Over the last several months, the Middle East has dramatically shifted towards Israeli-Arab peace, first with the UAE-Israel normalisation agreement, then with the announcement of Bahrain, and shortly thereafter with the normalisation agreement with Sudan. Even more Arab states are expected to sign on to the groundbreaking Abraham Accords which has changed the course of history in the Middle East. Yet anti-normalisation activists such as the BDS movement are doing all they can to stop the wave of peace from expanding in the region, and we must not let them.
Despite the historic step towards Middle East peace, Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, addressed the UN Security Council in October and focused exclusively on attacking the state of Israel, even noting that the peace agreements with Bahrain, UAE and Sudan are in fact harming peace with the Palestinians. Ambassador Matjila also voiced South Africa’s support for an “international conference with the participation of all concerned parties for discussions on a genuine peace process,” which was initially proposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The problem with this, of course, is that Palestinian leaders have rejected repeated offers for peace as well as genuine negotiations for years. It seems their leadership never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Instead of doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, the Abraham Accords set a new starting point for the entire region demonstrating why normalisation is beneficial. An international conference for the peace process is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn’t come as a hostile response to the Arab world making peace with Israel as is the case with Mahmoud Abbas’ proposal. Certainly, other nations should not be supporting Abbas’ disingenuous efforts either as it’s completely contrary to peace.
While the Middle East is moving significantly towards peace, why then, is South Africa taking the side against peace?
For too long, South Africa has fallen victim to the Palestinian propaganda game. Proponents of the BDS movement have propagated malicious lies about the state of Israel with tremendous success in South Africa. This is in part due to the BDS movements’ cynical misuse of the term “apartheid” to demonise the state of Israel.
In fact, Israel is a democratic state with 20 percent of the population being Arab Muslims and Christians who enjoy equal rights under the law since the founding of the modern state in 1948. Israeli Arabs today serve in the highest levels of the courts, in the parliament, in hospitals, businesses, law firms, universities, and yes, even the Israel Defense Forces.
The BDS movement relies on convoluted, twisted, and at times completely fabricated “facts” to delegitimise the state of Israel due to a political conflict. Look no further than their website which absurdly states that Israeli-Arabs like myself “are subjected to a system of racial discrimination…” and that, “the Israeli government continues to forcibly displace Palestinian communities in Israel from their land.” As an Israeli-Arab myself, I am outraged to see such a movement spreading untruths around the world that harms not only my country, but the prospects for peace with Palestinians as well. Even more perturbing, they do so in South Africa using the horrors of apartheid to incorrectly accuse Israel of the same. Such false equivalencies between Israel and South Africa’s history of apartheid disrespects the true victims of apartheid in South Africa.
But the BDS movement’s shameful tactics aren’t limited to co-opting the language of apartheid. BDS activists are known for targeted harassment of cultural icons, musicians, artists, and authors who dare to perform in Israel, sometimes even using bots to harass them on social media and accuse them of “supporting apartheid.” BDS demonises and attacks Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs who urge cooperation and has even advocated for boycotting Israeli companies which benefit the Palestinian economy, such Sodastream which employed hundreds of Palestinians.
BDS is rooted in the incorrect belief that even if boycotting harms Palestinians, it’s worth it if Israel is destroyed. It is a bullying tactic that activists use to censor dissident opinions in the West Bank and Gaza, to harass uninvolved parties such as artists, and prevent peace by fervently opposing normalisation with Israel, even when it is a sovereign nation making such decisions, such as Bahrain, the UAE, or Sudan.
When the lies of BDS go unaddressed for extended periods of time, people will start to believe them. This is the disturbing phenomenon we can read between the lines of Ambassador Matjila’s address to the UN Security Council. As a proud Arab, and as a proud Israeli, it disturbs me greatly to see such blatantly incorrect and intentionally inflammatory language from South Africa about my country in the halls of the UN, and I believe it pushes us further away from peace. It is for that reason that it’s critical Israelis and those from South Africa as well who know the truth about Israel, speak up and counter the misinformation and harassment of the BDS movement.