IN the annual search for a silver bullet solution to the Middle East problem, activists are rushed into reductionist conclusions. In the process open intellectual inquiry, debate and analysis about the conflict closes down. The resulting dogma and political correctness undermines the struggle for human rights.
In a recent piece, published by IOL, correspondent Azad Essa claims: “Not everyone agrees with the Israeli apartheid terminology, despite its rising legitimacy among many academics and scholars in the field. As a contentious analogy, the UN had never – until last week – officially called it apartheid.”
The statement by Essa is only partially true, since in 1975 the UN did in fact issue a resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism. However after the end of the Cold War, the same UN general assembly issued a resolution 46/86, (adopted on 16 December 1991), reversing its earlier resolution. Thus in 1991 “the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly … to revoke the bitterly contested statement it approved in 1975 that said: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.””
“The official count found 111 nations in favor of repealing the statement and 25 nations, mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists, voting against. Thirteen nations abstained. Seventeen other countries, including Egypt, which recognizes Israel, and Kuwait and China, did not take part in the voting.”
That news-hounds can’t be bothered to do their homework, verifying the facts, can be seen by the persistent belief amongst many activists that resolution 3379 is still in force. A 2015 piece by Ben Norton of Mondoweiss, for example, a news outlet exposed as a purveyor of ‘alternative facts’, (i.e. facts which are not true), proceeded to ignore the revocation, and myopically accuses both the United States and Israel of wanting to rewrite history of a resolution which in any event, is null and void.
Until last week, the equation of Israel’s existence with ‘racism and racial domination’, was considered a foregone conclusion, an emerging fact of international law. This week, things were no longer so certain. The problem arose when a controversial report by a UN agency, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) equating Zionism with apartheid, and touted by IOL as definitive of the problem, was suddenly shelved, albeit from intense political pressure.
Rima Khalaf, the executive secretary of the United Nations agency which had released the report, accusing Israel of implementing “an apartheid regime,” was thus moved to resign from her post on Friday, while editors who had treated the announcement by the press agency Reuters as a sure sign of truth from on high, suddenly appeared to have egg on their faces.
It turned out that none other than U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had requested Khalaf to withdraw the report. Guterres through a spokesperson, said that the report, released by ESCWA, “does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and it was thus published without consultation with the UN secretariat, nor it seems, the UN leader. It was an awkward and embarrassing defeat for the Palestinian lobby.
Palestine as an entity, itself does not have full status at the UN and only gained Non-Member Observer State’ Status in 2012. It is not the purpose of this piece to argue the merits of the UN secretary-general’s decision, nor whether or not Palestine should be accorded full status as a member state, nor consequently whether Israel should even exist — ( nor whether or not both parties, should be superseded by a binational state incorporating Palestinians and Israeli’s under a common constitution). So far as this writer is concerned, oppression in any form, whether state-sponsored, or on an individual basis should end. How we got here and how we arrive there is unfortunately not up to us individuals to decide, but rather a matter for all the parties to the conflict.
The question immediately raised at the outset, is whether the misapplication of law, the equation of our country’s experience in apartheid, with what is happening in the conflict, is absolutely necessary and helpful? That the use of the ‘apartheid analogy’ (and thus a phrase gradually being stripped of any meaning ) was turning out to be merely that, ‘an analogy’ — useful in some respects for political analysis, but awkward as a method of general application impacting on strategy – surely necessitates a return to the drawing board for all activists, even if this means conducting new research?
To find out why this eventuality, presents a serious predicament, the ESCWA report débâcle risks providing a blank cheque to those in office, to once again do nothing about the problem, one has merely to read the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (hereinafter Apartheid Convention), which had it roots in the opposition of the United Nations to the discriminatory racial policies of the South African Government – known as apartheid.
