Boycotts That Deserve To Backfire
Pressure from supporters of a boycott against Israel led organizers of an academic conference in December 2018 on “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma” at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University to disinvite seven professors from three universities in Israel. One of the participants was a Palestinian, Mohammed Dajani, who founded ‘Wasatia’ which aims to bring both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion closer “to having more faith in negotiations and dialogue with each realising that the cake needs to be shared not trampled on.”
In an exclusive article for Lay Of The Land (LOTL), Prof. Mohammed Dajani explains his position why it was so important for him and the six Israelis to participate and how wrong the South African organisations were to oppose their participation.
South Africa has long been a global symbol of the possibility of emerging from a turbulent and conflict ridden past to a hopeful future built on the spirit of reconciliation between its peoples.
It has been the hope of many, including Palestinians and Israelis, to replicate the successful transition towards peace and democracy that South Africa did.
South Africa has always had the potential to play a meaningful role as a negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. The iconic former President and anti-Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, was living proof that reconciliation between historical enemies was possible.
South Africa is a country that I was excited to visit in 2016 to promote peace. Peace is the solution that both Palestinians and Israelis yearn for but there are elements that will do anything to ensure that the normalization of ties between our two peoples never happens. It is not just the fundamentalist elements within both Israeli and Palestinian society that would rather peace not happen, but in the Rainbow nation as well.
The BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement, has found fertile ground in South Africa and is extremely vocal in their support in the breaking down of any constructive and productive dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. In fact, one could go as far as to deem them anti-normalisation and anti-peace.
Peace will be built from the ground up and through Palestinians and Israelis engaging with each other. This is how we recover from historical traumas.
The reluctance of BDS and their allies to support peaceful endeavours was evident recently when I along with an Israeli colleague, was invited to participate in a conference titled Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma at the University of Stellenbosch. South Africa is always a favoured stop on my lecture circuit because of the historical symbolism of reconciliation and I thought that this conference was a fitting place for my message of peace.
My Israeli colleague and I were asked “not to participate” and were told that it was “a political matter of not allowing the normalisation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by means of discussions about reconciliation, empathy and forgiveness while Israel continues to attack Gaza and place it under siege, occupy the West Bank, kill and torture Palestinian activists, and deny human rights to people who have been dispossessed of their land”.
There was not attempt to hear the reality of the situation from people who live in the region or give my Israeli colleague and I an attempt to bring context and fact to discussion. This has also robbed participants of the opportunity to ask important questions and engage in meaningful dialogue and does not have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart.
I have endured my fair share of criticism as an academic but never have I had my credibility or identity as a Palestinian doubted before. To accuse me of not being a “genuine Palestinian” because I seek peace and engage with Israelis or Jewish communities around the world is extraordinarily myopic and one can see how preposterous it is for an organization that says it is concerned with human rights to be so set against dialogue and reconciliation.
The irony of not being allowed to speak at a conference which puts this discussion at the forefront of its agenda is such a lost opportunity to promote healing and understanding. It is also counter-productive to academia to not encourage diversity of opinions. It would appear that any contrary opinion to that expressed above is not welcome.
This is deeply troubling for a country that once prided itself in setting the benchmark for discourse.
If there is to be any solution and if South Africa intends to play a meaning ful role, then all voices need to be present at the table. This would not only be in the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians but also academia – after all, this is where future peace makers are shaped.
Professor Mohammed S. Dajani, an adjunct fellow at The Washington Institute, founded the Wasatia movement of moderate Islam and previously worked as a professor of political science at al-Quds University in Jerusalem.