COMPLAINT WIKIMANIA CAPE TOWN
While I appreciate the trouble you have taken to respond to me, in particular your acknowledgement of my contributions to the community over the past years, your unsupported assertions are both unwarranted and unsubstantiated. I therefore respond to your email received on 10 August 2018, in point form.
1. The first I became aware of the aforementioned ‘Decolonising the Internet’ co-located Event (“”Event”) was when I viewed the conference programme several days before the main conference on 17 July 2018. It is clear from the main programme that the keynote delivered by Dr Jacbs was not merely co-located but also linked to the pre-conference topic.
2. While the attached WhoseKnowledge website page has a blue box at the bottom of the page, showing that the event was “an invite-only conference”, this was after some 1000 words, describing ‘the first ever conference about centering marginalized knowledge online” claiming “to build more awareness, allies, and joint action plans” while convening “marginalized community organizers, technologists, scholars, artists, and Wikimedians” and also apparently creating “newly created alliances and networks, [working] together towards more diversity and inclusion in the experience of internet design, architecture, content, and governance” and further proclaiming: “We intend to dramatically change the way the internet represents the majority of the world.”
3. It thus seems a bit odd that this statement should be followed by an exclusivity arrangement whereby the event was held in Cape Town, with absolutely no attempt by the organisers to engage with local Wikimedians. I therefore did not receive the barest forewarning that the event was to occur in the run-up to Wikimania CT. It is also not immediately apparent from the statement as to exactly how the ‘colocated conference’ aimed to be inclusive. Nevertheless I blogged about it on Medialternatives.com, emailed a request for admission to the organisers, which included tweeting this request to some of the speakers, (one of whom acknowledged my tweet) and then requested admission from the organiser in person.
4. As an anti-apartheid activist, and veteran of the struggle for freedom and democracy, I wholly concur with the principle of ‘nothing about us, without us” and reject any inferences which may be drawn in regard to SC support for the matter, of the closed door event. The organisers should know better than to host an event in South Africa, a country with a specific and painful history and where principles of openness and transparency are paramount, and then to embark upon a course of action leading into the main event (“Main Event”) that is at odds with the values suggested by the founding statement. This smacks of wanting to manipulate the opportunity, in other words, proclaiming ‘inclusivity of marginalised persons’ at an event held in South Africa, but when confronted with the reality, the tragic legacy of apartheid and separate development, looking the other way to exclusivity.
5. That I met with the organiser of the ‘Decolonising’ event without incident is now common cause, and notwithstanding the allegations contained in the earlier James Alexander email, which you have also acknowledged in writing, is a troubling case of mistaken identity. What is disputed is the manner and circumstances of the refusal of admission, (I have yet to receive a satisfactory reason aside from “it was closed” ) and thus reject the further reason given by another SC member, that it was because apparently ‘I was not indigenous’, as many non-indigenes attended. For the record, I am legally black and accepted as a Khoisan by the Khoisan National Assembly.
6. With regards to preparation of the main conference programme. My User Talk Page reflects three notices in this regard. A 9 May 2018 ‘Wikimania scholarship application for SA and SADC” (for which I was grateful), the second a 20 May 2018 Wikipedia Capacity Building Workshop ‘hosting Asaf Bartov from the Wikimedia Foundation for 5 days where he will be conducting a series of Capacity Building Workshops in Johannesburg and Cape Town” and a 20 June 2018 ‘Application for WikiIndaba Steering Committee Open.’
7. To say the one ‘capacity building’ event ‘Wiki Loves Monuments’ which I attended in 2012 was inadequate for the purpose, or that its sequel this year, barely two months before Wikimania CT, and six years later, was a case of ‘too little too late’, is putting it mildy. I would have thought that a National Wikimania, rather than one or two local events would have been a strict requirement before hosting a conference of this size, magnitude, scope and importance.
8. The result is more than simply a lost opportunity. It is a massive embarrassment for the local community, if not those who arrived on our shores. To expect me to have to remind the National Steering Committee that the tragedy of apartheid, an ongoing and prescient saga whose effects are far from over, is the single most important topic defining us as South Africans is beneath contempt and must be rejected as unreasonable, given the circumstances.
