Palestinian BNC Mourns Loss of Anti-Apartheid Icon Ahmed Kathrada

March 28, 2017, Occupied Palestine —The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) has heard with great sadness the news of Comrade Ahmed Kathrada’s passing. Mr. Kathrada, born to an Indian Muslim family, was the most prominent Asian South African in the movement to end apartheid, the system of racial discrimination, segregation and white dominance that existed in South Africa until it was defeated in 1994.

Comrade Kathrada was also an active and consistent supporter of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. He visited Palestine, and saw the apartheid system we endure for himself. He said when in Palestine: "In our short stay here we have seen and heard enough to conclude that Apartheid has been reborn here. In its reborn form it is however worse than its predecessor. Even during the worst days of Apartheid we did not have walls to divide and control people, we also did not have separate roads for separate races, and we did not have the system of checkpoints that exist here."

The Foundation which bears his name engages in activities in support of Israeli Apartheid Week, which aims to raise awareness of Israel's apartheid policies towards Palestinians. It also supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, believing that this is the way to bring an end to Israel's apartheid policies and violations of international law. 

Kathrada’s own long imprisonment — 26 years and 3 months — alongside the anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and his lifelong struggle against apartheid and injustice are an example to all Palestinians that integrity and perseverance will lead to justice and freedom.

The BDS movement is working to increase international civil society and government support for the Palestinian struggle for justice. We were honored to count Comrade Kathrada as a supporter of our struggle and remain inspired by his life.

We send out our condolences to his family, friends, comrades and all South Africans during these difficult days.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) is the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society. It leads and supports the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

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By limiting criticism of Israel, Theresa May's new definition of anti-Semitism will do more harm than good

Prime Minister Theresa May today announced that the UK is formally adopting a definition of anti-Semitism agreed on earlier this year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

This definition is not new, however, and it poses a familiar threat to legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.

The text of the IHRA definition is based on, and very similar to, a draft document first circulated by a European anti-racism agency in 2005, only to be subsequently abandoned as not fit for purpose.

That particular definition, drafted with the help of pro-Israel advocacy groups, was the subject of serious critique for its conflation of genuine anti-Semitic bigotry on the one hand, and criticism of or opposition to Zionism and the State of Israel on the other.

It is that definition which has now been resuscitated, and endorsed by a Tory government that has already sought to intimidate Palestine solidarity activism and undermine civil society boycotts.

I have experienced for myself how such a definition can have a chilling effect on free speech.

When I participated in a debate at the University of Birmingham on Israel and Palestine a few years ago, organisers told us not to use the term “apartheid”, for fear of falling foul of a definition of anti-Semitism recently passed on campus – the same definition now given a new lease of life.

In fact, the definition endorsed by May is almost identical to the one at the heart of a free speech furore in the US, pitching pro-Israel senators against groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Voice for Peace, who oppose efforts they see as intended to stifle pro-Palestine activism.

Writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week, American Jewish commentator Peter Beinart suggested that such efforts “to classify anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, punishable by law” are a direct response to the growing number of “progressives” who “question Zionism”.

Beinart dismissed the idea that “denying Israel the right to exist” constitutes anti-Semitism, noting that “political Zionism – the belief that Jews enjoy the greatest safety and self-expression in their own state – has always been controversial even among Jews.”

Such views are not uncommon in US or even Israeli publications, but rarely appear in British papers. This lack of critical thinking and dissent when it comes to Israel and Zionism – especially in terms of understanding the Palestinians’ decades-long experience – now seems unlikely to improve.

However, efforts to censor can often backfire. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, for example, has used the Israeli government’s attacks to secure high-profile backing for the right to boycott from legal scholars and European diplomats, among others.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister announced the adoption of the new definition of anti-Semitism at a meeting with the Conservative Friends of Israel, where she described Israel as a state that “guarantees the rights of people of all religions, races and sexualities”.

Such a claim is met with scorn by the Palestinians, many NGOs championing human rights, and Israeli activists, who are familiar with historical mass expulsions, institutionalised discrimination, and a half-century long military regime of colonisation and displacement.

It is precisely because awareness of those facts is growing that the Israeli government and its friends and allies are desperate to smear and shush – even if it means compromising the fight against genuine anti-Semitism with muddled definitions.


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