The reckless manner in which the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement in South Africa (BDS-SA) handles the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to create the need to reiterate the famous words coined by James Carville during the 1992 presidential elections in the United States:
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
The trajectory taken by BDS-SA to selectively discriminate against entrepreneurial and business opportunities by corporations linked to Israel, if not challenged, may lead to a huge collapse of the South African economy and ultimately lead to unwarranted job losses.
The South African economy in past years has been a great concern; the Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of inequality in a society) continues to increase. Standing at close to 0.95 for wealth, it reveals a staggeringly unequal society with our unemployment rate remaining alarmingly high at 27% and a shocking number of young people that are not part of any employment, education or training.
In recent years, the Pretoria administration has had to initiate a number of strategies in order to boost the economy following the downgrades and recession. The South African reality necessitates the need to focus on the economy and, most importantly, create and maintain trade relations with other countries that excel in certain vital economic aspects. This is in the best interests of the people of South Africa.
A lobby group like BDS-SA ignores the South African reality and undermines the country’s national interest to create an inclusive economy for all, especially for the poor masses of our country. A few days ago, BDS-SA threatened to disrupt investments from Brimstone Investment Corporation that has committed to developing and improving South Africa’s biggest dairy company, Clover.
Why is BDS-SA so willing to sacrifice its fellow South African workers for its own self-serving position, being coldly indifferent to increasing the ranks of our unemployed?
The call by BDS-SA also undermines the strides made by President Cyril Ramaphosa to attract vital investment to South Africa from both overseas corporations and foreign countries.
It is strange that the BDS-SA selectively singles out only the Israeli “occupation” — part of a geographically disputed area still subjected to a two-state peace process — while South Africa continues to enjoy bilateral trade relations with many other “occupations” including:
The occupation of Tibet by China since 1948, with about 1 million Muslim Uighurs having been imprisoned by China for ‘re-education’
The occupation of Kashmir by India since 1948;
The occupation of the Northern part of Cyprus (over 36%) by Turkey since 1974 following a military invasion;
The occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, which has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963, but to this day remains controlled by the Moroccan army; and
The military occupation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia since 2014.
BDS-SA has been deafeningly silent about such occupations; In fact both China and India, which are clear “occupiers” by any definition, are part of the strategic regional set-up between, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).
Gross human rights violations continue to take place in Syria and Yemen that have come to characterise both these conflicts with hundreds of thousands massacred and millions displaced.
BDS had no problem with Saudi Arabia investing R10-billion into South Africa’s state-owned Denel and using SA-manufactured weapons to kill Yemenis, but seemingly, they have a problem with Israelis investing R4.8-billion into Clover.
Something does not add up here.
Closer to home, it’s a disgrace that on our own continent, in Libya, we still have slavery — exploiting the flow of refugees escaping poverty. Slave markets operate along these migrant routes. This is slavery of fellow Africans on our continent. Why is BDS-SA silent on this?
And why not a word about Morocco, that continues to undermine the sovereignty of the Sahrawi people. Of course, mentioning some of these incidents does not justify any form of human rights violations, but it is meant to make it clear that all human beings matter.
BDS-SA must be consistent. So far, it is suspiciously selective, and to South Africa’s detriment. Who is really paying the price for BDS-SA interfering in South Africa’s economy? The answer — South African workers.
The international community, through platforms created by multilateral organisations, including the United Nations has attempted to resolve the existing Palestine-Israel conflict. It has a long way to go and both sides need to take risks to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement.
At present, despite the hurdles and setbacks – a phenomenon in any tough territorial negotiations — Israel continues to be the Palestinian Authority’s most important trading partner. In fact, Palestinian Authority officials were recently seen at a meeting sitting around a table that has on it, several juice bottles, all products from Israel. How does BDS-SA call on South African companies to boycott Israeli products while Palestinian leaders themselves are not boycotting those same Israeli products?
The facts are that in terms of the Oslo Accords:
“The two parties view the economic domain as one of the cornerstones in their mutual relations, with a view to enhance their interest in the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” (From the Protocol on Economic Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, signed in Washington, DC, September 28, 1995).
The Oslo Accords serves as the basis of mutual recognition of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security.
In agreements reached between the two nations, there has been a willingness to have the two states exist independently of each other (“Two-State Solution”), and the assertions by BDS-SA to reject everything that Israel does fails to reflect a willingness to reach that solution.
It is important to make it clear that, the struggle towards self-determination of any peoples can be best solved by the people themselves, through their own voices.
Yes, the international community should provide a platform in which the parties involved can sit at the negotiation table and pave a way forward — and the South African government can help in this process between Palestine and Israel from its own experience. And in the process, South Africa can and should benefit.
For instance, President Cyril Ramaphosa in his the State of the Nation Address spoke about the need to find mechanisms that will enhance the Fourth Industrial Revolution in this country.
In this pursuit, Pretoria can learn from Israel because it is ranked high in technological readiness and ranks among the top countries in the world for the quality of its engineers and scientists. Israel also does incredibly well in creating and maintaining the number of start-ups per capita.
Availing ourselves of such expertise will help us with the developmental agenda that the South African government aims to create. In this way, we respond to our call of duty by delivering to our people by growing the economy.
BDS-SA does not hold any electoral mandate and must not hamper nor tamper with the operations of the state. If BDS-SA is genuine and honest about its course, it must encourage the people of Palestine to sit with the Israelis at the negotiation table. Its lobbying must not be at the expense of the South African worker, which is what it is doing at present.
BDS-SA ought to listen to what ordinary Palestinians yearn for. Its messaging on Palestine is not coherent and fails to benefit the Palestinians living in Palestine. The BDS-SA policy that Israel has no right to exist, and that South Africa must not pursue policies that are in its own best economic interests, must be dismissed.
We must do so not for the interests of Israel, but for the best interests of Palestine and South Africa. The solution lies in mediation and fast-tracking the implementation of previous resolutions on the Israeli/Palestine question.
Towards this worthy aim, South Africa can play a major role without the spoiler of BDS-SA. DM
Rhulani Thembi Siweya is the founder of Africa Unmasked and an NEC member of the ANC Youth League.
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