By Victoria Martin
To the people of Israel
I’m a South African. At times, proudly so. At others, the pride makes way for shame. And concern. Unfortunately, this is one of those times. Which is why, as a South African, I’d like apologise to the people of Israel. On behalf of my people. Sure, I’m not speaking for everybody. But make no mistake about it. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Far from it. Don’t confuse the actions of a few with the belief of many. The few made the headlines. My apology won’t. Yet I’m still offering it.
On Friday, 24 October 2014, a member of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) marched into Woolworth, one of our leading retailers here in South Africa, and ever-so-proudly placed a severed pig’s head in what he believed to be the kosher section.
First things first. Don’t let the name of the organisation fool you. These folks do not in any way represent all of South Africa’s students. They do, however, represent some. And that, unfortunately, is enough.
Along with their little present deposited in-store, COSAS also released a statement, saying that the act was in support of Boycott Divest and Sanctioning (BDS)’s activities to stop South Africans from shopping at Woolworth. Why? Well, because of Woolworth’s trade relations with Israel. See, the store sources a full 0.1% of its product offerings from Israel.
It’s ridiculous, I know. But there it is. Ironically, Woolworth had no kosher meat on its shelves on that particular Friday afternoon. Quite a bit of halaal products had to be destroyed though. But that’s not the issue really.
It would seem that BDS is quite persistent about this. Because the very next afternoon, the organisation staged a mass protest in front of another Woolworth branch. It ended in chaos. The police arrested almost 60 protesters for trying to persuade Woolworth customers not to shop there. The majority of customers wasn’t interested in being persuaded. Things got ugly.
But I’m probably telling you what you already know. The antics of my countrymen and women made your papers. I checked. And even if you didn’t know about this specific incident, this type of hypocrisy isn’t anything new. You know all the arguments. So do I. An average of 60 children killed in Syrian airstrikes every week. Boko Haram, IS and all the rest leave a path of destruction wherever they tread. Three-year-old Chaya Zissel Braun died in a terror attack just last week. And right here in South Africa we lock our gates and doors as soon as the sun sets. Often, that’s not enough. Our country is ravaged by flagrant mismanagement, corruption, poverty and unemployment.
I have no idea why that doesn’t concern the members of COSAS or BDS, why they choose to lash out at something they so clearly do not understand. Or maybe I do. Perhaps we’ve come to a place of such utter chaos that the idea of fixing what is broken in our own country is simply too farfetched. And so they latch onto something that seems important, something that appears to be close to home.
I was born in Apartheid South Africa. As one of the privileged few. And I remember it well. The signs clearly claiming beaches, parks, shopping malls and entertainment areas for “Whites only”. We lived separately, worked separately and went about our everyday lives in that same way – separately. Growing up, I never shared public transport, schools, roads or restaurants. You get the picture.
We did that. And much more. It’s something that we will have to live with for the rest of our lives. But that was ours, our mistake, our consequences. Apartheid was South Africa’s crime. Not Israel’s.
I often marvel at the complete un-separate lives that people in Israel lead. Jew and Arab live side-by-side, take the same bus, sit next to one another in the same restaurants. And then, come election time, Jew and Arab vote together. And I wonder if anybody but a South African who’s seen Apartheid can truly appreciate how explicitly un-Apartheid Israel is. I wonder if those who throw the term around so loosely, who jump on the Apartheid bandwagon so easily, have bothered to check out for themselves exactly what day-to-day life in Israel is like. But I doubt it.
And so, as a South African, I would like to apologise to the people of Israel. For many reasons. I’m sorry that you got stuck with a title that we invented, a title that you so clearly do not deserve. And I’m sorry about the way in which my people treat you. I’m sorry for the contempt, the arrogance and the inexplicable hate I see shining through deeds like COSAS’s. I’m sorry that you have to get the blame, even though you try your best to simply live in peace.
And I’m sorry that my country is too blind to notice. That my people judge so harshly without knowing the first thing about you. I hang my head in shame. And my heart clenches in concern. Because see, South Africa remains my country, these are my people. And it doesn’t take a keen sense of observation to deduct that things are not going well for us. On the contrary…
Every time there’s an incident like this, every time my government speaks out in condemnation, every time we take sides against you. I’m reminded of the God of Israel’s promise, and His warning, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12:3).
To the people of Israel: on behalf of the people of South Africa, I apologise. And I bless you. May you prosper and know true peace.
PS: Woolworth has recorded record sales since the BDS boycott started. Even though it’s one of the more expensive stores, South Africans who usually can’t afford to, started buying there. It doesn’t make up for the public condemnation and judgement. But just so that you know, some of us do support you. Some South Africans stand with Israel.Share this page with your friends
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