In South Africa’s highly polarized debate on Israel-Palestine, the organized Jewish community’s refusal to acknowledge the unequal treatment of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis is seen as emblematic of all that apartheid stood for.
By Heidi-Jane Esakov
In what is being touted as one of the biggest demonstrations in Cape Town since Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, South Africans took to the streets last Saturday in their thousands in opposition to Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza. Estimates vary, with some reports suggesting tens of thousands and others over 100,000 marchers taking part in the protest. A day later, Cape Town’s organized Jewish community held a modest rally of between 3,000 and 5,000 in solidarity with Israel.
For many South Africans this conflict feels deeply personal. Across religion and race many identify with the Palestinian cause and see the conflict as an extension of their own struggle against apartheid. In turn, for many Jewish South Africans, Zionism is central to their identity. The relevance for South Africans is further heightened with South Africa’s apartheid experience playing a significant role in how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is being framed and understood at the global level.
I am a South African non-Zionist who supports the Palestinian civil society call for BDS. My husband-to-be is an active Zionist and is deeply committed to the Zionist project in South Africa and Israel. Despite the deeply polarized nature of the discussion here, we have muddled our way through our often painful differences to develop a profound respect for each other. In doing this, we have had to recalibrate our language so that we can hear the other. When describing to him how I understand the situation, I now avoid words like ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘racist’ and ‘apartheid.’ They simply shut him down.
Yet, since the commencement of Israel’s latest assault...Read More