Edmund Burke said "For evil to triumph it takes good people to do nothing."
These words were shared by Kenneth Meshoe, South African Member of Parliament from 1994 to 2013, President of the African Christian Democratic Party since 1994, Reverend of the 3000 strong Hope and Glory Tabernacle, and a former teacher who was brought to Canada by StandWithUS to speak about apartheid. I attended one of the events where he was the keynote speaker.
Born on Pretoria in 1954, a black man experiencing apartheid in South Africa with his parents and his 4 brothers, Reverend Meshoe learned at a very young age from his father, one does not back away from a fight with a bully.
It was remarkable to hear him say he won't remain silent or back down when Israel's accused of being an apartheid state.
"This ridiculous accusation trivializes the word apartheid, minimizing and belittling the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of color."
George Orwell said, "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
Based on his personal experiences, Meshoe refuses to accept the apartheid designation. To him, the term apartheid makes a mockery of a grievous injustice to the citizens of South Africa and threatens to undermine the true meaning of the term. Instead he describes Israel as a miracle surviving hatred from all those around her.
Meshoe grew up in a country where a minority of whites oppressed a majority of blacks and discrimination was enshrined in law. Separation by colour: white, coloured, Indian, black, forced to live in areas based on those designations. There were government boards given the legal right to designate "colour" if someone questioned the colour of a neighbour; a child not white enough for the area. Segregated sports arenas, public restrooms, schools, stores, restaurants, and public transportation.
Inferior health care for non-whites, forced to enter the offices of white doctors (if they agreed to see them) from the back door for fear the white patients would be offended and find another doctor, No entering the front doors of stores; they were for whites only. Everyone else did their shopping through windows at the back.
Beaches were strictly segregated. Black men were not to see white women in bikinis! Stepping foot on the beach was a crime. So was sex or marriage between whites and non-whites.
So many of these laws bring to my mind the years of Jim Crow in the southern United States. I'd love to be present at a debate between Reverend Meshoe and Alice Walker.
In an attempt to make South Africa look less segregated, less racist, the government passed the Bantu Authorities Act 1951. These were Black homelands to give all tribes their own areas and a sense of independence. Except each one living in these areas lost their South African citizenship and the passport that went with it.
Meshoe acknowledged there's a small vocal group of people in South Africa who are against Israel. The majority are not anti-Semitic. He says fear keeps people quiet and not just in South Africa.
Fear of what? Fear of attack. He didn't give examples but here are a few.
In June 2006, Professor Pieter van der Horst of Utrecht University, a member of the prestigious Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and a well-regarded senior Dutch scholar of early Christianity and Judaism planned to trace an antisemitic theme from its pre-Christian roots to anti-Jewish blood libels in the Arab world today. He was told to remove all references to Muslim anti-Semitism for fear of violent reactions. The university wanted nothing to interfere with their efforts at bridge-building between Muslims and non-Muslims even if it meant rewriting history or bringing a chill to publication.
Today, at Rhodes University, South Africa, there's an intellectual organization of Zionist hatred. Jews who come out in support of Israel are branded racists, Islamophobic, and apartheid supporters.
I recently learned that Rev. Meshoe and his family have been threatened for speaking up on behalf of Israel.
Free speech seems not to be so free.
For Meshoe, calling Israel an apartheid state exposes ignorance of the laws of the country. The Israeli Declaration of Independence proclaims, Israel will "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants regardless of religion, race, or sex."
He repeated many times that the accusation of apartheid cheapens the word and is an insult to every South African who endured the inhumanity and pain of it. President John F. Kennedy said, "No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth." Meshoe has chosen to take a stand to dispel "the big lie," what he calls "the myth of apartheid," through education.
He's established an organization called DEISI -- Defend, Embrace Invest Support Israel in response to the damage caused by Boycott Divest and Sanction. The purpose is to mobilize high school and university students from South Africa to go to Israel, because those who visit Israel know the label apartheid is a lie, and then share their personal experiences on campuses all over the world. His other hope is to bring the energy of innovation from Israel to South Africa which is now denied because of the false accusations of the BDS movement.
I hear in his words a man who cares deeply for his people; a man who wants the citizens in Africa to be healthy and prosperous, have access to clean water and good crops, to media that will open the world to them; to peace from tribal warfare. He looked around and saw Israel, a small democracy surrounded by failed autocracies, that offered to provide that help and he couldn't accept the political machinations that would turn away from that outstretched hand.
I think truth is difficult to swallow when one has spent so much time choking on lies. But truth will win out.
Meshoe shared stories of people he took on tours of Israel. They'd expected to be greeted with segregation at the Dead Sea or the beaches in Tel Aviv. Instead, they saw men, women, boys, girls, all races, colours, playing together, eating together in the same restaurants, sharing the same lavatories. They were shocked by the lies they had been fed by their own government.
Meshoe told the story of his pastor friend who'd taken a trip to Israel with friends and ended up in an Israeli hospital. On one side of him was a Muslim patient, on the other a Jewish patient and here he was a black man in the middle. Palestinians receive world-class healthcare services in hospitals throughout the country. In the first half of 2013 alone, more than 94,000 Palestinians received treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Not at all like South African apartheid health care.
Meshoe spoke of the Knesset where Muslims, Jews, Christians were all represented.
Not at all like apartheid in South Africa..
Reverend Meshoe suggested the 1973 Yom Kippur war a turning point for Africa. He suggested that African leaders shunned Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, in solidarity with Egypt's surprise attack on Israel. Meshoe believes Africans have suffered for that. He used Zambia as an example of a country with a healthy economy when trading with Israel, which fell apart after the ties were broken.
He sees the decline continuing.
Even though there's a dire need for fresh water in rural South Africa and the whole of the African continent, political leaders refuse to access Israel's technology for purifying water. The ripple effect is poorer health and reduction in productivity which adversely affects the economy. Yet, Israel is building four electrical substations and providing more than
1,400 million gallons of clean water to the Palestinians annually.
Then he spoke of tribal ritual initiations in South Africa, which include circumcision, that has resulted in hundreds of young men dying from complications. The technology to provide safe circumcision is available from Israel as well as doctors prepared to help. But they won't access it.
Meshoe told the story of young man who needed special lenses to see. His doctor ordered them. When they didn't arrive he contacted the customs officials in South Africa only to be told that they had been refused because they had been manufactured in Israel.
Meshoe suggested that in order to continue to rationalize the 40-year policy of shunning Israel, leaders have promoted the false accusation of Israeli apartheid. They play on the memories of apartheid which are still strong and painful. By attaching the label apartheid to Israel, these leaders can justify denying their people access to innovative Israeli technology and assistance that can lift Africa out of poverty.
Politics prioritized over people.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."
Perhaps, dear readers, you can explain why the "myth of apartheid" persists.
Follow Diane Weber Bederman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DianeBederman