Reverend Dr. Allan Boesak, a South African civil rights leader who worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela to end apartheid and promote reconciliation in South Africa, calls the Israeli treatment of Palestinians “much more violent than the South African government treatment of blacks.”
In a discussion at the Harris Methodist Church on January 11, 2015 with social justice leaders in the Honolulu, Hawaii community, Dr. Boesak said that black South Africans faced violence from the apartheid white government and that he went to funerals each week of those killed in the struggle, but never on the scale that the Palestinians face from the Israeli government. The South African government killing of blacks was small compared to numbers of Palestinians the Israeli government has killed.
405 black South Africans were killed by the South African government from 1960-1994 in eight major incidents. The largest number of blacks killed in specific incidents were 176 in Soweto in 1976 and 69 in Sharpeville in 1960.
In contrast, from 2000-2014, the Israeli government killed 9126 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. In Gaza alone, 1400 Palestinians were killed in 22 days in 2008-2009, 160 killed in 5 days in 2012 and 2200 killed in 50 days in 2014. 1,195 Israelis were killed from 2000 through 2014.
In the face of overwhelming violence, Dr. Boesak commented that it is human nature that a violence response by some is inevitable, but that it is incredible that the response of the majority of Palestinians is non-violent.
In 1983, Boesak launched the United Democratic Front (UDF), a movement of over 700 civic, student, worker, and religious organizations that became the first non-racial movement and the main force behind the anti-apartheid activities in the South Africa during the decisive decade of the 1980s. Together with Archbishop Tutu, Dr. Frank Chikane, and Dr. Beyers Naude, he campaigned internationally for sanctions against the South African apartheid regime and in the final campaign for financial sanctions during 1988-89.
In the 1990s Dr. Boesak joined the unbanned African National Congress, served on its first team to the Convention for Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations preparing for the first free elections in South Africa, and was elected its first leader in the Western Cape. After the 1994 elections, he became the first Minister of Economic Affairs in the Western Cape and later in 1994 was appointed South African Ambassador to the UN in Geneva.
Dr. Boesak currently is the Desmond Tutu Chair of Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies at Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University, both located in Indianapolis, Indiana.
On other aspects of the apartheid struggle, Dr. Boesak said that in South Africa the government did not create whites only roads, did not erect huge walls to keep blacks physically in specific areas and did not allow and protect whites to take lands from blacks and settle on those lands.
According to Boesak, international solidarity through boycott of South African goods and divestment from South African companies kept the anti-apartheid movement energized. Knowing that organizations around the world were forcing universities to divest from South African investments and that millions of people were boycotting South African products gave them hope during the difficult struggle. He said that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid is small compared to the level reached in the 1980s against South African apartheid and encouraged organizations to take up boycott and divestment stances, such as the Presbyterian Church in the United States did in 2014 by divesting from Israeli companies.
In a 2011 interview, Boesak said that he strongly supports economic sanctions on the state of Israel. He said, “Pressure, pressure, pressure from every side and in as many ways as possible: trade sanctions, economic sanctions, financial sanctions, banking sanctions, sports sanctions, cultural sanctions; I’m talking from our own experience. In the beginning we had very broad sanctions and only late in the 1980s did we learn to have targeted sanctions. So you must look to see where the Israelis are most vulnerable; where is the strongest link to the outside community? And you must have strong international solidarity; that’s the only way it will work. You have to remember that for years and years and years when we built up the sanctions campaign it was not with governments in the West. They came on board very, very late.”
Boesak added, “It was the Indian government and in Europe just Sweden and Denmark to begin with and that was it. Later on, by 1985-86, we could get American support. We never could get Margaret Thatcher on board, never Britain, never Germany, but in Germany the people who made a difference were the women who started boycotting South African goods in their supermarkets. That’s how we built it up. Never despise the day of small beginnings. It was down to civil society. But civil society in the international community could only build up because there was such a strong voice from within and that is now the responsibility of the Palestinians, to keep up that voice and to be as strong and as clear as they possibly can. Think up the arguments, think through the logic of it all but don’t forget the passion because this is for your country.”
Boesak called the US government protection of the Israeli government’s actions the single most important reason why apartheid Israel exists. Without the support of the US government in United Nations votes and in provision of military equipment to use on Palestinians, Boesak said the Israeli government would not be able to act with impunity.