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South Africans tour to say Israel not apartheid state

The Jewish Advocate

Alexandra Lapkin
April 6, 2016

BOSTON — In the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the phrase “apartheid state” gets used a lot with regard to Israel. College students hold annual Israeli Apartheid Weeks on campus and two years ago the term reached top-level politics, when Secretary of State John Kerry told a room full of world leaders that Israel “risks” becoming an apartheid state.

But whether Israel really is an apartheid state or risks becoming one, is perhaps best answered by those whose own parents lived under an officially sanctioned apartheid in South Africa. To make this happen, the Los Angeles-based pro-Israel advocacy organization, Stand With Us, brought four students from South Africa on a U.S. speaking tour of colleges and universities.

In Massachusetts, Jamie Mithi, Benji Shulman, Klaas Mokgomole, and Justice Nkomo stopped by Brandeis University, Boston University, and Clark University earlier this week. Mithi and Mokgomole spoke with The Jewish Advocate before their visit.

Mokgomole is actually a former BDS activist. He was a member of Student Representative Council at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, when he heard a pro-BDS speech on campus and decided to join the movement, even though he “didn't really have much insight about this issue,” Mokgomole said. But he was compelled to join because, “If another country is suffering the injustice that our fathers and mothers have suffered, we need to advocate for the people there.”

His parents, who were not allowed to attend college under apartheid, did not study past 10th grade. “We spoke about it a lot when I was growing up,” Mokgomole said. “I'm still suffering the consequences of the injustice of apartheid.”

When an advocacy group, South African Israel Forum, took him on a tour of Israel and the West Bank in July of last year, and he saw the place first hand, Mokgomole changed his mind about supporting BDS.

“At first I thought it was a propaganda trip, that they would lock us in our rooms and we wouldn't be allowed to go anywhere,” he said. “But when we got there, they let us do our thing.”

The students met with people of all faiths and backgrounds, including Palestinians and Africans. “When you start to engage with people on the ground, you learn that the Israeli/Palestinian issue is not about land, it's about hatred,” Mokgomole said.

Back in South Africa, his friends in the BDS movement called him “a sell-out to the Zionists” and would not listen to Mokgomole's arguments.

Mithi, a debate champion, did not take a stand for or against the BDS movement, but got involved out of his curiosity to explore the issues on both sides. Mithi noted the culture of student activism in South Africa explains the “enthusiastic embrace” of the BDS movement.

When he attempted to organize a debate between pro-Israel and pro- BDS students, the pro-BDS students refused; when a pianist from Israel was invited to perform at his university, his performance was disrupted. Mithi thought the refusal to debate was “peculiar,” but disrupting the pianist's performance went too far.

“I opposed this on reasons of principal,” Mithi said. “I thought disrupting was wrong and a lot of the information that the BDS movement presented was one-sided.” He also went on the South African Israel Forum-sponsored trip in January 2015, where he learned the complexities of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“People are sold this package about Israel,” Mithi said. “This approach isn't honest, it isn't accurate, and it polarizes everyone.”

Read the original article HERE

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