9. Nevertheless I appreciate the time, energy and effort spent on finally hosting Wikimania. Had it not been for my work-load, I might have made myself available for the single round of capacity building this year, and would have certainly volunteered for the SC. However giving us all 5 days forewarning for the capacity building workshop, and then two days notice of the SC election, is surely beneath the pale of reasonableness and scheduling?
10. Providing local Wikipedians very little in the way of support and an effective zero notice for topic submissions is however, what I do find to be risible. Claiming that ‘banner ads were placed’, and/or conveyed via the mailing list, is simply not good enough, and raises the question, what is the use of posting notices on our User Talk Page? And further, why no local marketing campaign via radio and print media? Why no outreach to schools etc?
11. With regard to the allegations that I have in any way abused the ‘safe space policy’ by photographing and/or videoing guests and attendees outside the venue AT A CO-LOCATED EVENT without their permission, or that it was necessary for me to register as a journalist and to gain permission in order to accomplish same, I once again refute the allegations and point you to our Bill of Rights, enshrining press freedom.
12. Further, in regard to the allegation of intimidation, I intend to provide you with my short video documentary, available in due course, (and pending final rendering) where you will find quite the opposite, and assert, that yes I too felt uncomfortable and intimidated, at being on the outside of the event, given the importance of the issues at hand, and no, I refuse to apologise for this making anyone else feel uncomfortable.
13. I hereby reserve all my rights to continue raising these and other important issues affecting both Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation in public and as needs be.
David Robert Lewis
021 788 3119
082 425 1454
I am writing in reply to the email (and attached letter) you sent the legal department at the Wikimedia Foundation on the 6 August 2018 (and copying me in on) in my capacity as the organising chairperson of Wikimania 2018.
It is with great regret that I learnt of your removal from Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town. You have been an editor on Wikipedia for many years now and have attended Wikimedia ZA events in the past which is why Wikimedia ZA granted you a complementary ticket to attend Wikimania 2018. The the best of my knowledge you are correct that you did not attend WikiIndaba in Tunisia; James was mistakenly referring to another individual based upon incorrect information given to him.
A few points on how Wikimania is run. Hosting a Wikimania is a group effort between the local organising team (of which I am a member), the Wikimedia Foundation host team (who assist in many of the more practical aspects of hosting Wikimania), and the Wikimedia community broadly (who host the individual events, workshops and presentations that make up the conference).
Community derived events which makes up the vast majority of events at Wikimania were hosted by community members who applied to host them or present. Their applications were passed by the program committee. The program committee is made up of a group of volunteer Wikipedia community members whose responsibility it is to select presentations that will be hosted during the main conference. Public announcements (advertised both through mailing lists and banner adds on Wikipedia) were made over the course of a month this year during which any community member could apply to give a presentation or host an event during the main conference.
The program committee sought to select events based on their fit to the theme of bridging knowledge gaps. You refer to the absence of any event dealing ‘apartheid memory’. If someone had made an application to host an event or presentation talking about that then the program committee would have seriously considered accepting such a presentation. However to the best of my knowledge no one made any such applications. Therefore there were no discussions on that subject. In the future I would suggest applying to give such a presentation if you hope to see one happening. Be bold (but not abrasive).
Some events were large full day or multiple day events. Such events could only be hosted during the pre-conference due to logistical reasons. The Decolonising the Internet event was one such event.
DAVID ROBERT LEWIS
PO Box 4398
6 August 2018,
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
1 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
per email: email@example.com
COMPLAINT REGARDING WIKIMANIA CAPE TOWN
In addition to my role as an independent researcher at Medialternatives.com, I am an anti-apartheid activist, journalist and Wikipedia editor. My work for South Africa’s struggle press, including Grassroots, New Nation and South Press, all titles banned by the racist regime, refers, as does my decade of contributions to Wikipedia.
I write this letter to object in the strongest possible terms to the failure of the recent Wikimania Cape Town event to include any session on ‘apartheid memory’ and also the blatant exclusion of anti-apartheid activists such as myself from deliberations.
Furthermore, I challenge the manner in which the only working session on ‘anti-apartheid activism’ was not on the main conference per se, but rather arrived at by an invitation-only, closed-door ‘Preconference Event’ with the misleading title of ‘Decolonising the Internet’.
