On 4th December 2009, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) and SOAS Palestine Society organised a public meeting putting forward the case for sanctions and boycott of Israel.
Amongst the speakers were several from the South African struggle against apartheid including Ronnie Kasrils – former minister in Nelson Mandela”s ANC government and Bongani Masuku – International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
Other speakers included Omar Barghouti from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Steven Rose of BRICUP, Yasmin Khan from War on Want, and Tarek Mustafa from Egypt’s first independent trade union.
The speeches, lasting 80mins, were followed by a lively 50mins of question and answer session. The full steaming video of both sessions is included below as is a MP3 podcast of the event.
Tom Hickey – BRICUP
The meeting was chaired by Tom Hickey from BRICUP who is on the National Executive Committee of Universities and Colleges Union (UCU):
“There is in effect an attempt to extirpate a whole people [the Palestinians], to deny their existence, to wipe them from the face of history, to remove a culture, to deny the existence of a people. Not to exterminate them physically, but to remove them from history. And that’s something that I’m proud to say our union, the Universities and Colleges Union, has debated now for four years, carefully debated, and has finally come to the conclusion that it is simply not enough to condemn it, it is now necessary to do something about it. Not to act against it, we have concluded, is to be complicit in the process..”
Yasmin Khan – War on Want
The first speaker was Yasmin Khan who is a Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want:
“The British government is absolutely complicit in the crimes of Israel against the Palestinian people through the selling of arms to Israel. Last year the British government sold 28 million pounds worth of arms, and War on Want along with many other organisations is working to stop the UK government selling arms to Israel..”
Professor Steven Rose – BRICUP
The British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP) is an organisation of UK based academics which was set up to answer the Palestinian Call for Academic Boycott of Israel. Its founder member Professor Steven Rose talked of the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation:
“And I don’t only speak about the involvement of all Israeli academics, or most of them, in the IDF when they are not actually teaching and are not sitting in their laboratories, are involved in the checkpoints or as officers controlling the activities of the IDF as they certainly were in the Gaza occupation, now. I refer to the fact that no single Israel academic institution senate, group of teachers, has actually passed any resolution in support of the academic freedom of their Palestinian colleagues. They have not protested, not one voice, at the destruction of the Islamic University in Gaza City at the time of the Gaza occupation. In fact they have tended to rejoice in it!
When an Israeli academic colleague told 9000 university academics in Israel for support for a very simple statement of some sort of solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues, only a very few 100 even bothered to reply to her email. There is silence on the part, with very few exceptions, of Israeli academia, whose silence means complicity and complicity must be opposed..”
and he called for action:
“The time has come when we must move forward, we must bring that boycott action in to practice.. it is time for those of us who are in universities to confront, politely, our colleagues in those universities who have those contracts [with Israeli universities], who share those relationships [with Israeli academia] and say ‘think what you are doing, would you have collaborated with Nazi Germany even before 1939?'”
Ronnie Kasrils – ANC
Three speakers had come from South Africa to address the meeting. Ronnie Kasrils is no stranger to the UK. In the late 60’s and 70’s he helped run the UK operation for the African National Congress (ANC), helping establish underground units in South Africa from the United Kingdom. In the 80’s he went to serve in the ANC’s Politico-Military Council and later run their campaigns section. After the fall of apartheid he went on to serve as a minister in Nelson Mandela”s first ANC government.
Ronnie Kasrils compared and contrasted the South Africa situation to that of Palestine:
“Every one of us from South Africa going to Palestine (and by the way within Israeli society itself), we are gob smacked, we see ourselves in a deja-vu situation. It reminds us of the nightmare we went through in South Africa..
In actual fact there is a major difference between the Israeli Zionist practice and South African apartheid practice because you see in South Africa the whites needed back labour, they needed to exploit.. to develop the country and of course South Africa was built on the backs of black sweat and labour. But the zionists differ. The zionist don’t want the Palestinian at all. Get rid of them, transfer them, besiege them, choke their economy, and as was said earlier – wipe them from history.. and yes if necessary.. slowly moving genocide as an objective.. the greatest parallel actually is what happened to the native American people or the aboriginal people, that’s actually the absolute corollary.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of his speech was at the end when he talked of the South African example, of how change was achieved. He described the “four fighting factors” of the struggle which “sum up the total methodology a people in struggle can use”.
* 1.United mass mobilization
* 2.Armed struggle
* 3.Underground networks (for disseminating information, etc)
* 4.International solidarity
Whilst all are vital , the balance between these factors is determined by the situation, so in Vietnam the armed struggle was the most prominent whilst in South Africa it was mass mobilization. He talked of the struggle to achieve international solidarity:
“International solidarity was not something that came about easily. It started with a boycott within South Africa against potato farmers who were using labour that the police provided from the prison, and very often those convicts would be killed in the fields and buried there. And Ruth First was a great investigative journalist who exposed this, and the immediate response of our movement, civil society, the political, the trade unions was a boycott of those potato products. This then was brought here to this city [London] being the key trading partner with South Africa, and the boycott movement got going from 1959, took of in 1960 after Sharpville, went through its ups and downs..
