Video and Edited Transcript
Ramah Kudaimi, Philip Farah and Bill Fletcher
Transcript No. 419 (14 November 2014)
14 November 2014
The Palestine Center
Moderated by Yousef Munayyer, Jerusalem Fund Executive Director
Ramah Kudaimi: Good morning everyone, thank you for coming out to the panel. Thank you to The Palestine Center for having me. I’m going to be focusing my remarks on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) in general as well as particularly on university efforts, which I have the honor of supporting. A lot of student groups are doing this type of work and have a very supportive role, they’re doing amazing work.
But to start I think one of the reasons to focus on BDS, within this focus of this conference connecting the local to the global is because BDS is really what you can do locally to support the global struggle for Palestinian rights. It’s one of the many tactics used among Palestinians struggling for their rights and it’s what Palestinians have called for us, especially in the United States, a country that militarily and financially supports Israel and whatever Israel does, it’s very important that we take action and this is the action that Palestinians have asked solidarity activists take.
Just some quick BDS basics: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is in response to a call made out in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, over 170 groups signed the BDS call. I do want to stress though this is not a completely new tactic amongst Palestinians, it’s not like in 2005, “Oh all of a sudden we should boycott and divest.” It’s a tactic that has a long history in the Palestinian struggle, all the way back to 1930’s if we’re talking about the general strikes that were happening there. So there’s history there and I think it’s important to recognize that.
There’s a lot of parallel to South Africa which Bill will be discussing later. If you read the call which I urge all of you to do that at BDS.net they talk a lot about following the example of Africa and the action that civil society took, we also hope that civil society will take the same action with Israel. And it’s all about working locally to support this global struggle and what’s very different, I think, about BDS, especially for solidarity activists, is all of a sudden, we were asked to be proactive and not only reactive. A lot of times we tend to say, “Oh Israel is bombing Gaza, we need to go out and protest. Israel is once again arresting youth, we need to go out and protest.” All very important, but when we talk about BDS it’s about us making sure we are targeting corporations and other institutions that are profiting off of Israeli occupation and apartheid, so it’s no longer just we react to what Israel does, we do what we can to make sure that Israel is held accountable for its crimes.
And it’s very important to also stress the rights-based approach to BDS. BDS does not talk about one state, two states, no states, whatever we think is going to happen, it talks about the need to end the occupation so Palestinians who are living under occupation in the West Bank, in Gaza and East Jerusalem, it talks about the need for equality for Palestinians who are citizens of the state of Israel and it talks about the right of return, so the millions of Palestinians who are still refugees, still waiting to return home after several decades.
Boycotts can range from simple things, like consumer boycotts, products made in Israeli settlements and companies that are complicit. So for example HP, which is very complicit in Israel’s occupation and apartheid, does a lot of work with the Israeli military and does a lot of work with the ID system that helps make sure Palestinians do not have freedom of movement. So boycotting those products, as well as academic and cultural, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. Divestment, churches, Philip is going to be talking about that. Campus, I’ll be discussing more detail later. But companies, again, that Israel would not be able to continue its occupation and apartheid policies without the help of these companies. Why are churches, why are student groups, why are campuses, why are we investing in them?
And then finally, the biggest issue, and hopefully we’ll get to that, is sanctions. And this is particularly again important in the United States, where we send $3 billion in military aid to Israel. Palestinians are being killed by U.S. weapons and each of us who has paid for taxes in this country have paid for these weapons, so that’s kind of the big “S” in this movement and why we think hopefully, eventually, Israel will be forced to change its behavior.
And so I want to focus on this past year in the BDS movement because I think we’re getting to a point where we can say with confidence we are winning campaigns and I’ll talk a little about the challenges that come with that and how it relates to actual things changing on the ground. But we can say there are a lot of BDS wins. And the importance is to think about the snowball effect of these campaigns. So not one of these actions by itself are going to bring about Palestinian rights but what happens is collectively energy builds up, pressure builds up and all of a sudden Israel is forced to change its behavior. So you might think again, “Oh if I convince my local store to stop selling SodaStream, and we’ll talk about SodaStream next, what difference will that actually make?” No, you’re right, it won’t actually make a difference, but if that store stops selling SodaStream, and another store stops selling another Israeli settler product, and the local university decides to divest from occupation and your local church group makes that same decision, all of a sudden then there’s a lot of pressure building up and no longer can Israel ignore this and will be forced to eventually change its behavior. So again, you have power and I really want to stress that. I’m coming from the activist side, I want to stress, every one of you has power to make change, and it’s needed.
