Uri Avnery has written a piece this week which was not in support of the Global BDS Movement. Mr. Avnery’s name is synonymous with the Peace Movement of Israel. A former member of the Knesset, he has travelled a long road to believe in what he believes in today. He is a man that I have the utmost respect for and wish him a long life ahead as an activist.
BUT…. I must voice my disagreements with what he has to say in the following essay… my comments will appear in red. 
Tutu’s Prayer

HOW MUCH did the boycott of South Africa actually contribute to the fall of the racist regime? This week I talked with Desmond Tutu about this question, which has been on my mind for a long time.

No one is better qualified to answer this question than he. Tutu, the South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel prize laureate, was one of the leaders of the fight against apartheid and, later, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated the crimes of the regime. This week he visited Israel with the “Elders”, an organization of elder statesmen from all over the world set up by Nelson Mandela.

The matter of the boycott came up again this week after an article by Dr. Neve Gordon appeared in the Los Angeles Times {1}, calling for a world-wide boycott of Israel. He cited the example of South Africa to show how a world-wide boycott could compel Israel to put an end to the occupation, which he compared to the apartheid regime.

Dr. Gordon is correct in his assumptions, a boycott against Israel would hurt financially, to the point where many Israelis themselves would speak out against the policies of apartheid.

I have known and respected Neve Gordon for many years. Before becoming a lecturer at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, he organized many demonstrations against the Separation Wall in the Jerusalem area, in which I, too, took part.

I am sorry that I cannot agree with him this time – neither about the similarity with South Africa nor about the efficacy of a boycott of Israel.

There a strong similarity to South Africa in Israel at the moment. This was pointed out by many world leaders that have visited here. South Africa had, for many years, a policy of apartheid. Israel today has the same . The physical separation of two peoples by a wall cannot be called anything else.

There are several opinions about the contribution of the boycott to the success of the anti-apartheid struggle. According to one view, it was decisive. Another view claims its impact was marginal. Some believe that it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that was the decisive factor. After that, the US and its allies no longer had any reason for support the regime in South Africa, which until then had been viewed as a pillar of the world-wide struggle against Communism.

It was definitely worldwide support for a boycott of South African goods and services that led to the downfall of apartheid in South Africa. The growth of support the ANC received worldwide was also a factor. The collapse of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with it whatsoever. If it did, by that same logic, a Palestinian state would have been created at that time as well.

“THE BOYCOTT was immensely important,” Tutu told me. “Much more than the armed struggle.”

It should be remembered that, unlike Mandela, Tutu was an advocate of non-violent struggle. During the 28 years Mandela languished in prison, he could have walked free at any moment, if he had only agreed to sign a statement condemning “terrorism”. He refused.

He refused because he is a man of principles, a man whose support had grown during all of his years in prison. A man that never sold out his principles. He was rewarded by his people by being elected the first Black president of South Africa.

“The importance of the boycott was not only economic,” the archbishop explained, “but also moral. South Africans are, for example, crazy about sports. The boycott, which prevented their teams from competing abroad, hit them very hard. But the main thing was that it gave us the feeling that we are not alone, that the whole world is with us. That gave us the strength to continue.”

The Bishop is correct, the whole world WAS with them. The world was aware of the situation, unlike the media lies and cover-ups that hide the plight of the Palestinian people. Mr. Avnery should definitely be aware of this point.

To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story: In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederic Willem de Klerk, was elected President of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?”

IT SEEMS to me that Tutu’s answer emphasizes the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today.

The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.

In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.

This argument holds no weight whatsoever. Of course 90% of South Africans supported the boycott… they were the one suffering the most from apartheid. How can we compare this to the Jews of Israel not supporting such sanctions? They are not the ones suffering. Avnery should be aware of this as well.

They will not feel the “the whole world is with us”, but rather that “the whole world is against us”.

That’s exactly what they should feel.

In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-Semitic world”. (The boycott would, of course, have a different impact on the Palestinians, but that is not the aim of those who advocate it.)

A large majority of Israelis are already in the arms of the extreme right. Just look at who they elected for Prime Minister and look at the government that he formed. The best ‘fortress’ that can be built against the “anti-Semitic world” would be to stop the policies of genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid in Israel.