For many years Apartheid, was annually condemned by the General Assembly ‘as contrary to the Charter of the United Nations ; and was regularly condemned by the Security Council.’ In 1966, the General Assembly labelled apartheid a crime against humanity1 and in 1984 the Security Council endorsed this determination 2. The Apartheid Convention was thus considered the ultimate step in international condemnation of the system, ‘as it not only declared that apartheid was unlawful because it violated the Charter of the United Nations, but in addition it declared apartheid to be criminal.’
However, when the Apartheid Convention was drafted, like today, there was a division of opinion over the exact scope of the Convention. According to the UN human rights high commission, ‘most delegates saw the Convention as an instrument to be employed only against South Africa. Others, however, warned that the Convention was wide enough to cover other States that practised racial discrimination’ 3.
At the face of it, the Apartheid Convention declares that apartheid is a crime against humanity and that “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination” are international crimes. Article 2 of the Convention defines the crime of apartheid –“which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa” – as covering “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”. (my underlining)
It then lists those acts that fall within the ambit of the crime. These include ‘murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest of members of a racial group; deliberate imposition on a racial group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction; legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields; measures that divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate residential areas for racial groups; the prohibition of interracial marriages; and the persecution of persons opposed to apartheid.’ (my underlining)
Despite its UN pedigree, no one was ever prosecuted for the crime of apartheid under the apartheid convention, while apartheid lasted in South Africa. And no one has ever since been prosecuted for this crime. The ongoing difficulty in attaining justice for the victims and survivors of the apartheid system, points to the dilemma faced by anybody wishing to simply legislate away the many problems faced. In any event, if one was to merely rely on the Apartheid Convention and its allied legislation, for guidance, one would surely miss out on the greater lessons in strategy to be learnt, that of peaceful conflict resolution via dialogue, and restorative justice between all the parties? Dialogue which inevitably leads to compromise positions on both sides, and which are assuredly necessary in the Middle East of today?
“The weight of the evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the proposition that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity,” wrote ESCWA in the controversial report it released on March 15
Aside from being an indictment of the status quo, the ESCWA report itself has serious flaws in defining its subject matter. There are far better analytical and intellectual tools available than the use of open analogy instead of first principles. One has merely to locate the very, real experience of hegemony and oppression within the conflict to see why this is so.
Again, analysis of the problematic issue of the existence of the state of Israel, is not the purpose of this piece. Rather, as a person affected by legal definitions based upon discredited race science, one has got to take issue with the reiteration of race science by any report, UN sponsored or otherwise, especially one which argues that in the geopolitical context of Palestine, “Jews and Palestinians can be considered “racial groups”.”
One would not expect that the controversial ESCWA report, touted by activists, should perversely resort to a form of racist dogma of its own, considered anathema in modern South Africa itself? An inversion of the Apartheid Convention, in which race categories are imposed, instead of described according to phenomena on the ground, presumably as an intellectual means to solve the problem? Consider the purported facts, may or may not even be true, but rather, as one critic would have it, the result of ‘a shibboleth of race’, an untrue statement about race resulting from an Anti-Semitic canard’, a thesis which if misapplied, undermines the entire struggle for human rights in the Middle East, along with the peace process?
What is certainly obnoxious and objectionable here, aside from the imposition of apartheid-like race categorisation in grouping persons according to race, is the delineation of race science, albeit via an unproven hypothesis — the authors insistence, as did Adolf Hitler and German eugenicists — that all Jews comprise a distinct race (or are all Israelis now a race?), and hence the necessity to also attribute a race to Palestinians.
The failure to provide any empirical evidence in support of such assertions, aside from a description of abusive power relations, places the report in the terrain of public opinion instead of fact. Are we now expected to simply believe in the apartheid analogy for whatever reason, perhaps on faith alone? As the troublesome founder of modern Israel, Theodor Herzl attempted to point out, “No nation has uniformity of race” — “My associates and I make no distinctions between one man and another. We do not ask to what race or religion a man belongs. If he is a man, that is enough for us.”