It is clear this was done so that the theme was effectively circumscribed and controlled by officials, who wished to avoid the embarrassment of Silicon Valley neo-colonialism, and also so that Dr Sean Jacobs could deliver a keynote, in a conference otherwise devoid of any link to the epic history of struggle within my own country. Doing this most certainly gave the topic short thrift on the important issues at stake, while allowing your foundation to myopically claim that the ‘box had been ticked’.
I thus only caught Dr Jacobs’ address outside the conference via Youtube (see below). While Dr Jacobs may be applauded for alluding to some details of the history of “Information Warfare” during apartheid, (surely my own part in alerting USA media to the role played by information technology in bolstering the corrupt regime, and which became the Khulumani case against IBM refers?), the address introduced a well-known fallacy which needs to be dealt with here.
The history of South Africa is most certainly not the culmination of ‘black history month’, resulting in a ‘black nation’. Rather our nation’s journey from the ‘multiracialism’ of the Freedom Charter to the ‘non-racialism’ of the Constitution is assuredly demonstrated by the historical ‘walk to freedom’ of our nation’s founder, Nelson Mandela. It was Mandela who embraced the Unity Movement’s ideal of a single stream of humanity during his incarceration on Robben Island — the self-same ‘common humanity’ referred to by US president Barack Obama in his recent address.
To reiterate, the rainbow nation is not about the colour of one’s skin, but rather the colour of one’s rights. As a person effectively reclassified several times, according to apartheid-era race categories, the organisers should know better than to host a conference in South Africa that introduces ‘racism of a special type’, while closing down any discourse on non-racialism. Doing this tragically removed any opportunity to debate prescient and significant issues related to apartheid memory and thus Wikipedia in its current format.
Doing this further denied activists such as myself any leg-room to raise important issues to do with the allocation of resources inter alia, lack of anti-apartheid online digital assets; problems with access to local archives not yet digitised; lack of online records prior to Y2K; historical problems with censorship, bannings and lack of inclusion and the takedown of anti-apartheid material (eg. Student Revolts of 1987; torture and detention of activists; banning of organizations during the state of Emergency).
Hosting closed-door sessions of special invite-only guests parachuted in for the occasion while black youths languish in the townships, is the exact opposite of the egalitarian and liberal values to which your foundation subscribes and purports to support. It is an insult and gross injustice to those in my own country who fought against apartheid, and who have volunteered their free time and provided gratis labour on the understanding that Wikipedia is an ‘inclusive and open community.’
It is therefore alarming to find, that not only was I barred from the so-called ‘Decolonising the Internet’ pre-conference, (and despite my making a substantial contribution to the subject matter; also as the organizer of the world’s first hacktivist event in San Francisco during November 1994, an event recorded by Radio Free Berkeley and The Well), but, that I was subsequently deregistered and removed from the main conference in Cape Town. This without being given any opportunity to make representations in the matter, and following my complaining about the ‘lack of engagement by organisers’ and ‘scant regard for human dignity’ when it comes to the significant contribution of the anti-apartheid movement.
The email correspondence received on 19 July 2018, and signed by James Alexander Operations Manager for Trust & Safety at the Wikimedia Foundation (see attached and my response) thus beggars belief. Not only are Mr James’ claims dishonest and devoid of any truth, but the letter itself promotes a gross fraud inter alia, by alleging that I have ‘misbehaved at WikiIndaba in Tunis’, (I can categorically state I have not been out of my own country for several years), and that I also allegedly disrupted the aforementioned ‘Decolonising the Internet’ preconference.
Since I was not admitted to either of these events held under the auspice of the Wikimedia Foundation, I categorically reject and refute this statement.
I also further challenge and protest the manner in which Wikimania organizers and officials sought to restrict my rights as a journalist, constraining and impinging upon my professional duties, and thus my right to record the movement of delegates outside of the City conference venue. I hereby lodge my objection in the strongest terms to the blatant attempt to censor the press by restricting or impinging upon the interviewing of several delegates and also the blatant attempt to gag and affect same on any video material thus privately taken and/or taken during the course of my duties.