Peoples are not the same everywhere. It seems that the Blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis, and from the Palestinians, too. The collapse of the oppressive racist regime did not lead to a bloodbath, as could have been predicted, but on the contrary: to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Instead of revenge, forgiveness. Those who appeared before the commission and admitted their misdeeds were pardoned. That was in tune with Christian belief, and that was also in tune with the Jewish Biblical promise: “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh [his sins] shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

There is no reason to believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state would result in a bloodbath, unless the Israelis themselves initiate it as they recently did in Gaza.

I told the bishop that I admire not only the leaders who chose this path but also the people who accepted it.

ONE OF the profound differences between the two conflicts concerns the Holocaust.

Centuries of pogroms have imprinted on the consciousness of the Jews the conviction that the whole world is out to get them. This belief was reinforced a hundredfold by the Holocaust. Every Jewish Israeli child learns in school that “the entire world was silent” when the six million were murdered. This belief is anchored in the deepest recesses of the Jewish soul. Even when it is dormant, it is easy to arouse it.

This, to tell the truth, shocked me. I never expected holocaust talk from a man like Uri Avnery. As was pointed out to the world during President Obama’s visit to Kenya, the world was unaware of the plight of millions of Black slaves that were brought over to America. The suffering they endured on the long trip is unspeakable. Jews were not the only ones that suffered throughout history, and it’s time to stop pulling out the ‘Holocaust Card’.

(That is the conviction which made it possible for Avigdor Lieberman, last week, to accuse the entire Swedish nation of cooperating with the Nazis, because of one idiotic article in a Swedish tabloid.)

The accusations made in the Swedish tabloid have not been proven, but they are far from idiotic. Israel’s reaction to the entire situation makes one wonder how much truth there is to those allegations.

It may well be that the Jewish conviction that “the whole world is against us” is irrational. But in the life of nations, as indeed in the life of individuals, it is irrational to ignore the irrational.

The Holocaust will have a decisive impact on any call for a boycott of Israel. The leaders of the racist regime in South Africa openly sympathized with the Nazis and were even interned for this in World War II. Apartheid was based on the same racist theories as inspired Adolf Hitler. It was easy to get the civilized world to boycott such a disgusting regime. The Israelis, on the other hand, are seen as the victims of Nazism. The call for a boycott will remind many people around the world of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” – don’t buy from Jews.

Putting the concept of apartheid in past tense does not make the FACT that it exists TODAY in Israel. And YES, it IS  based on the same racist theories as inspired Adolf Hitler.

That does not apply to every kind of boycott. Some 11 years ago, the Gush Shalom movement, in which I am active, called for a boycott of the product of the settlements. Its intention was to separate the settlers from the Israeli public, and to show that there are two kinds of Israelis. The boycott was designed to strengthen those Israelis who oppose the occupation, without becoming anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. Since then, the European Union has been working hard to close the gates of the EU to the products of the settlers, and almost nobody has accused it of anti-Semitism.

That is because it is NOT anti-Semitic. The only ones tossing around such accusations are gropus such as the ADL and AIPAC. Since when do those on the side of Justice care what the enemy says?

ONE OF the main battlefields in our fight for peace is Israeli public opinion. Most Israelis believe nowadays that peace is desirable but impossible (because of the Arabs, of course.) We must convince them not that peace would be good for Israel, but that it is realistically achievable.

When the archbishop asked what we, the Israeli peace activists, are hoping for, I told him: We hope for Barack Obama to publish a comprehensive and detailed peace plan and to use the full persuasive power of the United States to convince the parties to accept it. We hope that the entire world will rally behind this endeavor. And we hope that this will help to set the Israeli peace movement back on its feet and convince our public that it is both possible and worthwhile to follow the path of peace with Palestine.

No one who entertains this hope can support the call for boycotting Israel. Those who call for a boycott act out of despair. And that is the root of the matter.

This is not true at all. Anyone that entertains the hope menioned above MUST support the call for boycotting Israel. Isael must be isolated and punished for all of the crimes it committed against the people of Palestine.

Neve Gordon and his partners in this effort have despaired of the Israelis. They have reached the conclusion that there is no chance of changing Israeli public opinion. According to them, no salvation will come from within. One must ignore the Israeli public and concentrate on mobilizing the world against the State of Israel. (Some of them believe anyhow that the State of Israel should be dismantled and replaced by a bi-national state.)

The only way the Israeli public will be made aware of the situation is if they are directly affected in their own pursestrings.

I do not share either view – neither the despair of the Israeli people, to which I belong, nor the hope that the world will stand up and compel Israel to change its ways against its will. For this to happen, the boycott must gather world-wide momentum, the US must join it, the Israeli economy must collapse and the morale of the Israeli public must break.