It is thus better to remind those parties to the conflict that even the founder of Israel would have disagreed with what is taking place in Israel today. It is therefore important that we state in conclusion: Nations are not races, and people should be free to practice their religion, whatever the national circumstance or geographical location. One can only hope for an end to hegemony and oppression on both sides, and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
The problem of legal exclusion
According to the ESCWA: “Although the term “apartheid” was originally associated with the specific instance of South Africa, it now represents a species of crime against humanity under customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, according to which: “The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
If readers wish to read the actual Rome Statute it also contains words such as “context” and ‘racial group’. The problem arises when the report dodges its own definitions, in cherry picking from statutes, by stating:
“This report accepts the definition of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of “racial discrimination” as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.
In adopting this definition, the same report falls into absurdity by failing to cite the very exclusions of the statutes to which it relies upon:
“This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and non-citizens.”
Why this would be problematic, can be seen in the simple case of nation-statism. Every nation-state discriminates on the basis of nationality. Thus in leaving the report open to the logic of other statutes, a serious flaw is introduced. Arguably, this exception is exactly what the authors of the apartheid bantustans wished to exploit, and what the Israeli government, itself arguably a UN-sponsored bantustan for Jews, has consistently exploited, in approaching the primary problem with regard to the de jure denationalisation of persons considered undesirable by the regime.
THAT people like Ivo Vegter get given column space on the strength of an untested book purporting to debunk campaigns against fracking, nuclear power, climate change and environmentalism in general, is a sign of the insatiable rise of right-wing politics, of the kind that has lead to the ascendency of President Donald Trump. In Vegter’s latest missive published by Daily Maverick, the columnist makes the bold claim that “Rich environmentalists oppress poor people.”
In order to support his thesis, he refers to campaigns to save the Sumatran Tiger and rainforest habitat in Indonesia, the battle to counter deforestation, and a supposedly “alarmist film” by one Leonardo de Caprio, whom Vegter labels variously, a “climate change hypocrite” and a rich celebrity with a ‘carbon footprint the size of small countries’ who has merely ‘poked his nose into the fight’.
De Caprio’s film Before the Flood about climate change and presented by National Geographic was an official selection at both the Toronto and London Film festivals. In comparison Vegter’s 2012 book “Extreme Environment: How Environmental Exaggeration Harms Emerging Economies” failed to make any notable book lists and hardly ranks in terms of global sales.
Vegter’s writing has been labelled as “staggeringly naïve and shoddy research“, “elastic research“,” a man who passes himself off as an environmental journalist, but consistently backs the right of those with money and power to destroy the environment” and a “cherry-picker of facts“.
After poo-pooing De Caprio’s fact-finding epic, Vegter turns to geothermal energy, making the point that instead of being seen as a good thing by environmentalists, such projects, particularly in Indonesia, have raised the ire of earth-centric activists wanting to save habitat from human intervention. David Attenborough is thus chief on Vegters hit-list, as any deep green ecologist would be — one who places a higher value on ecosystems than human beings in general and who is thus opposed to our supposed God-given right to destroy nature.
Hence what can only be termed a rather limp but convoluted preface, tame in comparison to earlier postings, (the man’s writing has spawned a veritable cottage industry of conspiracy theory), begins Vegter’s perennial opining on the subject:
“Environmentalists often try to appeal to our common-sense instincts to preserve our world from harm. Nobody would dispute that a healthy, productive environment is desirable, and indeed essential for continued human welfare and prosperity.
“However, in their zeal to oppose environmental degradation, environmentalists routinely overstate their case. When infrastructure or other development projects are proposed, their knee-jerk reaction is to object, and never give ground. Instead of seeking to minimise harm, they insist that no environmental price is worth the benefit of development.
“There are strong incentives for environmentalists to become fundamentalist extremists, who brook no human development that might disturb a supposedly pristine environment. To understand why, allow me to propose four possible motivations: environmentalism as a religion, environmentalism as a political tool, environmentalism as sensationalism, and environmentalism as an industry.”