I should not have to explain to you that South Africa is a constitutional democracy whose Bill of Rights enshrines the right to press freedom as well as freedom of association, and that your Foundation’s host country, the USA claims to accord similar rights to its own press, a right that is sadly under threat and being eroded by the current Trump administration.
Given the above circumstances, I believe that I am entitled to demand a reasonable explanation, and also an apology from your foundation
David Robert Lewis
+27+21 788 3119
+27+82 425 1454
Cc Wikimedia ZA
Dear Mr. Lewis,
My name is James Alexander, I am the Operations Manager for Trust & Safety at the Wikimedia Foundation.
I am writing to tell you that we have decided to cancel your registration to Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town for tomorrow (Friday), Saturday and Sunday. If you choose to try and attend anyway you will be asked to leave.
I realize that this may seem a bit abrupt however we received complaints from attendees feeling uncomfortable about your behavior at the Decolonizimg the Internet conference earlier this week in addition to concerns about your behavior at WikiIndaba in Tunis earlier this year. As I am sure you understand we need to take the safety and comfort of our attendees as a paramount concern and the decision has been made that at this time your attendance would disrupt that too much. I am sorry that this message came to you so close to the actual event as it did but unfortunately we were not able to fully understand the situation until today.
As always please let me know if there is any questions and I appreciate your understanding.
Manager, Trust & Safety
Manager, Trust & Safety (Operations)
RE Cancelation of registration to Wikimania 2018 DRL2
My name is David Robert Lewis, an independent researcher at Medialternatives.com.
As an anti-apartheid activist and journalist at several banned publications taken off the shelves by the apartheid state, I object to your blatantly dishonest and false accusations.
I therefore refute the allegations that I have in any way disrupted the Tunis Conference, since I have not traveled out of my country for several years.
Secondly I refute any allegation that I attended the so-called “Decolonising the Internet” Pre-Conference in Cape Town, since I was not admitted to the event, but was rather subjected to contempt by Anasuyas of WhoseKnowledge.org.
Instead of making space for my concerns about the obliteration and deletion of apartheid memory, in particular the deletion of inter alia, pages on Student Unrest on UCT campus, Apartheid Death Squads, Apartheid Dirty Tricks, bannings of journalists and torture of editors by the regime, and/or my concerns surrounding lack of anti-apartheid digital assets and digitization of archives, she proceeded to dispute my credentials, telling me that she would ‘only communicate with me when she got back to India’.
I therefore left the venue quite hurt and upset and proceeded to film some delegates entering and leaving the conference venue.
I interviewed a delegate from Brazil, a delegate from Mexico and latin America and was accosted by a Wikimedia Foundation official who instead of upholding my rights as a citizen, proceeded to attack my standing as a member of the press in public.
I had to inform her that South Africa has a free press and also that the preamble to our constitution compels citizens and non-citizens alike, to respect those who fought during the struggle for freedom.
I therefore once again, provide you with an opportunity to correct your course of action, to restore my credentials at the conference and to make space for apartheid memory.
SEVERAL pieces on the right-wing political site Politicsweb, a local news platform run by James Myburgh, demonstrates the narrow racialism of its multifarious contributors. The site purports to carry opinions from across the political spectrum, but has a seemingly limitless abundance of polemic and commentary from the likes of RW Johnson and the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald,
First off there’s a familiar conservative spokesperson opining on the subject of the Ashwin Willemse incident ‘On racism, real and imagined: “Can a disagreement between sports broadcasters really qualify as news?” asks RW Johnson who then proceeds to denigrate the standing of the Equality Court, (in the process casting aspersions against its status in terms of the Equality Act): “Him and his lawyers are now proceeding to the Equality Court (the name has an Orwellian ring),” writes Johnson.
While our justice system if far from perfect, the Equality Court is a shining light in this regard. Rather it is conservatives who must be taken to task for dangerous double-speak, bigoted opinion that essentially denies that Willemse has access to any rights in terms of his own opinion on the matter. As the liberal mantra often restated by conservatives goes, ‘we believe in the audi rule so long as only one side to the dispute is heard.’
