is israel an apartheid state? a south african perspective, part four

Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three.

All words are Joe Kelly's unless otherwise noted. My words are in [brackets and italics].

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[wmtc: In your talk, you emphasized the role of the labour movement in bringing down apartheid. You said: "When there was a boycott, nothing moved." And you said the boycott/divest/sanction movement is a vital component, that the economic and political struggle are inextricable.]

I would say even more than that. I would say the boycott/divest/sanction movement – because it is a peaceful weapon, because it involves the economy – has the potential to bring about real, genuine change in a peaceful form. It is meant to hit at people's lifestyles and their living standards.

White South Africans saw themselves as cosmopolitan. They loved to travel. They liked to see themselves as being enlightened and liberal - while they lived on black labour and the oppression of black people. I sense the same from Israelis. There's a sense that they are part of the world, they see themselves as enlightened, the most enlightened in the Middle East, they like to be seen as part of the Western world. What gives them that is that they play a role in the world economy, and so forth.

I think sanctions would make them realize that that is not sustainable on the basis of oppression.

And if there is anything that can be a peaceful resolution – to provide a tool towards a peaceful resolution – it is boycott/divestment/sanction. I think the people who designed the movement against [South African] apartheid actually understood that. Because what is the alternative?

[wmtc: And you believe it could have an even greater effect in the Israeli situation than it did in South Africa?]

In South Africa, one of the questions people always had was that divestment would have a negative effect on the labour movement. It might hurt the black workers themselves. Black workers said, we are prepared to sacrifice. But it was always a question.

So in the sense that sanctions did require a lot of sacrifice on the part of black workers in South Africa, when we look at Israel, boycott/divest/sanction does not effect Palestinians in a direct way, because Palestinians have been excluded from the economy.

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The Richard Wright story, for me, tells more about the Palestinian situation than it does about apartheid in South Africa. He talks about how he faced white terror – it was direct, it was naked, it was there, every day. . . . When I think about white locals going around lynching black men, I think that is the most horrific scenario I can think of. Jim Crow was worse than what apartheid in South Africa was.

[wmtc: Yet it doesn't have the same horror associated with it. I find even educated Americans think Jim Crow was about separate drinking fountains, or sitting on the back of the bus. But it was a terror campaign, and a very deadly one.]

But it wasn't enforced necessarily by the state. It was enforced by the local community.

[wmtc: And the state let it happen, and didn't stop it. Enabled it.]

For me, when we talk about the word apartheid, it is not necessarily the most brutal thing. But it was brutal. How to convey those contradictions to get people to understand the use of the word.

Also, in the South African apartheid regime, part of the reason for the weakness of the apartheid state was that there were many people, especially employers, who wanted a more liberal form of apartheid. There were degrees of opposition. There were mild reformists, and there were people in the white community who were actively part of the struggle against apartheid. And I think there is that in Israel as well, people like Amira Hass and a number of Israeli historians who speak up against Israeli apartheid. We are not talking about a naked dismissal of every Israeli person, as if they are all feeding into that system.

[It's a state system. I relate to that as a US citizen who opposes US imperialism. I don't want to be hated because of the US system. But on the other hand, it's your duty to stand up against it. You can't just say, I don't support it. You have to actively work against it, or else you are supporting it.]

Another thing, along with the trade union movement and the 1973 strike, we must mention the role of white South African youth who were studying at university. They were influenced by the 1960s and the whole liberatory atmosphere, and were quite involved in developing those unions. They were deeply involved in the movement against apartheid. They were indispensable to providing African workers with resources – using campus resources to print pamphlets, and using their language skills to write those pamphlets, to help publicize strikes – also helping with the development of organizations. That exists in Israel, too.

There were also military resisters. White youth in South Africa who said, "We're not joining the army. We're not going to enforce this system." They left the country because they didn't want to enforce the apartheid regime. And now there are young Israeli citizens doing the same thing.

[end of Joe Kelly's remarks]

Continue to final part.

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