|Kwara ' kockim'un' Kekana, BDS activist|
Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post by phone, Kwara Kekana of BDS South Africa denied accusations leveled by Jewish organizations that her organization is anti-Semitic, a claim heard increasingly as companies such as France’s Orange appear to be buckling under pressure to severe ties with the Jewish state.
The BDS movement’s branch in South Africa has been one of the most vocal worldwide, and has been involved in a series of high profile incidents that have caused vocal outrage among Jewish communal bodies.
In 2013, one of the movement’s leaders justified calls to "shoot the Jew" heard during a protest against a concert by an Israeli musician. During that incident, protesters screamed at concertgoers slogans such as "Israel is apartheid" and "down, down Israel." Some also threw paper at the Jewish attendees.
The call to kill Jews was “just like you would say kill the Boer at [a] funeral during the eighties [and] it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime,” BDS coordinator Muhammed Desai said at the time.
Asked if the group was hostile to Jews, Prof. Farid Esack, writing on behalf of the board of BDS South Africa, expressed his opposition to "any and all incitement to violence and racism – including anti-Semitism and Zionism.”
More recently the movement hosted convicted Palestinian airline hijacker Leila Khaled on a nationwide speaking tour. In an email to supporters, organizers termed her an icon of the Palestinian struggle, showing an image of the PFLP member clutching an automatic weapon and comparing her to late South African president Nelson Mandela.
“Many Palestinians including Leila Khaled are today considered terrorists like the ANC and Nelson Mandela were once classified as terrorists,” the group declared. “The picture of a young, determined looking woman with a checkered keffiyeh scarf, clutching an AK-47, was as era-defining as that of Che Guevara, Ruth First and other political figures from our recent past.”
At the time, Kekana told the Post that she did not expect the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which condemned the tour, to understand “the meaning of hosting someone like Nelson Mandela, the South African struggle icon, or Leila Khaled, the Palestinian struggle icon.”
The Jewish communal group, she said, had proudly supported the apartheid regime, just as it supports an Israeli “regime that is killing innocent Palestinians.”
Jewish ire at the group continued to build in April, when a diplomatic spat between Pretoria and Jerusalem prompted the BDS movement and allied organizations to threaten to “take it upon ourselves to be at the Israeli Embassy…to expel the Israeli Ambassador.”
The BDS movement also complained about what it called the “Israel lobby.”
Speaking with the Post on Tuesday, however, Kekana denied accusations of anti-Semitism, explaining that the campaign has Jews among its adherents.
“Oftentimes there is a discussion of BDS being anti-Semitic which is completely false. BDS if anything subscribes to peace. Against all forms of racism, which includes anti-Semitism, xenophobia, you can name it,” she said.
Asked if she believed that Israel has a right to exist or if Zionism is a form of racism, she responded by explaining that “the current form that Zionism as an ideology is being applied today” constitutes a “fundamental problem” for her.
Another such fundamental issue is “the way in which Israel wishes to exist at the expense of an indigenous population,” she said. “It wishes to exist in a state that wishes to exclude another group and also wants to exist at the expense of an indigenous population.”
Her mandate, she said, is to “isolate the apartheid state of Israel until it listens to international law” and gives in to three “non-negotiable” demands: the end of its occupation of lands claimed by the Palestinians, the end of “apartheid” and the acceptance of the Palestinian right of return.
Asked if going outside of the framework of negotiations to pressure Israel would make it less likely that a negotiated solution could be reached, she said that the issue of talks was up to the political leadership of the Palestinians and that her only concern was getting Israel to begin “complying with international law.”
Negotiations, she added, have to be undertaken in good faith and cannot go ahead while Arab “political prisoners” remain in Israeli jails or while there is any building in settlements.
Negotiations under such a state are ridiculous, she said, indicating that she believed that negotiations between the two sides could only commence once Israel has been isolated and made to comply with her movement’s demands.
The general consensus among the international community is that issues such as Jerusalem, borders and refugees must be dealt with in negotiations.
Despite the presence of Arabs in the Knesset and the supreme court, she insisted that Israel meets the definition of an apartheid state under a United Nations definition.
Asked how a right of return might be implemented, especially given the Israeli reluctance to give in on a point which many believe to be demographic suicide for the state’s Jewish majority, she said that she did not know what it would mean at the end of the day.
“What is a right of return. I think that we really need to start having those discussions. The preoccupation right now is not about creating peaceful agreements and I don’t think we are there yet. We are not at a point where we need to be discussing what the right of return itself needs to look like. For one, now Israel does not acknowledge the fact that Palestinians have a right to return to indigenous land,” she said.
The idea that Israel is an apartheid state is not restricted to South Africa. In an interview this week with the Arab website Bokra that was also run by 972 Magazine, Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the international movement, stated that the “Oslo accords disenfranchised Palestinians in the 1948 region, causing a serious rift. On the contrary, the BDS movement insists on the right of all Palestinians to exercise self-determination as a unified people and as such, insists on the rights of all Palestinians, including ‘48 Palestinians.”
“Conflating time-honored, human-rights-based boycotts of Israel’s violations of international law with anti-Jewish racism is not only false, it is a racist attempt to put all Jews into one basket and to implicate them in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians,” he said.