That Vegter willfully misstates the case, is unable to tackle apartheid and related environmental issues in his own backyard, and thus resorts to cherry-picking issues half-way around the world, issues that readers do not have any immediate interest in the outcome of events, save from what they see on their Nature television screens, is par for the course, for a man who lost the debate on Fracking and Fukushima. Vegter painfully misjudged the geology of the Karoo, made spurious claims without any science about Fukushima, supported Big Oil at the expense of Water, and continues to disregard the environmental struggles of millions of South Africans living in the townships.
His characterisation of environmentalists as nothing less than ‘wealthy oppressors’, must be rejected as insulting and offensive to all activists on the ground struggling for a healthy environment and better conditions for all humans living on the Earth. This week, saw a major climate victory for Earthlife Africa, an organisation with a predominantly black membership, and thus an organisation which carries my DNA, and notably, one to which I contributed its founding charter and principles. Part of the story of the rise of ELA and environmental activism during apartheid can be read here.
While there is no dispute regarding the need for criticism — yes, white conservationists were considered fair game during the dark days of apartheid, and I published profusely on the subject, forcing the Wildlife Society to become the Wildlife and Environment Society — and since as I argued, human beings were intimately part of the habitat, thus saving our climate and ending apartheid, was equally important, both for wildlife and all human beings, especially those who lacked clean water and basic sanitation — Vegter goes too far in his own extreme, and one should add, obnoxious alt-right point of view.
The convoluted dispatch from the self-proclaimed “never wrong” pundit (read: Never right), may also be considered a form of back-peddling, for in admitting the need for some form of environmentalism in geothermal energy, and thus in part a recognition of the energy debate central to climate change, and ergo, a part revision of an objectionable thesis, Vegter’s borrowed critique of shallow environmentalism, not all environmentalism per se, is in reality, an attempt to destroy the environmental movement by incorporating some of its own ideology and criticism.
Thus like the Rupert’s who wish to be seen as pioneers of transfrontier parks, without dealing with their contribution to apartheid, Vegter’s sudden sympathy for the poor, in essence greenwashing, cannot masque an otherwise abysmal career as a proponent of resource exploitation. Such nitpicking is unlikely to bother the strong non-racial green movement which has arisen post-COP17, nor will it remove the guarantees of Earth Rights in our constitution, and the campaign for the inclusion of ecological sustainable development, of which I was one of the authors.
Vegter’s latest views, therefore need to be discarded as nothing less than fallacious and false argument, the utterings of a dyed in the wool racist, and the work of an opponent of science. One has merely to review the latest debates around the Anthropocene, and certainly, my view is that we appear to be at the end of this geological era. Far from being “monopolisers of truth” environmentalists, are deploying science – evidence-based research and empirical data in their campaign to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change. Ivo the Terrible, on the other hand, appears to offer nothing more than a theological counter-point, providing a hazardous litany of argument — one of many, self-ordained saints of alt-speak making a quick buck out of roasting the green movement.
THE RISE of the smartphone alongside the Internet, has lead to a plethora of disruptive innovation. A paradigm shift has occurred, so profound and fundamental in its effects, that analysts refer to the fourth industrial revolution and the Internet of Things. The rapid pace of change has caught metered taxi operators sleeping. Though more than two years has passed since the upstart Uber company appeared on our shores, metered taxi operators have not found the means to get their proverbial shit together.
Instead of innovating, by producing smartphone apps and websites that would allow consumers to book taxis online, pay with bank cards and utilize the electronic transactions which litter our modern lifestyles — instead of producing efficiency and allowing clients to enjoy the benefits of GPS and other innovations — the metered taxi industry has instead resorted to a bit of disruption of their own. And it is not all good.
