South African Campaigner speaks out on Palestine
Methodist minister Brian Brown worked for the Christian Institute of Southern Africa when he and the organisation were banned in 1977 by the apartheid regime.
He was involved in the Institute’s opposition to apartheid and civil religion, its engagement with Black Consciousness, and its calls for civil disobedience and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
Recently, Rev Brown wrote about his story and the connection between apartheid SA and justice for Palestine:
The regime’s pretext was that I was a Communist in priestly garb, promoting terrorist activity. The reality was that I had dared to call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a non-violent contribution to the ending of apartheid’s institutional racism.
Looking back some 39 years later it’s apparent how BDS was a significant non-violent contributor to the ending of the institutional violence of apartheid. No longer would one tribal group dispossess another of land, of citizenship and of basic human rights.
The many similarities between the oppressive policies of South Africa’s apartheid era and the policies of Israel’s colonisation and occupation of Palestine today are increasingly apparent. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine far surpasses, in its intensity and violence, anything seen under apartheid. Given these shared heritages of dispossession I suggest that an equivalent response of BDS against the Israeli state is long overdue.
Those of us who called in 1977 for BDS – ‘an investment in South Africa is an investment in apartheid‘ – were often called anti-white or self-loathing whites. Yet when sharing in recent days it was self-evident that this estimate no longer prevails. Rather, the BDS call against apartheid SA is now seen as a means of promoting a transformation that assisted a non-racial and relatively just society to emerge.
Similarly, far from BDS against Israel being anti-Semitic, the intention is for national boundaries to emerge in which Israelis and Palestinians co-exist in peace based on justice and international law. The ‘self-loathing’ Jews I know and who share this vision are the true patriots.
Writing this in SA encourages me to reflect on why the local churches far more readily embrace the call for BDS against Israel than their reluctant British counterparts. The numerically dominant black constituency know that BDS contributed to their liberation; they honour the solidarity of those who declared their colonisation and who sought to prayerfully do something about it; they reject the mythology that sought to demonise BDS as hateful; they did not ‘suffer the most’ under BDS, as was suggested, and such suffering as occurred was seen to be purposeful; they rejected the belief that God had Covenanted with the Boers/Afrikaners to defeat them militarily and perpetuate their dispossession; they recall the similarities of their experience of ethnic cleansing and that of Palestinians whose country is being ‘disappeared’ today; just as they condemned ‘the system’ for perpetrating apartheid, and resisted any anti-white hatefulness, so they condemn the policies of Zionism that implement Greater Israel while they resist hating the perpetrators; they discern the similarities in Western policies that are more concerned with strategic alliances than with achieving justice and freedom for the oppressed; they know what it’s like being denied statehood and citizenship over many generations and empathise with Palestinians still experiencing their former plight; and they do not carry the legacy of shame and silence when recalling the horrors of the Holocaust – they too have suffered, albeit differently, from Europe’s racism.
You can read more on the ICAHD (Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions) UK website