Friday, May 17th, 2013
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Congress of South African Trade Unions has chosen to reaffirm its solidarity with the Palestinian cause using the excuse of ‘al-Nakba Day’. They translate that as ‘the day of the catastrophe” and by ‘catastrophe’ they mean the birth of the state of Israel.
There is little new in the statement except for repeated references to progressive Israelis, which is an improvement over the blatant anti-semitism that sometimes came from COSATU spokespeople in the past. But here are a few of the things that are wrong with COSATU’s statement:
They refer to ”the organized removal of native Palestinian people during the establishment of the State of Israel” which is at the very least somewhat misleading. They neglect to mention that a war had broken out, and that the Arab neighbors were clearly the aggressors. While there may have been some cases where Israeli forces compelled Palestinians to leave, that clearly did not happen on a mass scale. People leave their homes in wartime for many reasons — usually to seek safety elsewhere. The Palestinians were repeatedly assured that the invading Arab armies would destroy the new and weak Jewish state, and they’d get their homes back. As Humphrey Bogart put it in Casablanca, they were “misinformed”.
COSATU makes repeated reference to “the apartheid state of Israel” even though they know full well that Israel is no such thing. ”Apartheid” cannot be used to describe any country or government we don’t like. We don’t speak about the “apartheid” state of Britain, for example, even if there is racism in the UK. ”Apartheid” should be used to describe a very specific phenomenon — the state created by white racists in South Africa which denied even the most basic rights to the vast majority of its citizens, and attempted to keep them separated from one another. Israel is not an apartheid society, and it helps no one to keep repeating that, nor does it make it any more true. COSATU should know better.
The statement correctly points out that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulted in a large number of Palestinian refugees, but neglects to mention that it created hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees as well throughout the region. The refugee problem was in effect an exchange of populations.
COSATU does no one any favours by presenting a one-sided look at what was a historical tragedy for two peoples. It nowhere calls for mutual recognition, for two states for two peoples, and doesn’t anywhere mention the particular problem of exterminationist anti-semitism represented by Hamas, Hizbollah and their puppet-masters in Tehran.
If COSATU really is keen to help the Palestinian people, it needs to rethink its views on this, and come up with a smarter, more balanced, more nuanced and more truthful account.