TORONTO — Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, a black South African who lived under his country’s oppressive apartheid regime until 1994, was in Toronto last week to speak out against those who make the “improper and wrong” claim that Israel is an apartheid state.
Rev. Meshoe, president of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), a political party based on biblical principles that has three seats in South Africa’s Parliament, was the keynote speaker at two events sponsored by Israel advocacy group StandWithUs Canada: one at Beth Sholom Synagogue and another at Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto.
Speaking with The CJN in advance of his lectures, Rev. Meshoe, who is on leave as a South African MP, said he planned to talk about the “seven acts of Parliament that formed the basis of apartheid. And I argue that without those acts of Parliament, there is no apartheid.
“It is improper and wrong and for anyone to make the suggestion that Israeli is an apartheid state when there is no such acts of Parliament in Israel, no segregation based on race.”
In May, the San Francisco Examiner published an opinion piece by Rev. Meshoe that he wrote in reaction to anti-Israel ads approved by the city.
He wrote that under the South African apartheid system, he couldn’t vote, travel freely throughout his country or hold government office.
“The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation,” he added.
But in Israel, which he has visited a number of times, Israeli citizens of all races and religions “mingle freely in public places, universities, restaurants, voting stations and public transportation. All people have the right to vote. The Arab minority has political parties, serves in the Israeli parliament [Knesset] and holds positions in government ministries, the police force and the security services.”
He said the term Israeli apartheid “trivializes the word apartheid, minimizing and belittling the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of colour.”
As a political leader, Rev. Meshoe is leading the fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), which was endorsed in 2012 by the ruling African National Congress.
Rev. Meshoe said the government’s decision to boycott Israeli goods and technology puts politics before the health of its own citizens. For example, earlier this year, 30 South African men were killed by infections brought on by botched circumcisions performed during traditional initiation rites.
“In their culture, when a young man enters into manhood, there are some rituals that are done that include circumcision. At times, it is done by people who are not properly trained,” he said.
He said that when South Africa’s department of health approved the use of PrePex, an Israeli-made, World Health Organization-approved circumcising device that’s a cheap and safe alternative to the controversial Malaysian-made Tara KLamp, leaders of the BDS movement urged the government to reverse the decision.
“We are saying that these are lives that the government is trying to save. And we have people who don’t care about the lives of their people. They’re saying, ‘We don’t care how many people are going to die… Because it comes from Israel, it should not be used,’” he said.
“We want to… ensure that BDS does not deny the people of Africa. Africa has millions of people who are drinking polluted water. And Israel has the technology to purify their water. But the politicians don’t care how many people get diseases, how many people die from the polluted water.
“We also have a huge problem of drought,” he said, adding that during his visit to Chicago where he also spoke before arriving in Toronto, he learned about Israel’s Netafim technology – a drip irrigation system that uses very little water to hydrate crops.
“The government should allow us to have access to this system, this technology that can help.”
Rev. Meshoe also commented on his country’s deputy foreign minister, who openly advised South Africans last year not to travel to Israel.
“I believe one of the reasons they don’t want us to go is because they are scared people will see the truth. I know a number of people who did go to Israel with the mindset of Israel being an apartheid state, but when they went to Israel, they came back changed.
“I have challenged members of Parliament and people I know who are anti-Israel, and I have said, ‘I will sponsor your ticket. Let us go to Israel and you will show me where there is apartheid, and I will show where there is not.’ But they don’t want to accept the challenge. In their heart of hearts they know that it is not the case.”
Rev. Meshoe accused BDS promoters of “deceiving people by using the apartheid allegation, and they are not giving people the opportunity to benefit from the technology that comes out of Israel.”
In response to the BDS campaign, Rev. Meshoe founded a non-governmental organization called Deisi – an acronym for “Defend Embrace Invest Support Israel.”
“This is mainly going to be a student movement. We want to take students from our country to Israel to see that there is no apartheid in Israel.”
He said by 2015, he wants to send a team of South African students to North American universities that host Israeli Apartheid Week in order to enlighten students about what apartheid really is.
Rev. Meshoe believes that if black South Africans were given the same rights in South Africa as those that exist in Israel today, “there would never have been an armed struggle. [Anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African President] Nelson Mandela would not have gone to prison. Everything he fought for is already available in Israel.”
Rev. Meshoe’s message for Jewish communities in North America and abroad, who oppose the BDS campaign against Israel, is “to join StandWithUs in being more outspoken and maybe even aggressive in coming out against the BDS campaign, because the BDS campaign is robbing those who are suffering in other parts of the world from benefitting from the technology that comes out of Israel.”