Andrew Donaldson, forever a lapdog of the effete rich and trendy wealthy, finds the time to wade in with a pathetic Cry racism piece that although erudite, willfully proceeds to miss the point entirely by cynically misstating the Equality case: “shoehorning the controversy within a racial context will restore moral order and present the readily outraged with a familiar, comforting paradigm’ that of Cry Wolf? No Mr Donaldson, this isn’t about racism per se, but rather apartheid denial, the rotting carcass of quotas and the sell-by-date of former apartheid-era darlings, a corporation with anything but a sterling history of opposing racism.
With all the tact of a charging hippopotamus, the grandson of Verwoerd and Oranie spokesperson, Wynand Boshoff’s ‘Ashwin, actually we know what you mean’ delivers a thinly disguised hatchet job, attempting to deflect attention away from Naas Botha and thus Afrikanerdom in general. Deploying the tired and anachronistic ‘blame it on the British’ schtick that is so often used by former members of the Nationalist party to ingratitude themselves with the ruling ANC whilst also affecting a crushing blow to us English-speakers.
It is not terribly surprising then to find South Africa’s own Walter Mitty, one Andrew Kenny delivering an equally destructive blow to the English language. Having affected a mid-life career change from failed nuclear pundit to “contracted columnist to the Institute of Race Relations” Kenny’s vivid imagination proceeds to shower us with bizarre details verging on the fantastical, “I know nothing about rugby” he says before embarking upon a sorry attempt at the nitpicking obfuscation for which he is perhaps renowned. The result is a failed piece of political bumph posing-as-commentary which merely demonstrates that Kenny has zero credentials and course-work when it comes to the social and political sciences.
‘Hurt, pain & Ashwin Willemse‘ deploys a scurrilous and appalling comparison between the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, (perhaps to assert a vivid fantasy life in which Kenny recently acquired a moral position on non-proliferation?), to the aforementioned Supersport incident, before proceeding to freely mix metaphors and borrowing heavily from a Nixon-era public administration pundit:
“The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low” is a saying attributed to one Wallace Sayre. It is thus rephrased as Sayre’s Law, which was all really just another patronising putdown to the students of the University of Berkeley and the victims of the Kent State massacre, and grist to the mill, for a decade of revolt which gave the world free love, women’s rights and equality. Enough to ruffle the feathers of today’s youth and our modern generation of die-hard de-colonialists?
To cap it all, there is also a strange statement released by the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald “Minister of Sport and DA leader must apologise” absurdly blaming the Minister of Sport and the leader of the DA, for the incident. Apartheid collaborators are racists, full-stop. Instead Groenewald wants a fantasy-world where “people must refrain from attributing incidents where people of different races are involved to racism,” begging the question, what happens when racism isn’t about race per se but rather structural racism? The two apartheid darlings Mallet and Botha turned into on-air monuments, the post-apartheid wing, Willemse, forever in the studio shadows.
The Freedom Front shows its metal, providing uncritical support for the discredited Naspers-Multichoice and its pathetic inhouse finding on the matter, arguably, all the result of extra-judicial privileges founded upon race, and despite the matter being sub judice. The outcome of the labour proceeding in which Willemse was not represented, has been rejected by the former Springbok, as too should any similar proceedings not meeting standards of due process. There has yet to be an official inquiry into the role of sports administrators during apartheid in terms of the TRC Act, which allows the Minister of Justice to appoint special inquiries subsequent to the winding up of the first commission.
RESISTANCE to war has a long and noble history. From pacifists during the Anglo-Boer War, objectors to WW1 and WW2, conscripts against the Vietnam War and South Africa’s own Border War, the names and faces of those who have chosen the difficult path of combating militarism and state-sponsored aggression, number in their thousands.
When dissent is quashed by political expediency the nuances and cadence of individual struggle against war is lost. The evolution of the ‘just-war thesis’ and ‘holy war’ by either side to the conflict in the Middle East provides a case in point, as does resistance to the promotion of war as a solution.
During 1987, ANC stalwart, then SRC president Cameron Dugmore, stood on a podium alongside 23 white conscripts from UCT opposed to military conscription during apartheid. The initial group of conscientious objectors, included Christian pacifists as well as then president of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), Jonathan Handler. Signicantly Handler opposed the Border War on the basis of a defense of Israel.