And so some of the highlights of what we’ve been seeing in the BDS campaign this year. We’ve had a lot of success with SodaStream. SodaStream manufactures home soda devices, so you take this device home and you make soda and it’s been a focus of so many BDS struggles globally because its main factory is located in an illegal West Bank settlement and so they are profiting from exploiting Palestinian resources, exploiting Palestinian labor and exploiting Palestinian land. And so, there’s been a lot of energy around this campaign because of all the campaigns, I think this is a very clear one.
Settlements? Everyone agrees settlements are illegal, occupation is wrong, why are companies allowed to profit from it? And so there’s been a lot of victories on SodaStream. We started off the year with a huge campaign and media attention generated around them hiring Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson to become their spokesperson. She happened to also be a global ambassador for Oxfam so it seems kind of weird that someone who prefers to be concerned with human rights would also be profiting from human rights. And so there was so much pressure built globally that within three weeks, she actually resigned as Oxfam, so she continued to profit from occupation, but I think it also sent very much a message that you can’t be both. You can’t profit from occupation and claim to be a human right’s defender. And SodaStream since then has just been plummeting. Their shares are falling, and just two weeks ago, SodaStream actually made an announcement that they are shutting down their factory in the West Bank and so I think this is a huge sign that BDS does have an impact, that BDS can change the behavior of corporations and even though we will continue the fight against SodaStream, their new factory happens to be displacing Bedouins in the Negev Valley so there are still problems with SodaStream but the fact that this is a company being forced out of the settlements, where they get a lot of tax breaks and a lot of benefits is a big sign of where we are heading. Veolia is another such sign.
Veolia is a French multinational company that at a certain point was running bus lines for West Bank settlers. So again, segregated services, whether it was bus lines, garbage dumps or vices, they also play a role in the Jerusalem light rail that connects the settlements to Jerusalem. And we’re seeing Veolia wince and pressure, to the point where Veolia has lost $24 billion dollars, all across the globe because of people fighting against it and people saying, “No, we don’t want this company running our water services, we don’t want this company running our bus lines because of what they do in Palestine.” And last year, they sold off all the bus lines that are serving illegal settlements in the West Bank. So again, we are seeing the change that is happening.
Academic and cultural boycott: I think one of the biggest ones we’ve had is when Stevie Wonder canceled his performance at the Friends of the IDF Fundraiser in LA. So this was almost two years ago now. Sending a message that you can’t claim to care about human rights and then play for a military that commits all these crimes. Probably the water shed in the academic boycott is when the American Studies Association last year passed a resolution adopting the academic boycott of Israel. So that sent a lot of other associations also to do the same. And they got a lot of backlash but have maintained that, “No, this is the correct thing to do and we’re going to continue to do this.” And even when we don’t win, the pictures on here are of two campaigns we did not win, Alicia Keys did end up playing in Tel Aviv, even though there was a huge campaign to get her to cancel, The Rolling Stones, who refused to play, by the way, in Sun City in South Africa, decided to change their mind, they were making $6 million dollars off of this one show they were playing in Tel Aviv, they decided, “Okay, that makes more sense.”
We are having an impact. Impact to the point that there was an announcement earlier this year that Beyoncé was going to play in Tel Aviv and it turned out to be not true. It wasn’t like her publicist just ignored it. Her publicist felt the need to come out and say “No, she is not playing in Tel Aviv and she has no plans to play.” So that’s how much pressure, even someone with the stardom of Beyoncé, is feeling to be like, “Oh, I have to clarify that this is not something I am considering.”
Divestment: So this is when we get into the awesome student work that is happening. Again, student work that’s run by the students themselves but I’m going to leave Phillip to talk about church stuff. In the past year, 17 campuses have passed resolutions calling for their university to divest from companies that profit from occupation and apartheid. Seventeen, that’s a huge amount. Half of all the University of California schools have passed similar divestments. So when you get such a mass amount, all of a sudden, people can’t say, “Oh this is something that’s failing,” as the opposition always claims, “This is something that’s on the extreme left, nobody is paying attention.”
