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March 10, 2010

Apartheid, from South Africa to Israel

Dr. Mohamed Bakr

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As part of Israeli Apartheid Week, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice featured a lecture by renowned anti-Apartheid activist Professor Farid Esack.

The March 2 lecture, “From South Africa to Israel—Apartheid Today,” attracted a “sitting room only” crowd, as many had to find space on the floor in the packed lecture hall. Those in attendance included Canadians from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, including many members of the local Jewish community.

Dr. Esack, who currently teaches at Johannesburg University, began by referring to a scar on his hand caused by police dogs when, as a young boy, he tried to use a Whites-only beach. The incident left him with a deep feeling of rejection for any type of discrimination.

He said that the struggle against the Apartheid regime was a difficult one, and that it did include violent means, which is contrary to what the Western media reports.

At the time, many leaders of the liberation movement were referred to in the West as terrorists, but after the freedom movement succeeded in removing the Apartheid regime, these same leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were hailed as heroes.

No one talks any more about the type of resistance anti-Apartheid activists adopted.

Also rarely mentioned in the Western media, he said, are the close ties that existed between the Apartheid regime and Israel. Both of them support the concept of “a chosen people” given land by God to rule.

Dr. Esack said he visited Israel nine times, and each time he went to the Holocaust museum. He explained how he wept as he saw the suffering that Jews endured during that dark moment in human history. He said that his feelings towards Holocaust victims made him sympathize with Palestinians, and it is at this point he came to the key part of the lecture.

He said most South Africans think that what the Palestinians are being subjected to is worse than what Black South Africans had to endure under Apartheid.

Also, most intellectuals, including many South African Jews, agree with this point of view. He cited three facts to support this claim.

First, the white Afrikaaners never thought of driving the non-white natives out of their homes or off their land as Israel does. Black South Africans were always considered as an important source of labor for the economy.

Second, the Apartheid regime rarely applied collective punishment to the native population. In Israel, collective punishment is common. For example, a house would be demolished if a member of the family were involved in any resistance activity. Destruction of Palestinian olive and orange trees is also a common practice.

Third, Dr. Esack said that Afrikaaners never applied a targeted assassination policy, whereas Israel routinely assassinates Palestinian leaders and those suspected of belonging to resistance movements.

At the end of his lecture, Dr. Esack addressed Zionists by saying: “If your Jewishness means your right to dispossess others and ruin their lives then you should not expect us to accept this inhumane definition. You are the ones who should redefine your Jewishness.”

Dr. Farid Esack is well known for dedicating his life to fighting Apartheid and championing women’s rights.

Born into a poor South African family with six children, his father deserted the family 40 days after he was born. His mother raised him and his brothers, and the suffering she had to endure in a male-dominated society deeply affected him deeply.

He has dedicated a good part of his life to gender equality studies and later extended his research to cover the delicate issue of HIV-positive Muslims. He is the founder of the organization Positive Muslims, which is dedicated to helping South African Muslims with AIDS.

Following the collapse of the Apartheid regime, Dr. Esack was appointed by Nelson Mandela to be a Gender Equality Commissioner.

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