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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2007, page 57

Waging Peace

Boston Conference Confronts Israeli Apartheid

(L-r) Leila Farsakh, Nancy Murray, Chuck Turner, Felicia Eaves, Omar Barghouti, Ilan Pappé and David Wildman (Staff photos M. Horton).

“Beyond Apartheid in Israel/Palestine: The Reality on the Ground & Lessons from South Africa” was the title of a Nov. 19 conference hosted by the Northeastern University School of Law National Lawyers Guild Chapter and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights (BCPR) at Northeastern University in Boston. BCPR organizer Nancy Murray opened the conference with an overview of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and a response to criticisms. “To those who ask ”˜Why single out Israel?’” she explained: “because our government has done so.”

“Israel does not do anything that we [the U.S.] are not responsible for,” added Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. Sharing lessons from his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, he argued that a diverse coalition is essential to the success of any movement against Israeli apartheid. “Link arms, link hands, link thoughts, link strategies,” he urged.

Haifa University Senior Lecturer of Political Science Illan Pappé discussed the development of Israel as an ethnic supremacist state, beginning with the Nakba, which, he pointed out, was a “pure and classical case of ethnic cleansing” and a crime against humanity when judged by the U.S. State Department’s definition. Today, Pappé said, “80 percent of the Knesset subscribes to the same vulgar idea” of a pure Jewish state. “That we still have such an ideological state at the beginning of the 21st century and we have such a small movement against it,” he noted, “is one of the great mysteries [in the world today].” Although pessimistic, he concluded that “we still have a small window of opportunity before retribution sweeps us as Jews and Arabs alike.”

University of Massachusetts at Boston Professor Leila Farsakh described the differences between apartheid in South Africa and the Zionist movement. Whereas Afrikaaners were a demographic minority dependent on indigenous South African labor, she explained, Zionists seek a demographic majority and attempted from the beginning to employ only Jewish workers. “Although they started differently,” she said, “they converge similarly” with Israel’s post-1967 “Bantustan reality.”

David Wildman, executive secretary for Human Rights and Justice with the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries, provided an overview of the BDS movement in U.S. churches. He divided church ideology into three categories: Christian Zionism, Christian Zionism-Lite, and those who support BDS. Uncritical church support of a two-state solution, he argued, “never questions the racist discrimination of Israel.” Reflecting on Israel’s recent aggression in Lebanon, Wildman reflected on the similarities it evoked with apartheid South Africa, which, he noted, took land “by destabilizing the whole region.”

Black Voices for Peace co-chair Felicia Eaves spoke of her organization’s work with black churches. “The God that I serve would not support the oppression of another people,” she said.

According to Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and choreographer for the Palestinian dance troupe El-Funoun, Israel views Palestinians as an “undesirable reminder of the original sin and as a demographic threat” to the ideal of a pure Jewish state. He urged conference participants to intensify their efforts against Israeli apartheid. “Silence amounts to complicity,” he said.

Matt Horton