Leon Jamaine Mithi is a law student at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up under what he called the “strictest regime of apartheid in South Africa.”

This week he wrote in The Oregonian:

“… I used to support the BDS movement [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], but I withdrew my support after I visited Israel and Palestine (the West Bank). Having been there, having seen what the BDS movement calls “apartheid,” I have to say that 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 a terrible loss of the true black South African apartheid narrative, because the term has been appropriated to wrongly label Israel when referring to [its] conflict with Palestine. Apartheid was colonialism on steroids. For Israel to be an apartheid state, it would have to be a colonial entity. The comparison of Israel to South Africa, from the view of a South African, is not correct. It would require us to ignore the archeological history of the Jewish people. … It is ahistorical to consider a people with ties stretching over thousands of years to an area as a colonizer … Israelis are not some colonizers from Europe. They are a community that is nation building in an area where they have always lived.” http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/05/calling_israel_an_apartheid_st.html

Six years ago in a response to the charge by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu that Israel is an “apartheid state” Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, wrote “An open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu” (International Jerusalem Post – November 12-18, 2010):

“…Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws or any of the myriad apartheid laws. To the contrary, Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its more than one million Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, and judge at every level, including that of the Supreme Court. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multiparty elections. There are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals and malls, buses, cinemas and parks, universities and cultural [venues].” https://blimpdeflator.com/tag/apartheid/

The BDS movement insists otherwise and has persuaded unsuspecting sympathizers to believe the apartheid slander.

What is the aim of the BDS movement?

BDS is led by the international Palestinian Solidarity Movement whose aim is to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian land including both the occupied West Bank and the state of Israel itself. These people are not only anti-Israel but most likely also anti-Semitic.

There are, however, supporters and sympathizers of BDS who restrict BDS to Jewish West Bank settlements only, and not to the state of Israel. These people, many of whom are Jews and believe that the state of Israel has a right to exist within the Green Line, are not anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic. The problem is that they are allied with people who are. It is debatable whether BDS is a tactic that can work. I believe it can’t and won’t.

All this being said, it’s true that Arab citizens of Israel within the Green Line don’t enjoy the same benefits and rights that Israeli Jewish citizens enjoy including equal access to government funds and services and the right to live anywhere in the state of Israel. To his great credit, Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin has called upon the government of Israel to address these inequities out of his belief that all citizens of the state, Arab and Jew, are entitled to equal rights and privileges.

At a special Cabinet meeting last December 30, PM Netanyahu promised after a contentious vote that over the next five budgetary years, the Arab sector of Israel would receive a total of 15 billion shekels ($3.8 billion) to develop its infrastructure, housing and construction, employment, education and public transportation as a corrective to past discriminatory policies against the Arab sector. However, despite the PM’s promise, he set preconditions for its implementation. See http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/01/israel-arab-sector-development-plan-buried-netanyahu.html#ixzz48jRgHWdV

Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are different in status from Israeli Arab citizens. They are not Israeli citizens and don’t enjoy the same protections, rights and privileges as those living in Israel. For them, their fight is and has always been against occupation. We Jews may not like that claim, but it’s true.

While the case can be made that Israel’s often harsh security measures imposed on Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are a necessary evil in light of Palestinian terrorism, we can’t ignore the truth that Israel’s holding onto this territory for nearly 50 years has had an oppressive impact upon Palestinians and a corrupting moral influence on Israelis.

David Ben Gurion recognized the dangers of the occupation on Israeli democracy and the soul of Israel when he said in 1967 following the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War: “Return [the captured territory] immediately, even if no one wants it back; return it.”

The foundational Zionist principles articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that was signed exactly 68 years ago today (May 15, 1948) did not envision the Jewish people becoming military occupiers, nor did Israel’s founders anticipate the corrosive effects that occupation would have upon both Arabs and Jews.

BDS is no answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’ is a lie. The only adequate response Israel can make is to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority a two-state solution in which all claims are settled and two peoples can live side by side in peace, security and mutual cooperation. The Palestinians will have to transcend their historic knee-jerk rejectionism and compromise on its maximal positions to do this, and Israel will have to compromise and show that it can meet the Palestinians half-way.