(MintPress) – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party voted on Thursday in favor of full boycott, divestment, sanction (BDS) policies against Israel, an unprecedented move that could bring significant economic pressure to stop the blockade of Gaza and illegal settlement activity on the West Bank.
Although the burgeoning BDS movement has not taken hold in a way to effectively change the course of Israeli policies, South Africa’s decision could lead the way for other states hoping to pressure Israel to restart the defunct peace process. The move is timely given Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last month, an operation that killed 170.
South Africa leads BDS effort
“The ANC is unequivocal in its support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel,” wrote the ANC in a recent post. Although the call for South Africa to adopt BDS policies had yet to become official government policy, there appears to be enough political will to adopt the measure.
The BDS movement began in 2005 when dozens of Palestinian civil society organizations called upon the international community to engage in a non-violent economic boycotts of Israel. The move is not unprecedented given Cape Town’s historically strong support for Palestinian self-determination.
Previously, in May, South Africa voted to label products from the West Bank as originating in the occupied Palestinian territories, thwarting attempts by Israeli manufacturers to erase the green line designating legal Israel from occupied Palestinian territories.
In most Western stores, Soda Stream brand, Ahava cosmetics and several other popular products are marketed as “products of Israel” despite being manufactured in the occupied West Bank, an area designated as Palestinian land under international law. Denmark has since followed suit, banning West Bank products from bearing the “made in Israel” label.
Similar divestment actions in the U.S. have had little to no effect on the peace process. However, the momentum appears to be building on university campuses and in American workplaces for broad divestment from companies directly profiting off the occupation of the West Bank and the destruction of Palestinian homes.
In June, the retirement fund TIAA-CREF voted to divest $73 million from Caterpillar, a company that sells bulldozers to the IDF for home demolition on the West Bank.
The effort was led by Jewish Voice for Peace and 200 professors at New York University, all petitioning TIAA-CREF President/CEO Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. to “divest funds from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.”
The reason South Africa has, in large part, spearheaded the current phase of the international boycott, divestment, sanctions movement is because of its own devastating history of apartheid rule that bears resemblance to the current rule of law in Israel.
South Africa struggled to overcome apartheid rule from 1948-1994, a period in which the white minority dominated country. A combination of sustained internal pressure by the black majority, coupled with solidarity from the international community eventually brought the apartheid regime to an end.
Nelson Mandela, the renowned human rights activist and first black president of South Africa, credited the broad divestment campaign in the U.S. with helping to abolish white minority rule. Several public institutions, including UC Berkeley, Michigan State University and University of Wisconsin–Madison voted to end all economic ties with the racist apartheid regime.
These actions by students, met with resistance by university officials and corporations, helped pave the way for a broad boycott by schools, state governments, corporations and individuals. At the end of 1989, 26 states, 22 counties and more than 90 cities had taken some form of binding economic action against companies doing business in South Africa.
This was capped by the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, a piece of federal legislation severely limiting economic interactions between Washington and the Pretoria government.
By comparison, the BDS campaign against Israel is in its infancy, although the trajectory of both countries bear a striking resemblance. Like South Africa before 1994, the hallmark of Israeli duality is based upon a bifurcated legal system that grants rights and full citizenship to the 500,000 Jewish settlers living on occupied Palestinian land, but none to indigenous Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
The Palestinian population of nearly 4 million in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza has no rights and continues to suffer from arbitrary home demolitions, military checkpoints, arrests and military incursions.
The international boycott of Israeli products or products made in the West Bank has not gained enough momentum to have a serious impact on the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Israel still receives over $3 billion per year in unconditional U.S. military aid, a sum that is given by Congress without hesitation. Suspending this substantial aid or conditioning it upon a concerted effort to evacuate settlements and negotiate peace with the Palestinians will be essential if the international BDS movement is to be successful.