The result was that I relinquished my membership of SAUJS. At the time, Israel was involved in a war with Lebanon, which in many respects was reminiscent of our own border war. It is a position which I have since regretted, (see below). Instead of joining Handler in his “just war thesis”, which was little more than a promotion of Zionism, and thus a moral justification for his later joining the Israeli Defense Force, and with Dugmore rubber-stamping Handler’s participation, I took the difficult path of involvement in South Africa’s armed struggle, crossing the colour line and embracing the culture of resistance and rebellion.
The creation of the environmental justice movement in the aftermath of the banning of the ECC, and my work for Grassroots, South Press, Sached/New Nation form a body of work and deserve a chapter on their own. However the lesson drawn from this experience is that the Middle East problem is not as easily reducible to a binary struggle between black and white, right and wrong. Providing a rubber stamp to either of the parties to the conflict, in my case, my open support for the Palestinians, has resulted in the dilemma of today.
Faced with a difficult and unenviable predicament, I chose a very different approach, that of civil disobedience. Lodging a public objection to Handler’s participation on the platform and Dugmore’s acquiescence, (and without access to all the facts) would have merely playing into the hands of the Botha government and its securocrats. It also risked an embarrassing side-show, in a vulnerable moment. Nevertheless we exchanged words during the media briefing session. For Michael Rautenbach, this was sign that I was ‘simply not ready for the big time’.
Not only was the SAUJS involvement untenable, but as a 19-year-old enrolled in law-school, the problem did not lead itself to any immediate legal answers, save for hoping that it would all somehow pan out and that history would be the better judge. An outright objection against the “just war thesis” and the use of ‘holy war’ instead of simple resistance, would also have required a Phd essay written with all the gusto necessary to balance the complexity of the struggle itself, solidarity amongst comrades, campus spies, security police paranoia, my call-up papers and the lack of engagement by ECC leadership.
With no support for my nascent position from either SAUJS nor ECC’s Dugmore and the merry bunch of Christian fanatics who were assured of a place in heaven with emotional guidance from the Church, and with Atheists then in the minority within the ECC itself, I took my struggle against the system and my membership card elsewhere. Burning my call-up papers, I declined to participate, and instead sent the state ‘a postcard from exile’. My arrival at an outright rejection of war was much later than anticipated, and only after an encounter with the international peace movement following the democratic elections.
It is a period which has come to haunt me in recent years, the difficulties following the banning of the ECC and SWAPO solidarity committee, not because I have been cross-examined by a racist bigot acting for a racist company, in an unfair legal proceeding without the aid of an attorney, on my involvement in some of the details — This whilst also being subjected to a religious inquisition of my secular identity. But because the paranoia surrounding BDS in its current form, and its supporters from the far-right in Fatah and Hamas, combined with Zionist intransigence and lack of public debate, have all moved to close down what little dissent and individual freedom remains.
There are many robust claims made by either parties to the conflict in the Middle East. The result though is invariably the same — the silencing of individual right to dissent, the removal of civil liberties, the abolition of the right to freedom from religion, the right to not be constrained by the religious views of others, the very essence of freedom of religion. Theist, Non-Theist, Atheist. For my part, the conflict is one of injustice vs injustice, a terrible ‘battle between monsters and maniacs’, whether blood on the streets of Tel Aviv, Ramallah, or Gaza, and neighbouring Syria, while the public all too readily reach out for religious texts, as easily as weapons of war.
South Africa for all intents and purposes is a secular country. We pride ourselves in our Constitution which ostensibly guarantees religious and cultural rights, and we like to think we are an exception and there is somehow continuity with our secular struggle and the struggle for human rights in the Middle East. This remains to be seen.
To date there has been no proof that we are special, except propaganda and lies. The short-circuiting of debate. The sheer religiosity of those involved. The astonishing willingness to resort to bloodshed. It is time to face up to facts and to stop the rubber-stamping and handing out of blank cheques to activists on either side, preaching the exact opposite of truth. There is another path, another way out of the conflict, besides advocacy of hatred, bloodshed and eternal war.