No, it’s obviously not. The opposition claims, “Well all of these are just symbolic because around 30 schools that have passed divestment resolution, only one, Hampshire College, back in 2009, has actually divested. They were the first campus to divest from South Africa as well. All the others have been symbolic, i.e. the resolution and the university administration says we’re ignoring it. But even so, the opposition puts so much energy into ending any sort of campus activism for Palestine. For example, at UC Berkeley, back in 2010, they passed a divestment resolution due to pressure outside the campus, the president vetoed. Last year, they passed it again, and again the opposition tried to force the president to veto. This time, we put some pressure back and they did not veto it. Students vote and then all of a sudden they force a revote, so that happened at Loyola and University of Chicago. I believe the opposition forced them to revote four times. They kept forcing them to revote until they lost. Ridiculous. These are not student groups fighting other student groups. These are outside opposition groups coming, in, flying in their own staff to fight these fights with students. If it’s not symbolic and important, why are you putting in all this energy and millions of dollars to do it? Sometimes they don’t even let them bring up their resolution.
At the University of Michigan last year, they tabled the resolution right away. Several of the senators had been on AIPAC trips and so they tabled, they wouldn’t even discuss it. The students had to take over a building for several days just to get the resolution heard out. And they did. They had a wonderful hearing. And it was wonderful because you saw the energy that they put and the diverse coalition that they put together to urge that. And they ended up not adopting their resolution, but at least they got the discussion happening on their campus, which is very important. And it goes beyond that because it’s not only the students that are concerned with Palestine are looking at this and making a decision to adopt BDS.
So for example, back in 2012, the National MEChA Association, which is a group of Latino and Latina students, adopted and endorsed BDS at their national conference. So this is going beyond just people who are Palestinian themselves or people who say they are Palestinian allies. These are all kinds of groups who are concerned with social justice issues, are taking up the cause. And it’s part of why the opposition is so afraid and why instead of dealing with it, they repress and they suppress.
There are several examples, and we can discuss that, we’ve seen professors being fired, like Steven Salaita. We’ve seen activists being persecuted by the U.S. government, like Rasmea Odeh. So it’s very important to think about that but it’s also important to think about the opportunities and what does that mean? We know now that the peace process has died again and hopefully will remain dead this time and not come back to life, we know that BDS is becoming mainstream. So when you have people like George Soros deciding his fund is no longer going to be invested in SodaStream. When you have people like Bill Gates divesting from $184 million dollars from G4S, which runs prisons where Palestinian prisoners are held many times without any charge, many times tortured. This is mainstream. I don’t know how more mainstream you get from Bill Gates, George Soros, Stevie Wonder. And so this is important for us to think about how we continue to make these campaigns and get more people involved.
But I also want to stress too the importance of identifying and why students are being very successful and why I think the opposition is focusing so much on students. Student groups, and we need to learn from that, are being very intentional and building up coalitions. They’re not just showing up with Palestinian students, they’re not just showing up with people that just care about Palestinian rights. They’re showing up with communities that are affected by all kinds of systems of oppression and so it’s very important to think about what that means for our work and how we identify that intersectionality. How we talk about the issue of settler colonialism in Palestine and what the Palestinians are facing and we don’t really discuss it in the context of the United States. How are we angered by racism that feel due to the Israeli government and not talk about the racism here.
And my last point, last month the U.S. campaign as well as several of our member groups organized a Palestine to Ferguson contingent as part of the weekend of resistance that happened in Saint Louis and Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. And it’s very important to think how we can continue those kinds of intersectional work because it’s the same systems of oppression. And people in Ferguson and Saint Louis, when we were at the march, were so happy, honestly and coming up and thanking us. We had this banner here [refers to slide] “From Palestine to Ferguson, end racism now.” And they themselves were making these identifications like, “All the tear gas that we felt, all the tanks that came out against us, that’s what’s happening in Palestine, that’s what they’re facing.” So we need to make sure that we are making those connections back as well because if they’re doing it, then we owe it to them and we have to look at Palestinian liberation as this greater movement to liberate all oppressed people. Thank you.
Philip Farah: Thank you for coming and thank to you the Palestine Center for hosting us. I have many homes, Jerusalem, Gaza, Albuquerque, Washington and also The Palestine Center really feels likes home too so thank you.
I’m representing the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace and there’s a bit of a story about that because we started really because of BDS. WE originated as a group called Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace in 2000. Reverend Bishop Bartlett was one of our founding members and among the audience, Sari Dajani and many others were members of this group. We were, besides the organization End the Occupation, we were among the only grassroots organizations working in this space in the Washington, DC area. Out of our group emerged a number of other groups, the local chapter of JVP, a number of people are here also from them, who by the way, if I’m not mistaken, originated the SodaStream boycott campaign. The Sabeel Metro DC is another one, they’ve also been active in this space. They conduct conference twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, they are fantastic events that I urge you to attend and look for and publicize.
