By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO – Two black South African students who traveled to Israel to learn if South African BDS advocates were telling the truth about “apartheid” in the Jewish state say the apartheid charge is bogus.
Further, said Miyelani Pinini, president of the Student Representative Council at the University of Cape Town, calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to black South Africans who suffered under the now defunct system of strict racial segregation.
“I feel it is the responsibility of South African youth, first generation post-Apartheid, to protect the legacy which our people suffered,” Pinini said in an interview with San Diego Jewish World. “So it is an injustice and an insult to my people when it is applied incorrectly somewhere else. It trivializes their pain. Just as many things in Africa were stolen – our resources, our people – our narrative once again has been stolen from right under our eyes and taken for the advancement of other people’s own agendas. Naming something that is not what it is intended to be is an insult to the people.”
Jamie Mithi, the son of a South African mother and Zambian father, is now a law student at the University of Witwatersrand, also known as WITS University, as well as a highly ranked international student debater. Agreeing that Israel is not an apartheid state, he said he is offended by the constant efforts to so label it by Palestinian activists in South Africa.
“What I get offended by is that it is taking up so much of our political discourse now,” he said. “As an African, (I say) Africa is really messed up. Even in South Africa, which is highest in equality, there is bad education, mud schools in some of the provinces, and yet you have 25-30 percent of our discourse (in South Africa) on social media, print media and campus discussions on this one issue, and no discussions about the atrocities of Robert Mugabe (President of Zimbabwe) who is just up the road.”
Mithi added that it makes him want to pull out his hair that so much time is spent discussing the false issue of “apartheid” in Israel “instead of dealing with inequality, or media abuses, or special interests taking over our political conversation, or poverty in general” in southern Africa.
The two students are touring Southern California under the auspices of the pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs. Besides meeting on Thursday, Feb. 4, with San Diego Jewish World, the South African students spoke on Wednesday in San Diego County at La Jolla High School, Temple Solel and at Orot HaCarmel, the latter being an Orthodox congregation that meets on the grounds of the San Diego Jewish Academy. From San Diego County, they left on Thursday for Los Angeles County where they had scheduled an interview with broadcaster Dennis Prager and an appearance at UCLA.
Pinini said that using the term “apartheid’ gets immediate attention in South Africa “because black South Africans suffered under apartheid and when you hear that is the case somewhere else in the world—that people are suffering under apartheid the same inequalities, the same pain and hurt that we suffered–we as a people understand that it is our duty and our obligation to fight for those people’s rights because not so long ago people fought for us against this terrible regime. So it draws and tugs on the heart strings of South Africans when we hear about the suffering. So we dedicate ourselves to fighting it, albeit that the information on which it is based is incorrect and false.”
BDS activists, she charged, have been cynically manipulating the emotions of South Africans
Both Mithi and Pinini toured Israel and the Palestine Territories in January 2015. During that tour, Mithi decided that the “apartheid” characterization was “grossly incorrect.” Pinini amplified that “Black people were not allowed to vote in South Africa. Muslims, Jewish persons, women, men, Blacks , Arabs, Druze all have equal rights to vote in Israel. Black people didn’t have the freedom of movement in South Africa. In Israel, anyone who is any color, any gender, any sexual orientation, can go anywhere they please … Police brutality was pretty prevalent in South Africa. In Israel, they have justified arrests under the law where people can stand trail and be represented.”
Mithi said even as the charge of apartheid is a falsehood about Israel, so too is the companion charge that Israel is a “colonial sate.”
“I think when you investigate that, you realize that this is not archaeologically or historically accurate because there has always been a Jewish community living in Israel,” he added. “At one point it was the dominant civilization; at other points there were other dominant players, like the Romans. But there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel.”
He added: “There is clearly an historical and archaeological basis for there to be the existence of a people, Jewish people, in that area. So the narrative that it is a colonial settler entity, that is not correct.”
Mithi said that South African students, especially in poorer areas, need to learn critical thinking skills or they can be manipulated by such people as BDS advocates. He urged the Jewish community in South Africa, which is known for its high achieving schools, to lend a hand to Black African schools and thereby not only improve the level of education, but also benefit from positive social contacts.