News Release

Beyond Israel-Hamas Ceasefire, Will BDS Movement Help End Apartheid Again?


Israel and Hamas declared a ceasefire on Thursday. While some praised the Biden administration, many are arguing that the violence escalated largely because it gave Israel a greenlight to to attack in Jerusalem and then in Gaza, including approving more weapons; see this timeline by Asa Winstanley. 

As many have noted, ceasefires can be tenuous.

While the U.S.-brokered Oslo process has dominated the dynamics in the violence-laden Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, activists have initiated the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement modeled on the South African anti-apartheid struggle. Many South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have long embraced the comparison, see below.

See interview from Thursday with Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS Movement for Palestinian rights by Ayman Mohyeldin on MSNBC.

But the Biden administration, like the Trump administration, has pledged to fight grassroots BDS efforts. These governmental moves have been criticized as restricting freedom of speech.

Kasrils was Minister for Intelligence Services in South Africa from 2004 to 2008 and was a leading member of the African National Congress during the apartheid era. He just wrote the piece “Bloodshed in Palestine: Fundamental Cause and Solution.” He recently wrote the piece “How to Stop Apartheid Israel” which states: “It is imperative that we of the international community redouble our efforts to aid the Palestinian people in solidarity actions. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign remains the most formidable weapon in our arsenal. It worked to bring about the demise of South African Apartheid behind the internal people’s resistance struggle, and is growing in scope and efficacy, to the extent that Israel has identified the non-violent global movement as a strategic threat. Israel, like apartheid South Africa must pay for its crimes — above all by sanctions.”

Past president of TransAfrica Forum, Fletcher just wrote the piece “You knew that this would happen, right?”: “You knew that the Palestinians would have to respond after years of being expelled from their land, kicked to the curb, subjected to what is now being publicly described as ‘apartheid’ conditions.” In 2014, Fletcher wrote the piece “Why Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Should Be Used to Target Israeli Apartheid.”

Barrows-Friedman is author of In Our Power: U.S. Students Organize for Justice in PalestineShe is an associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, see her pieces on the BDS activist and legal battles include: “U.S. Palestinian activist defeats Israeli ‘defamation’ lawsuit” and “Israel lobby loses legal effort to harass Palestinian rights activists.”

Background: At least as early as 2002, Desmond Tutu publicly likened Israel to apartheid South Africa. He repeated it recently in “Joe Biden should end the U.S. pretence over Israel’s ‘secret’ nuclear weapons,” in The Guardian, where Tutu, who chaired the South African Truth and Reconcilation Commission, wrote: “there are few truths more critical to face than a nuclear weapons arsenal in the hands of an apartheid government.”

In 2008, South African member of parliament Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge said “What I see here is worse than what we experienced — the absolute control of people’s lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw…”

In 2014, Tutu backed divestment moves targeting companies that work with Israel and spoke up against attempts to limit free speech around BDS.

In a 2013 interview, David Frost asked Tutu if he was ever tempted to back violence, as Nelson Mandela had done, in the South African anti-apartheid struggle.

Tutu stated that it was only the application of sanctions which prevented him from embracing the use of violence.

Tutu explained that “we urged the world to apply sanctions and said to them this is really the last nonviolent way of seeking to change the system” crediting “students at universities and colleges who helped to change the moral climate.” All the while, Tutu said he “recognized that there might come a time when you would have to say that nonviolent means were no longer viable.”

While Congress placed sanctions on South Africa in 1986 over then-President Ronald Reagan’s veto, now many in Congress concur with Biden’s stance to hinder the BDS movement.