEM IS PROTEST-CENTRAL
Jerusalem residents with grievances such as the charedim, Arabs, nearby settlers and their supporters — hold their demonstrations in Jerusalem. A US embassy would be a fat, juicy place for them to hold such protests.
WHAT HAPPENS IF…
“Try building anything new in Jerusalem and you’re bound to hit some pottery shards, possibly even bones,” Kampeas points out. If it is a significant find, a construction site could attract a stop order from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
THE RESIDENCE AND THE SCHOOLS
The US ambassador has a spacious home in Herzliya, a place amenable to festivities and bashes – and near some of the best schools in the country. Space is hard to come by in Jerusalem. Especially if Americans decide (to assuage Arab anger) to build both embassy and a residence in the city’s west.
“And the schools! For ambassadors with school-age kids, what a hornet’s nest,” says JTA. That sounds right- any choice could offend someone. Going ‘international’ risks accusations of exposing the kids to anti-Israel views. Going for Israel’s schooling system and take your pick of whom to offend — the religious, the Charedim, the national religious groups, etc.
There are so many other unpredictables – this is, of course, the world’s most politically contentious city. A city where anything can happen. They call it: The Jerusalem Syndrome.
“One more thing,” Kampeas points out, “the city is susceptible to earthquakes. Considering everything else, that’s almost an afterthought,” he chirps.
Friedman: BDS-SA Incompetence promoting Zionism
“It takes special skill to turn the fight for Palestinian rights into a marginal movement in a country where the vast majority identify with victims of oppression of one identity group by another”
The recent article by Professor Steven Friedman in The Daily
Vox headlined “How the incompetence of BDS-SA has promoted Zionism in SA”
certainly took my breath away. No friend of Zionism, Prof Friedman’s candour and
honest appraisal of the situation on the ground in SA was a huge blow to BDS.
here to read this piece in its original form TheDailyVox.co.za
or see below.
“It takes special skill to turn the fight for Palestinian
rights into a marginal movement in a country where the vast majority identify
with victims of oppression of one identity group by another” he wrote.
Worse for BDS, however, was BDS-SA’s response today which
can be read here: VERBATIM
FROM THE HOUSE OF HORRORS. While BDS’ profanities and theologies were
certainly not called for, they are most telling of where the organisation, which
has received several black eyes during this week’s Israel Apartheid Week event,
In the gutter.
Here’s Prof Friedman’s critique verbatim:
How the incompetence of BDS-SA has promoted Zionism in SA
It takes special skill to turn the fight for Palestinian rights into a marginal movement in a country where the vast majority identify with victims of oppression of one identity group by another, writes STEVEN FRIEDMAN.
The country is ours, where the self-importance of the solidarity movement glosses over the fact that its successes are limited to one successful, never repeated, march two years ago. The movement’s most visible face, BDS SA, seems to have largely given up on the society, focussing its efforts on an alliance with the governing party which has failed to shift foreign policy to a clearly pro-Palestinian position and has set back chances of building broad support because it excludes and alienates many people.
Since BDS SA and its allies became the face of the solidarity movement, Zionist influence here has increased. While the movement sees getting ANC struggle warhorses to pile up trolleys at Woolworths and then refuse to pay as a major triumph, in the political mainstream, Zionist influence has strengthened. Yes, we do now have labelling laws which are meant to identify goods made in the West Bank and Gaza – but then so does the European Union, hardly an anti-Zionist stronghold. At the same time, the media hardly tell the Palestinian story while the Israeli ambassador boasts in private of how many good friends the Israeli state has in government.
This failure to turn solidarity with Palestine into a mainstream movement here is particularly astounding when we consider that the vast majority of black South Africans are sympathetic to the cause – if the realities of Palestinian life are explained to them. There is no hard survey evidence to back this – but experience confirms it: when University of Johannesburg academics successfully campaigned for the end of UJ’s official links with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, we received strong support in the wider society.
Why this failure? In very broad terms, it is a product of a refusal to treat public opinion with respect, as something to be nurtured rather than taken for granted. But the more concrete problem is not telling the Palestinian story.
If we hark back to the fight to turn world public opinion against apartheid, very little of it was about rallying people around abstract calls for one-person-one-vote. While that goal was never hidden, anti-apartheid strategists understood that, when people are asked to identify with a cause which does not affect them directly, they are far more likely to react to a concrete story of human suffering than to what seems like an abstract demand.
Support was built by focusing on specifics – forced removals, pass laws, police violence, political prisoners, racist restrictions on sport. People with a sense of justice can relate to that – it hits home in a way which abstractions never can. (This can be so even when people are close to the action –
of a day in the life of a domestic worker probably helped people make sense of the reality of today’s South Africa better than any academic paper).
The solidarity movement here is interested only in abstractions. As I am writing this, the Israeli state has finally agreed to release Palestinian hunger striker Mohamed al-Kik who fasted for over three months. No thanks to the local solidarity movement who have ignored al-Kik and all other Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike. What could be more human, more likely to instil outrage, than a person willing to starve themselves to death because they have been unjustly imprisoned?
It is surely stating the obvious to say that the hunger strikes of Palestinian political prisoners are not the only issue on which the Palestinian plight could be presented as a compelling human story. Every day at 3am in Bethlehem, volunteers, including South African activists, wake to chronicle the harassment and humiliation which Palestinians experience at check points – their reports are published. But there has been no campaign here to focus attention on a form of repression which forces people simply going about their business to stand in line for three to four hours each way and to endure humiliation when they arrive at the head of the line.
If solidarity work in this country focussed on the human cost of Zionism, the check points, the destruction wrought by the Separation Wall, police and army violence and political prisoners, the Palestinian struggle would take on a human form, win the support of the broad public, and stem Zionism’s influence here.
The solidarity movement should know that – the only time it has organised a show of support was when people were being slaughtered in Gaza (a human story not even it could ignore). But then piling up trolleys at Woolworths for no apparent reason is easier than the real work required to run campaigns which reach people’s hearts.
Steven Friedman is Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg.
This is part of a special series called Apartheid 2.0, which The Daily Vox is running in partnership with Al Jazeera’s Palestine Remix.
Featured image: Ihsaan Haffejee
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