The boycott WILL gather world wide momentum. Israel WILL be compelled to change its ways against its will.

How long will this take? Twenty Years? Fifty years? Forever?

Timetables are meaningless. Palestine has already waited 61 years for Jusice to be served.

I AM afraid that this is an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.

Dead wrong on this.

True, the Israeli occupation and the South African apartheid system have certain similar characteristics. In the West Bank, there are roads “for Israelis only”. But the Israeli policy is not based on race theories, but on a national conflict. A small but significant example: in South Africa, a white man and a black woman (or the other way round) could not marry, and sexual relations between them were a crime. In Israel there is no such prohibition. On the other hand, an Arab Israeli citizen who marries an Arab woman from the occupied territories (or the other way round) cannot bring his or her spouse to Israel. The reason: safeguarding the Jewish majority in Israel. Both cases are reprehensible, but basically different.



In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.

As is the case in Israel, where most contruction work, including in the illegal settlements, is done by Palestinian labourers. Ironic, but true.

In this country, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common – not a common national feeling, not a common religion, not a common culture and not a common language. The vast majority of the Israelis want a Jewish (or Hebrew) state. The vast majority of the Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state. Israel is not dependent on Palestinian workers – on the contrary, it drives the Palestinians out of the working place. Because of this, there is now a world-wide consensus that the solution lies in the creation of the Palestinian state next to Israel.

The two peoples in question have much in common, including a common ancestry. These are the factors that eventually lead to a true and just peace in the region.

In short: the two conflicts are fundamentally different. Therefore, the methods of struggle, too, must necessarily be different.

BACK TO the archbishop, an attractive person whom it is impossible not to like on sight. He told me that he prays frequently, and that his favorite prayer goes like this (I quote from memory):

“Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.”

In this case, Dear Uri Avnery, it is YOU that is wrong.


1} Neve Gordon: Boycott Israel – The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 20, 2009

see also I agree more with Gordon than with Avnery, by Ran Greenstein


  1. September 2, 2009 at 19:49

    […] This post was Twitted by palestinian […]

  2. GoodAmerican said,

    September 2, 2009 at 20:25

    right on EXCEPT…the zionist are converted russians…there is no common ancestory between the zionist and the palestinians, as you state it…its suprising that you would be ignorant of this truth.

  3. Holocaust Gaza said,

    September 2, 2009 at 21:15

    Well, there will be never a boycott supported by the UN.

  4. September 3, 2009 at 00:10

    […] Was mir auch wichtig erscheint, ist die Antwort auf einen Beitrag von Uri Avnery, ich schätze ihn sehr, denke aber, er hat seine eigene Mauer noch nicht überwunden […]

  5. Aufzuleiden said,

    September 3, 2009 at 00:49

    There are many problems with this essay that you do not address, DP – though you do approach the issue by stating that the apartheid in Israel is the same as that which took place in South Africa (not in so many words). The problem is that there are distinct differences in the execution of the system of apartheid that has been adopted by Israel that makes it an even more pernicious thing than when it existed in the Republic of South Africa.

    While the South African example reflects a minority controlling a majority, in what was essentially a politically racist regime that was guided solely by ideology, the paradigm in Israel is much more complicated in that it encompasses both political, racial, and religious elements in the implementation of the apartheid state that has been – and is in the process of being – established. It is ridiculously easy to demonstrate each of the three elements in the Israeli system, beginning with the political: the government has implemented a system that systematically discriminates against non-Jewish residents of the country, denying the ‘right of return’ to people with the same geo-political claim as those making ‘alyah’ who are immediately granted citizenship upon arrival in Israel. The government further allows for the enforcement and execution of laws that allows the government to steal the homes of individuals who have lived in the land for generations, but are not Jews, which land is then given, or sold, to Jewish families in order to ‘reclaim’ the land for the government. Separate and very much unequal.

    Racial separation is simple to prove as well, though one would marvel at the fact that these are two sides of the same cloth; that, of course, requires eyes being opened to the truth, something that is not an option in these cases. There are places that only Jews can go, or use, in Israel – Jewish roads, ‘Kosher’ buses, checkpoints that prevent ‘unwanted’ people from invading the nation so they can earn a living. It is a carefully crafted policy to harass, intimidate and control the lives of others. Medical care is denied those seeking emergency – or regular treatment – which has on several occasions – led to the deaths of individuals. Separate and very much unequal.