I want to tell you the times we’d go to Edinburgh, to Manchester, across this country. Chelsea on one occasion, on a rainy night and I found 8 people in a city hall waiting for the meeting! Well we said, lets not sit around here on a cold night we’ll go round to the pub and we had a few drinks and we worked out how better to organise people in Chelsea. The thing was it had its ups and downs..”
Bongani Masuku – COSATU
The next speaker was Bongani Masuku, the International Secretary of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Bongani Masuku is a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and a fighter against Israeli apartheid, this has earned him the wrath of the zionist lobby in South Africa headed by the South African Jewish Boards of Deputies (SAJBD).
SAJBD has a history of colluding with apartheid in South Africa. From its inception right up to 1985 SAJBD basked in the privileges that were afforded to white people whilst staying silent at the suffering of black people – apparently it wasn’t a Jewish issue. Only when it was obvious change was unstoppable, that the oppressed could no longer be contained under the apartheid boot that it became a ‘Jewish issue’ and SAJBD jumped ship and issued a rebuke of apartheid in 1985!
So its rather sad to see the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) succumbing to pressure by SAJBD, an organisation that has no regard for human rights, in to issuing a ruling against Bongani Masuku for ‘hate speech’ in his condemnation of South African citizens serving in the IDF and (at the time) committing war crimes in Gaza. The fact that the ruling was issued the day before this speaking tour of the UK and the fact that SAJBD’s UK zionist-lobby counter-part the Board of Deputies for British Jews were ready with a copy of the ruling (which hasn’t even been publish by SAHRC on its website yet) to heckle and silence any discussion on the boycott of Israel (see QA session) speaks volumes.
And this is not the first time the zionists have tried to use the South African Human Rights Commission to silence criticism of Israel – after Israels slaughter in Lebanon they tried to censor Ronnie Kasrils for ‘hate speech’ for his condemnation of Israeli crimes in Lebanon with the words
“..we must call baby killers “baby killers” and declare that those using methods reminiscent of the Nazis be told that they are behaving like Nazis..”
That time the SAHRC didn’t buckle under zionist pressure and rejected their claim that Ronnie Kasrils by his statement was denying the holocaust.
In his fighting speech, Bongani Masuku spoke of the occupation and the right to resist:
“The problem is that if you occupy other peoples land then what do you expect them to do? If in South Africa the ANC and the liberation movement as a whole sat and folded its hands and waited for a world that was merely concerned about pacifism instead of human justice would it be free today? It would not be free.
It is in the same way that Mandela was condemned as a terrorist, his name has just been removed from the United States [terrorist list] even up to today – he was President and still declared a terrorist for defending and fighting for his own people.
Today when the Palestinian people go through the same should we continue to find ways of playing around with academic debates when people of Palestine and people of Gaza are suffering today? When the victims of white phosphorus who are subjected to the worst forms of biochemical warfare equivalent to levels of genocide, should we continue to tolerate those levels and entertain the discussion whether it is right the method that they use to fight for freedom, rather than say the real problem is than unless the occupation is ended there will never be peace in the Middle-East, and all over the world.”
George Mahlangu – COSATU
George Mahlangu, the Campaigns Coordinator of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)in his minuscule address lasting just a minute pointed to the existence of parallel strategies to mobilise for solidarity campaigns between South African and Palestinian struggles, unfortunately he was not given enough to time to elaborate further.
Omar Barghouti – PACBI
Omar Barghouti, a founding member of Palestinian Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions(PACBI), brought home the reality of why we need to step up the BDS campaign, he spoke of the recent report by Amnesty International on the current conditions Palestinians are living under:
“In the water report that Amnesty has issued it has said that Israelis on average use 4 times as much water as the Palestinians, in some areas the settlers use 20 times as much as the Palestinians in their immediate vicinity.
180,000 to 200,000 Palestinians are denied access to running water completely – they only get water by buying it, and buying it is getting much more expensive because with the checkpoints, roadblocks and so on its become much more difficult to deliver water. Some families according to Amnesty are spending 25% of their income on drinking water, 25% – imagine it in your income and then you figure it out.
But in Gaza its the worst, in Gaza 90-95% of the water supply has been contaminated, there is no good drinking water in Gaza, you can only drink contaminated water unless you are rich enough to buy the bottled water ‘smuggled’ through the tunnels.
Another aspect that Amnesty talks about in its report is ethnic cleansing, they don’t mention the word ‘ethnic cleansing’ but they say Israel is deliberately denying access to water in so-called area C. The West Bank is divided in to areas A, B and C. C is under full Israeli control and it happens that 60% of the land of the West Bank is in area C. Most of the water resources are in area C, pure luck. And Israel completely controls that and Palestinians are not allowed access to water there in order to push Palestinians out of area C, where their land and water reserves are. So even Amnesty has reached the conclusion that this is a deliberate policy meant to expel the Palestinians out of those areas. This a very serious accusation from an organisation like Amnesty.
