South African MP Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, President of the African Christian Democratic Party, recently visited San Francisco during a speaking tour with the Israel Allies Foundation. During his visit, he responded strongly and publicly against ads depicting Israel as an apartheid state. In an article in the San Francisco Examiner, Meshoe said, “In my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa. Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is.” he went on to say, “The misapplication of the term apartheid makes a mockery of a grievous injustice and threatens to undermine the true meaning of the term.”
Meshoe took issue with with posters hung along the public transit system in the city, depicting a silhouette of a soldier pointing a gun at a silhouette of a crouching boy. The two are standing on a Palestinian flag between two walls. The text of the ad reads: “Americans give Israel $3 billion per year. End Apartheid Now! Stop U.S. aid to Israel,” and includes the following quote from Desmond Tutu: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”
Meshoe’s repeated visits to Israel have never given him any impression of the sort. In his piece for the Examiner, Meshoe stated that apartheid was designed to systematically and legally segregate the blacks from the whites in South Africa. Discrimination was enshrined in law and allowed a minority of whites to oppress a majority of blacks. He identifies a number of significant ways in which apartheid affected his life: he was not allowed to vote, hold public office or even travel freely. Buses, public washrooms and sporting events were among venues where segregation was strictly enforced. In Israel, none of that is true, he said.
Meshoe does acknowledge the wall built along the West Bank, but identifies it as “Israel’s self-defense measures against the terrorists’ campaign of suicide bombing, rocket attacks and other acts of terrorism that have occurred, and continue to occur,” and calls it “shameful” to compare it to apartheid.
This is not the first time Meshoe has come to Israel’s defence on this matter. In 2011, during the International Chairman’s Conference, a gathering for legislators, he was asked to reflect on Israel’s track record in light of his experiences in apartheid South Africa. He said, “when I’m not upset, I would say when people talk about Israel being an apartheid state, they don’t know what they are talking about. But when I’m upset, I say they’re talking nonsense.” In Israel, Arabs sit in Parliament, they move freely about the country, they can be treated in any hospital, and even the doctors and nurses may be Arab.
According to Jordana McMillan of the Israel Allies Foundation, Meshoe’s intention goes beyond showing support for Israel. Practically, she writes in The Algemeiner, Israel has the water preservation and treatment technologies that can help desperate South African villages and improve local lives. In Meshoe’s own words,
“Here you have a country [Israel] who has the technology to efficiently and effectively purify water. This has a tremendous ripple effect on a society – clean water means better health which means less time tending the sick, which leads to better productivity, and ultimately a stronger economy. But then you have politicians who refuse to help their own people because of their political agendas, determined to alienate Israel.”
Meshoe urges young people to visit Israel and see for themselves, arming themselves with facts to fight in Israel’s defense. He adds, “In my view, Israel is a model of democracy, inclusion and pluralism that can be emulated by many nations, particularly in the Middle East.”