Following the equally myopic truckers blockade, the rise of taxi turf wars and a new form of strike action, all may be seen as the gross failure of operators to come to grips with the accomplishments of the new technology. Now one may sympathise with those critics who point out that Uber has merely shifted the cost of operating a taxi from the operator to the taxi driver, the company distributed as it is, allows own-vehicle drivers to enter an otherwise regulated marketplace, and has thus disrupted the cab industry in every city which has adopted mobile telephony. The thing is, Uber’s success is not simply a case of cutting costs.
For years, the cab market has relied upon a form of cartel behaviour, regulated monopolies and guaranteed markets. The regulations that inform the industry have themselves been the very reason why cab operators have failed to innovate. The reliance on legislation instead of innovation, has resulted in the lack of motive force needed to deliver product and services efficiently, in a marketplace where the type of person who uses a cab is usually not able to afford a vehicle. Uber on the other hand has liberated consumers who would otherwise shirk at the cost of a metered taxi, and who risk being treated as tourists, from the up-market cab operators who seem only to cater to people on holiday.
Software has thus brought greater efficiency in routes, has allowed drivers to gain control over their lives, to save petrol by redirecting around traffic, to know who it is they are letting inside their vehicles, and it is these innovations which are driving the new market, concerned as it is, with safety and affordability, and which has sprung up like fresh daisies around the smartphone. Unless the entire cab industry adapts, then those laggards currently holding Jozi to ransom, must necessarily be allowed to whither away and die, the same way that Hansom cabs and cab drivers with horse-drawn buggies, died out when the automobile brought along a more efficient means of transport.
The current strike action in Gauteng is thus nothing less than the equivalent of a group of irate Hansom Cab drivers demanding protection from the new Anti-Horse technology. One can only feel a sense of pathos, for the inevitable.
WHEN the electric icebox was invented, thousands of ice haulers went out of business. At the turn of the 20th century, nearly every family, grocer, and barkeeper in South Africa had an icebox. But ironically, South Africa’s dependence on ice created the very technology that would lead to the decline of the ice empire — electric freezers and refrigerators.
During the early 1900s, these appliances became more reliable, and by 1940, millions of units had been sold. With freezers allowing people to make ice at home, there was little need to haul massive quantities across the country.
We can’t stop progress and if we do, we risk losing far more than jobs, our Earth and our human habitat is at risk. Because of altered circumstances, Eskom has decided to shut down five coal power stations — Hendrina‚ Kriel‚ Komati‚ Grootvlei and Camden. The termination of coal truckers contracts has lead to a furore, with Cosatu labelling it a “hostile act”.
We can’t turn back the clock. This is not simply about Independent Power Producers (IPPs), as 250 medical professionals and medical organisations stated in the Durban Declaration, climate change is a medical emergency. According to the Lancet, climate change is the greatest global health threat of the 21stcentury.
Each year has seen an increase in global ambient temperatures caused by the release of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) associated with carbon and fossil fuel such as coal, with the resulting melting of permafrost and the polar icecaps, retreat of glaciers, thermal expansion of the ocean and most indicators are off the charts. Africa will suffer most from increasing temperatures. Workers will be most affected by associated loss in productivity.
We can’t afford to live under domes with an altered climate, neither can we afford to miss out on the renewables revolution. Far from being a scourge of privatisation, it is one of our country’s few success stories, continuing to attract investment, continuing to produce jobs and the roll-out of renewable energy is very impressive. It represents a paradigm shift, we dare not ignore.
A way must therefore be found to accommodate the major shift in energy priorities and the sudden dislocation of an entire industry. Truckers can truck goods in other markets, we must assist them, but we cannot step back from the icebox analogy and the melting point — we really no longer need a coal trucking route, nor a coal industry and its cost in terms of human life.
One can only suggest Eskom needs to be more strategic in its approach and truckers need to given the resources to regain control over their lives. Government must assist in skills retraining and investing in adult education that will help families deal with the crisis. It must not be mislead by the unscientific opinions and haranguing of union bosses.
Extract Published in Cape Argus, Letters 9 March 2017
Check out this posting from a blog called Integral Transformation, showcasing 5 environmental organisations making a difference in Cape Town