The very essence of secularism, according to George Holyoake, the man who coined the term, is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious rules. “A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature—what ought to be in morals—selecting the affirmative in exposition, concerning himself with the real, the right, and the constructive. Positive principles are principles which are provable.”
Secularism is firmly based upon enlightenment values, the right not to be subjected to religious persecution by the state nor any religious authority or otherwise. Secular values are the ‘We, the People’ values enshrined by our Constitution which are remarkable absent when it comes to the Middle East. To date there is no Freedom Charter for Palestinians and Israelis.
If South Africans are to contribute to justice and a peaceful solution, it must be because we are also willing to defend our constitution, our own history of secularism and opposition to war in all its forms, our nation’s own war resisters over the ages, and thus our nation’s core values in the non-aligned movement.
Unlike many politico’s, we must urge seekers of peace, to do this with the courage to avoid rubber-stamping the “just war thesis” and ‘religious war’ come what may, and whatever the consequences. To avoid providing wholesale support for any of the belligerent parties to the conflict over the final status of Jerusalem, whatever the ends and means, and no matter the outcome, and without at very least, measuring the results against our own conscience, free-will and opinion.
[Note: John Stremlau believes South Africa has a vital role to play. It certainly doesn’t if its media is closing down debate and opinion within our own borders]
Significant departures from the political “truth” associated with the Jerusalem conflict
1. East Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine
Under International Law, and the Corpus Separatum, the City of Jerusalem was to be an independent enclave. It was Jordan which occupied East Jerusalem 1946-1967, and subsequently Israel occupied Jerusalem 1967-current.
2. There is a map showing how Israel has displaced Palestinians
The map ignores the 1920 San Remo Conference which partitioned a former empire, and the later division of British Mandate Palestine and French Mandate Syria, which created TransJordan aka Hashemite Palestine and Syria (arguably, Syrian Palestine) in 1946-1948. It must be remembered that the Ottomans, supported Hitler and the Kaiser, and thus Germany in both world wars. The map cynically ignores the 1949 Armistice line and the displacement of Arab Jews from Arab countries and their loss of land, some 100 000 square km of deeded property confiscated by Arab states. The map thus ignores the reality that part of British Mandate occupied by Jordan and Egypt was ethnically cleansed with no Jewish population left. Jewish inhabitants of communities like Gush Etzion, Hebron and Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem were absorbed by the new State of Israel. The map also fails in its lack of comparison to Greece and Turkey and India/Pakistan, two examples where populations have been separated according to religion and ethnicity and involving population swaps. Sudan was recently partitioned between the north Arab half and the south African half. Ireland remains separated between the Protestant north and Catholic south.
3. Palestinians and Jews, each form a distinct race and the conflict is thus like apartheid.
Nations are not races. While ethnicity plays a part, there is no science to back up either claim. The infamous 1975 UN resolution 3379 ‘equating zionism with racism‘ was overturned by an overwhelming majority of nations in 1991. The same assertion was voted out of the final text of the controversial 2001 Durban Conference on Racism and the text reaffirmed at Durban II. A highly flawed 2017 UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report examining the policies of Israel within the context of a UN definition of apartheid, admits the error of race, proceeds to supply ”reasons for the error of comparison” and states, there is ‘no single, authoritative, global definition of any race’ at the same time that it attributes race characteristics to Jews for the purposes of analysis. The same category error appears in an equally flawed 2009 local HSRC report written around the time of Durban II. While the policies of Israel are reprehensible and morally indefensible, their root cause is not race, (a loaded term) but rather the confluence of religion and nationality and in particular, religious schism which results in nationality on the basis of religion, a fact common to many Middle Eastern countries.
4. Arab Israelis do not possess the vote.
They are allowed to vote in the Knesset, however Arabs living in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority do not. This is a major and significant human rights issue. No physical wall was ever built by the apartheid state. Bantustan leaders were puppets of Pretoria at best. None of the bantustans ever waged war against the central government. If the PA is not an apartheid bantustan except in metaphor, what is it? Like South Africa’s North West province, it must be seen as a de facto internal province caught up in armed insurrection against the central government, the Israeli state. A position of statelessness, pacification and occupation. The same goes for Gaza, arguably, a subsidiary or satellite of both Egypt, Israel and Iran. How can this be solved? A plurinational, overlapping state solution, and involving neighbours Egypt and Jordan, would do a lot to resolve friction while ensuring independence and the maintenance of human rights. Reasonable accommodation of differences in faith and religious outlook is a prerequisite. Keep an open mind.
