They sat next to the fire, the whole family, in a dark cave, trying to get warm. “Dad”, asked the younger son. “How did we get into this situation?” he asked. “Well”, replied the father, “at the beginning, someone suggested we’d boycott Israel…”.
This may sound cynical, but for the city of Cape Town in South Africa, this scenario is actually starting to take shape, as the date is getting closer to “Day Zero” – they day in which the water reservoirs across the city will be so little that the taps will be turned off, and severe rationing will begin.
This terrifying scenario could have been avoided if South Africa would have taken a different approach to its policy towards Israel. But why does the South African government act this way? The reasons are complicated and connected to it’s not-so-distant past, and to the political climate that holds South Africa captive to its own misconception about Israel.
This week the BDS movement mentions its annual (aspiring-to-be) worldwide “Israeli Apartheid Week”. During this week, educational institutions and campuses all over South Africa are filled with the best version of 21st century psychological-diplomatic terrorism: hate speeches, antisemitism, anti-Zionism, verbal abuse and vulgarity, fierce and furious demonstrations, and blunt and angry anti-Israel slogans shouted by a rabble of brainwashed young students, usually from the radical sides of the political map. On several campuses in South Africa one could see graffiti express “Fuck Zionism” and “Israel is anti-Black”. All of these brutal onslaughts are directed towards Israel supporters, Zionists, Jewish students, and most importantly – those who encourage dialogue and understanding between the conflicting sides.
South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) is an organization that promotes dialogue between the South African Jewish community and the broader South African faith, cultural, political and civil society communities in the pursuit of ensuring a balanced view and a better appreciation of Israel by all South Africans. SAFI through its work, education and dedication, has managed to cultivate many solid and healthy relationships with the different South African communities: in particular, Christian, Hindu, Italian, Portuguese and Hellenic communities; all of whom are ready to engage and benefit from a relationship with Israel.
SAFI’s motto is “Dialogue, not Division”, meaning that with proper dialogue people can reach an understanding, overcome troubles and prevail. Perhaps this will ring a bell for the elders among us here and in South Africa. In fact, it sounds very familiar to “Together we stand, divided we fall”, a line that was born during WWII, and considered one of the most defining lines of the future generations. Ironically, this line was also sung by one of the most influential BDS leaders nowadays, Roger Waters, in Pink Floyd’s phenomenal album “The Wall”. I believe this is not a coincidence; it shows the irony of a top BDS activist who had lost faith in his own words, or perhaps never believed in them in the first place.
In order to fight the BDS movement and counter-attack their narrative, SAFI started running an online campaign to counter the Apartheid Week. Their primary weapon is short, sharp and focused: posters which tell a story, or mention an important fact.
52% of Israelis come from African countries like Ethiopia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Egypt, and 25% of Israelis aren’t even Jewish. Lately, Israel has partnered with Africa to build drinking water desalination plants, to bring drip irrigation technology and aggro-tech, and to bring life-saving medical care for rural communities in Zambia. Among the people who have come to visit Israel are the Pope and Nelson Mandala, who shook hands with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In Israel, a woman of Bedouin origin has the honor of being the first paramedic in Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance service.
For Israelis, this may sound obvious, but for the people of South Africa, it’s not the case. The Israeli image through South African eyes is different; most of them are unfamiliar with Israel’s national identity, history, language, culture and heritage. Many of them assume or believe that Israel is a “white state” which discriminates against minorities, unaware of its high moral standards or its immense innovation industry. Additionally, many South Africans are unaware of the consequences of supporting the BDS movement or activity, which resulted more than once in the unemployment of thousands of working class Palestinians across the “West Bank.” Combined with the dark history of South Africa and its political climate nowadays, it has quickly become a fertile ground for hostile activity for the BDS movement.
Promoting discussion, dialogue and understanding, instead of blind hate and ugly racism, SAFI conveys the real facts, and a message of hope. They do this in a world built upon one-sided narratives, fake-news and the distortion of history. SAFI contradicts the BDS narrative, and showcases the beautiful side of Israel, the moral side, the warm and human face it has, and the wonderful work it does to contribute to humanity. SAFI fights the industry of lies by shedding light on the truth to South Africa; a bright light in a country that seems to be heading towards a political and intellectual darkness.
Pro-Israelis and those who consider themselves pro-Zionists or friends of Israel need to understand something important: Even though it’s not an existential threat to Israel, the BDS movement poses a uniquely dangerous threat. It sets the atmosphere for the education of an entire generation of leaders, politicians, writers, journalists and researchers in a hostile, anti-Israeli environment. For the BDS movement, this isn’t a short-term plan or solution; it is rather a long-term sophisticated strategy set to weaken the state of Israel through weakening its potential allies, its future connections to other states, its Public Relations and its Soft Power. Never underestimate this menace; it could be very dangerous for world we’re living in now, where image and narrative set the tone and influence decision makers. In Israel we have a phrase: “Those who care for the next generations, educate people”. This is usually said to highlight the importance of better, higher quality education, but could work vice versa, as a Sword of Damocles: those who educate with lies and blind hatred, would create, form and shape future generations in that image.
That’s why all supporters of Israel around the world need to unite for this week, to show solidarity and strong and solid unity, from all sides of the political map, to counter attack this week with full force. From the power of love, we need to mobilize the best spiritual, economic, and intellectual spiritual forces in order to fight back, and preserve the name and the reputation of the State of Israel. This is my call to action for you.