One quote in the Amnesty report by a Palestinian villager in Sousia, near Khalil (Hebron), she says ‘water is life, without water we cannot live, not us, not the animals, not the plants. Before we had some water, but after the army destroyed everything, we have to bring water from far away – its very difficult and expensive. They make our life very difficult to make us leave.’ Precisely, the only point is to make them leave.”
He finished with a call to those still hesitant in their support for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS):
“One can only wonder if not BDS now, when? People still sitting on the fence after the massacre in Gaza. What will it take? Must we see gas chambers in order for people to react?
Haven’t we seen the path in the 30s in Germany? Germany did not start with gas chambers. They started with racist laws, they started with small items and laws here and there, and we are seeing this process in Gaza and in the Occupied Territories and even in inside Israel in the Negev desert – the ethnic cleansing of the Bedouins..”
Tarek Mustafa – Egyptian Trade Union leader
The last speaker was Tarek Mustafa, the strike leader of Egypt’s first independent trade union (since the 40s) – the Real Estate Tax Collectors’ Independent Trade Union which represents 40,000 tax agency employees.
Tarek Mustafa stressed the importance for Egyptians to come together and organise to form strong independent trade unions so that they could be effective in helping the Palestinian struggle which Egyptians saw as their own struggle:
“In Egypt we are not allowed to organise ourselves in to free independent unions, to have members doing that – that is an achievement. We believe we can help our brothers in Palestine by first becoming free in our own country. We cannot really support them as individuals, we have seen for years Palestinians being slaughtered and we couldn’t do much as we were just doing it as individuals and this is not enough. The Egyptian regime have done it all in front of us, selling Egyptian gas to Israelis at a very subsidised price that even the Egyptian house wife cannot enjoy, and that supports the Israeli army that is killing the Palestinians. So from here we have seen the importance of unionising because the movement against the Egyptian regime and the Israel state cannot be efficient unless we start by becoming strong unions, free unions, organised groups. We use to see as Egyptians, marches and demonstration in Europe with thousands of people, but we cannot even walk for 5 metres in Cairo to demonstrate our support! We agree with Ronnie that the struggle from within is very important, and we don’t consider ourselves external from Palestine, we consider ourselves in with the Palestinians as part of the struggle and we have to organise ourselves so we can support the Palestinians. From here comes the importance of having free trade unions because slaves cannot help others become free.”
Question and Answer Session
The speeches were followed by 50 minutes of lively question and answer session. Some quotes from the session:
Yasmin Khan (War on Want) on the peace process:
“Just taking up the point about Oslo and the peace process, I think its really important to have a think about what we actually mean by peace, what is peace? The way we always frame it, is that peace doesn’t mean the absence of war it means the delivery of justice..”
Professor Steven Rose (BRICUP) on implementing the academic boycott:
“There are 100s of [Israeli] contracts with British universities, with British academics. You can find them on the European Union website called cordis [http://cordis.europa.eu]. Those of you who are in the universities, those of you who are students, those of you who have academic colleagues need to take the brilliant publicity success of the resolutions the [teaching] unions have passed and then make them practically effective within our own universities, within our own campuses. Firstly because that actually helps building the understanding of the conscious of those British researchers who have collaborated with the Israelis at the moment. Secondly because it hits Israel where it hurts!”
Ronnie Kasrils (ANC) on “How decisive was the boycott?”:
“The boycott was incredibly decisive, it put its weight behind the whole struggle. In times you will find in any struggle that one element might be higher and another element might be lower. There were times in South Africa, you remember the Rivonia arrests – Mandela and everybody fighting for their lives in the courts, etc. After that, our people were incredibly intimidated, organisations had been smashed, the underground was smashed. It took many years to recover. It took many years, nearly a decade, for the workers strike movement to come to the fore back in South Africa. And I can tell you in that period, real difficult period, when our people heard of Irish shop assistants going on a strike, refusing to handle South African goods, it came as a tremendous inspiration! So we cannot under rate the role of international solidarity.”
Omar Barghouti (PACBI) on accusations that the boycott is anti-Semitic:
“Anti-Semitism and BDS – BDS, isn’t that like boycotting Jews? I mean that’s like Nazi Germany and the call for boycotting Jews, a boycott of Israel – isn’t it ultimately a boycott of Jews because Israel is a Jewish state? I think that accusation itself is anti-Semitic. Why? Because it assumes that Israel and the Jews are one and the same thing. It assumes that all Jews are monolithic and they are all zionists and all support Israel and worse – that any attack on Israel is by necessity an attack on Jews, so they bear collective responsibility for Israels actions. That definition of the monolithic Jews bearing collective responsibility is the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism.”
Video : Speeches
The video is in 9 parts (82 mins), you can either let it play in order or jump to a particular speaker.
Video : Question & Answer Session
The video is in 5 parts (50 mins).