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BDS South Africa commemorating the Holocaust/Shoah

I often hear that advocating for a free and just Palestine means that I am against Jews, or that I deny the right of Israel’s existence.  And then I am asked to rather focus on the rights of Christians (as I am one).

With these kinds of arguments, individuals are grouped together in homogenous, faceless categories, as if all share the same values.

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I cannot agree with such an approach.

Individuals choose how they interpret and position their religion, or their view of humanity (if they are not religious). Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, humanists and others from basically all orientations practice exclusion, superiority and separatism – approaches that divide people and deny the dignity of some. The sociologist Manual Castells (2005) mentions, for example, a number of such examples from across the globe.

But then there are people from the same orientations who recognise the human dignity (and rights!) of all people, and they in turn choose for positions of inclusion or pluralism.  These are the people with whom I like to associate.

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And so does Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa.  They agree wholeheartedly with those South African Jews who recently declared in a public statement that their proclamation of “Never again”  should mean:

“‘Never Again’ unconditionally, and to any human being – including the Palestinians.”

Visitors stand outside the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museumVisitors at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust/Shoah museum) look out at the landscape in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street held a Holocaust Remembrance Day event on Sunday the 27th of January in Johannesburg at the Constitutional Hill.  (Open the link if only to see the stunning visual).

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa sketches the background to the event:

“We, BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street (two primarily Palestine solidarity-focused human rights organizations) are embarking on this – hopefully regular event – firstly, in the recognition that the Nazi Holocaust was a human tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

Secondly, Holocaust denial and even anti-Semitism, occasionally emerges within Palestine solidarity circles. This needs to be dealt with and confronted head-on. This is a step in that direction.

Finally, we are tired of the Nazi Holocaust being monopolized to serve narrow, racist and ethnic interests; we want to provide a space for mourning and commemoration to those who truly believe that an injury to one is an injury to all – that when we say, ‘Never Again!’ we mean ‘Never Again!’ to any and all groups of people.”

(South African human rights organizations that endorsed the event include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Coalition for a Free Palestine, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI – South Africa), Kairos Southern Africa, Ndifuna Ukwazi, People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), Saint George’s Cathedral (Cape Town) and the South African Council of Churches).

Photos from the event

YouTube video clip from the event – very touching.

NOTES:

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – an approach that played a huge role in the end of apartheid in South Africa. There are currently several BDS campaigns worldwide to end Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

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Castells, M. 2005. The Power of Identity. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. 2. Oxford: Blackwell.

Faceless picture: http://iswimorsink.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/faceless.jpg

Shuhada Street used to be a lively street bustling with shops and people in the city of Hebron in the West Bank (Palestine) before it was closed and all the doors locked up to drive Palestinians out of their own city (picture below).

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“Shoah” (שואה) (also spelled Sho’ah and Shoa) which means “calamity” is accepted as the general Hebrew term for what others generally calls the “Holocaust”.

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Never Again – unconditionally

As Jews, with our own painful history of oppression, we are compelled to speak out against human rights violations committed by the State of Israel – in our name – against the Palestinian people.

These are the first words of a group of South African Jews in their public statement in the Mail & Guardian of 14 December 2012. They recognise not only their own wounds and humanity…

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…but also those of others:

The temptation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine… yet we would be less than human if we did so”

 – Nelson R. Mandela

2009 (2) Berlyn 022A Holocaust memorial site in Berlin, Germany.

Their statement continued as follows:

We note that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) together with the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) recently met with the South African Presidency and other politicians. We also note, with great concern, that the SAJBD and SAZF’s assertion that they represent and speak on behalf of all Jewish South Africans, particularly when it comes to Palestine-Israel.

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Let us be clear, the SAJBD and SAZF’s position of supporting Israel at all costs does not represent us. We also appeal to the SAJBD and SAZF to respect one of the hallmarks of Judaism: respectful debate amongst those who hold divergent viewpoints. The SAJBD and SAZF’s position on Israel, and attempts to stifle opposing voices that speak out against Israel, is morally untenable.

The Jewish community is neither homogeneous nor monolithic.  There is a growing number of Jews, in South Africa and around the world, who are organising to form alternative spaces and who unconditionally oppose Israeli policies and practices that shamefully privilege Jews over the indigenous Palestinian people.  In this vein, we support the non-violent campaign of applying Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it abides by international law and respects basic human rights [see www.bdsmovement.net].

We are encouraged that our South African government is joining those countries that are taking a clear stance against Israel’s violations of international law and its acts of violence against the Palestinian people [see this City Press newspaper article]. We also welcome and support our Department of Trade and Industry’s initiative to prevent the false labelling of Israeli settlement products. We hope that the ANC and the SA Government goes further and completely bans Israeli settlement products. Israeli settlements are in clear violation of international law and seriously undermine any chance of negotiations and a just peace.

Such positions as those recently taken by our government against Israeli violence and violations of international law, in fact, serve to affirm a proud Jewish tradition of respect for justice and human rights; regardless of race, religion or creed. Such positions connect us to our fellow humanity.

We humbly – and sadly – acknowledge that our voices may not be the dominant ones in our community, but neither were Dietrich Bonnhoefer’s in Nazi Germany nor Beyers Naude’s, Antjie Krog’s, Braam Fischer’s and Joe Slovo’s in Apartheid South Africa.

Our individual consciences, our Jewish tradition and our painful history compel us to declare to the SAJBD, SAZF and to the Israeli government that we will continue to speak out and take a stand for justice and human rights.  Taking such a stand is in the very interests of being Jewish. For when we proclaim “Never Again”, we should mean “Never Again”, unconditionally, and to any human being – including the Palestinians.

Issued by Alan Horwitz for StopTheJNF, a campaign initiated by a group of Jewish South Africans committed to justice and rights for the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis.

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I took this photo in the Jewish Museum, Berlin.  The windows reflect the harrowing, unsettling reality of Jews during World War II.

Never Again – but unconditionally.