    The recent incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is a perfect example of how religious elements are a part of the Israeli apartheid system. As a part of their systematic plan to crush the spirits of the people, the Israeli government decided to prevent the Muslim faithful from fulfilling their religious requirement of making a pilgrimage, an element of Islam which is even more important than ‘dovening’ at the Western Wall – something that has NO value in Judaism.

    Uri Avnery was correct when he attested that the apartheid in South Africa was different to that which exists in Israel: that which exists in Israel is much more insidious, more murderous, more cruel and more blatantly evil that it is difficult to imagine anything more sinister. When do you remember hearing about the South African Air Force bombing Soweto? When did the South African Army invade the Townships? Never? Really? Yet the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Air Force have, on a regular basis, bombed, invaded, devastated, and destroyed the lives of innocent men, women and children in schools, homes and hospitals, in their markets and in their beds; all the while, the world looks on and does nothing.

    Why shouldn’t the world be boycotting items from Israel? More importantly, why in the world would you WANT to buy any items from Israel? It is well beyond the time to mobilize as many people as possible, governments, business, and anything else to divest from Israel, to refuse to do business with Israel, refuse to trade with Israeli goods and close the door to their imports. The message has to be crystal clear in a time when people seem to thrive on obfuscation: We will no longer tolerate your murderous ways. Cease and desist.

    The word Apartheid means, literally, to live separately. Obviously there is more when that separation comes through force, but in the case of Israel the situation is even more complex, making South African apartheid look downright simple – almost boring. Uri Avnery is wrong; there is far more worth boycotting in Israel than there ever was in South Africa, and there is no cause where innocent lives are being snuffed out through tyranny that does not deserve to be resolved as quickly as possible. If that means using a boycott, then so be it; it is merely one of the tools available to the struggle.

    A boycott will cripple the economy of the Palestinians – though the Israelis have already done that; so, it will appear as though nothing has changed.

    Wie viel ist aufzuleiden!

  6. Ladybat said,

    September 3, 2009 at 07:10

    Excellent debate here. But there is no common ancestory between the European Jewish convert colonists. These people came from Russia and did not even convert to the religion of the Jews until long after the time of Christ. Only native Jews of Palestine share an ancestory with the Palestinians. Arabs do not dispute this. But why should Palestinian people have to give up any of their private properties or homeland to a foreign colonizing occupier? To say they share an ancesterage means the European Jewish converts were once in Palestine and left for what ever reason and now have returned. No they have never been there and are not related to any one from there so therefore are not owed any thing from there.

    Any people can migrate to another place but when they do they do not get to go to that place and take the personal homes and properties from the native peoples who already live in that place. They may buy or lease from the native peoples if the native peoples wish to sell or lease to them but not take any property from them by force. That is the very reason the United Nations world court was set up in the first place. To stop nations and people from behaving in these types of barbaric ways.

    Israel was created AFTER THIS WORLD BODY COURT AND IT’S LAWS WERE ALREADY IN PLACE. Therefore Israel is compelled to live by its laws. For if it is not that means that any nation, great and powerful, can send its people to another people’s homeland and they can proceed to do the same thing the European victims of Hitler have done to the people of Palestine.

    That is the very reason why the victims of Hitler cannot be allowed to get by with it.

    Because when it comes down to it we are all Palestinians. And just because you might live in the nation that is the most great and powerful today does not mean that it will always be so. After all Rome was once great and powerful too and look what happened to it.

    If the victims of Hitler do not have to abide by the world body court the United Nations and its laws which are set up for the benefit of all people who share planet earth then that means that no people have to abide by it and that court is now rendered useless and that means that none of us have a safe future and that we are still the barbaric people and nations that we have always been in the past and have not evolved into any thing better than that.

    Then that means, as I said…..

    We are all Palestinians when it comes down to it. We just have not had our turn with an occupier forcing its will upon us yet. When and if we do, will we have a world body court to see that our rights are upheld?

    Not if we continue to allow “ISRAEL, HOMELAND FOR THE JEWS AND THE JEWS ONLY” to destroy it.

  7. Mr. Roboto said,

    September 3, 2009 at 13:37

    Just think how the world would view Israel, Israelis and Jews in general if Israel actually made peace with its neighbors and helped to create a state for the Palestinians. What a great P.R. campaign! Antisemitism would be virtually erased. Jews and Israelis would be held in the highest regard. It would be amazing!

    But, it’s not going to happen. Israel seems to derive pleasure from being hated, so this problem will never end. Advice to all: Stay away from Israel and the Middle East period. It’s a sewer.

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