5. The conflict has nothing to do with religion.
The conflict surrounding the final status of Jerusalem has been ongoing for centuries, involves different versions of monotheism dating back to the crusades, and predates the creation of the modern state of Israel. The worst part of it. We must not allow it to become a binary conflict and permanent war around race, ethnicity and religion.
6. The majority Arab Palestinians were displaced in 1948 by a white minority, and the result is the Nakba or catastrophe.
Focusing on the 700 000 displaced persons, removed from the Jewish side of Palestine under UN mandate, adding them to some 250 000 Arabs who had chosen to move to the Arab Palestine half, and forgetting that some 850,000 Arab Jews were displaced and dispossessed from Arab countries such as Iraq and Yemen at the same time, results in Nakba inflation. An inflation which also ignores the return of hundreds of thousands of black Ethiopian Jews. Forcible transfer of populations was a factor of the Ottoman and Persian Empires. See Farhud Day, a commemoration of the dispossession of Baghdad Jews.
7. Israel is the result of the Balfour Declaration, a colonial enterprise at best.
The country unilaterally declared its independence during the war of 1948, and the situation under Benjamin Netanyahu is similar to UDI in Rhodesia. Aside from the internal friction between black Mizrahi and white Ashkenazi and Separdhi Jews, this is the one similarity with the white regime of Ian Smith, that one must accept. The Belfour view also ignores the earlier Sykes–Picot Agreement and the later Weizmann Faisal Agreement, and is used to argue the disaster of colonialism, while ignoring the tragedy of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
8. Hamas and Fatah are the equivalent of the ANC and PAC during the struggle.
While all three parties are for the most part, nationalistic, the ANC is the only secular party which has until now, consistently supported civil rights for all persons in the region. The other parties raising the Pan Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies, are mostly theocratic, and only nationalistic insomuch as Arab autonomy in the region is concerned. Fatah is nominally secular insofar as divergence within Islam is concerned and thus tolerates other groups, (see Dhimmitude). Embarrassingly, Hamas was forced in 2017 to amend its charter advocating death for all Jews, to death for only Zionist Jews, to bring its objectives more in line with the Fatah Movement which supports the borders of 1967. More importantly, the ANC had an end-game strategy involving compromises, no such strategy is evident amongst the Palestinians. It was the National Party which opposed LGBTIQ++ rights, and supported the death penalty, not the ANC. No Gay Pride for Gaza, ditto Palestinian feminist group Aswat, based only in Haifa. There is thus a qualitative difference between these two struggles, one backed by the Freedom Charter, the other by religious texts and history books associated with previous Empires. The result is Injustice v Injustice.
9. Israel supported the apartheid regime until the bitter end.
While Israel was slow to act on sanctions against South Africa, and collaborated with the regime on nuclear weapons, it severed such ties in 1987. “There is no room for discrimination, whether it’s called apartheid or any other name”, then foreign minister Shimon Peres said in the New York Times. “We repeat that we express our denunciation of the system of apartheid. The Jewish outlook is that every man was born in the image of God and created equal.” This view ignores the role played by Western countries such as Thatcher’s Britain in supporting apartheid, or the fact that Zionists stood trial in South Africa for opposing apartheid, it also avoids the actual commonality, pariah status, in many ways similar to the position of Taiwan today.
10. We must choose sides, since standing on the fence is tantamount to support for apartheid
During the anti-apartheid struggle where the issues were black and white, standing on the fence was inappropriate. The opposite is true in the Middle East. Declining to support religious conflict, withdrawing from waging war in the name of religion, supporting freedom for all people, defending secularism and seeking to uphold civil rights in our own country, alongside the victories of the non-aligned movement when it comes to the current East-West brinkmanship and Super-power hegemony, is the only peaceful path forward. Nelson Mandela was perhaps the best spokesperson for this position.
We are all hostages to this ongoing conflict. The time to stand up for secular rights and freedoms, non-alignment and world peace, is now.