We started in 2012 just before the United Methodist Church was going to have its General Conference in Tampa and we were approached by people who were were active with the group called United Methodist Kairos Response because they were putting up a resolution before the General Conference. It was a really big deal, a thousand delegates not only from the U.S. and Canada but also from other places in the world like the Philippines and Africa. They put before the General Conference a resolution for divestment. They said, “Look, we are hearing from all kinds of people, we are certainly hearing from Zionists who are against boycott, we are hearing from progressive Jewish groups who are for boycott and divestment but we are not hearing from Palestinians. That voice is missing and it would be particularly helpful to us if there was a Palestinian Christian voice that would give us great credibility with our constituency.”
So actually at first we were very reluctant to start a group called the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace because that’s a spiritual identity and not a political identity. We see ourselves as not being different from any other Palestinians. Some of us said, “No, we’re not going to be a group like that,” but others said, with encouragement from our Muslim friends, we consulted with a number of organizations like American Muslims for Palestine, they encouraged us very much so to do that.
So we started in 2012 in preparation for the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, we lost that fight. The divestment resolution of the Methodist Church in 2012 failed but there was actually a resolution to boycott and I’m going to talk about that in a little bit.
My presentation is partly about what we do with churches and in fact, a lot of it is taken from presentations which we have done before churches all over the country and also partly to tell you how you can be part of this too because it’s extremely important. I put up some names [refers to slide] and this is to show our church constituency, the audience we address, the major leaders of civil rights and human rights were very much involved in active political advocacy and you know, churches are generally reluctant to sometimes take political positions and we give examples of all of these people, prominent leaders all over the world, who are very much spiritual leaders. Churches and spiritual communities in general have played an extremely important role in human rights struggles, in independence movements and in the U.S. like Chomsky used to say, that in the United States, you don’t really hear progressive people speak in labor unions often. There are some issues that are too hot for them to handle but churches and universities are open forums for that, and others have said the same thing. In fact, I like to think of an environmental leader who said, “Once we get to the churches, that is the mainstream and then once we have the support of the churches, we really are on our way in.” So the question is, you know, whether we ought to be lobbying Congress or to focus on the grassroots and the groups that I’m associated with have a very strong focus on the grassroots because we believe that Congress is too difficult to approach at this period in time.
So these are some of the struggles in which churches played an extremely important role in the United States: The abolition of slavery, civil rights movement, ending the war in Vietnam, ending apartheid in South Africa, the Sanctuary Movement for Central American resistance to dictatorship and many other struggles. The issue of the word sanctuary is extremely important in this regard because you need a safe space when you are a minority struggling for rights when the whole world seems to be against you, you really need a safe space to work. Now when we have Islamophobia as a major impediment to certainly resolving the struggle in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Then we feel like the whole world is against us, that we have no allies, that we have no hope of victories, we need those allies, and we need them to feel more secure and we need them to prove that the work we are doing has a chance of success. So historically, the role of the churches has been extremely important as a sanctuary, and this is one of the drivers. That’s another message we give to our allies and the churches, you know, these people did not avoid controversy. They were extremely provocative. Ghandi was a pacifist but he was anything but passive, he was in your face and provocative. The reluctance in the church is that this is too hot to handle, we don’t want to be accused of anti-Semitism, this or that, and we show them that indeed, leaders have played extremely important roles, and have been extremely provocative in human rights. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian during the Nazi period. He came to study theology in the United States, and he was greatly affected by African American civil rights leaders and this is a famous quote from him, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” And that is really what BDS is about. This is another famous quote from Ghandi, “If the only two choices were submission or violence, I certainly would not choose submission.” Fortunately, there is a third way, and that is our message to the churches, that really, submission is not an option for the Palestinians like for all other oppressed people, that if you are not supporting non-violence, you really are in a way, perpetuating violence.
So I put this up [refers to slide]. Does anyone know who he was? He was Chandra Bose who was a leader of the Indian resistance movement against the British and he very much believed in violence and criticized Ghandi, although he worked with him and cooperated with Ghandi at times but he criticized him bitterly for his stance on nonviolence. George Habash, same thing, so that is the choice that we have in Palestine. Is it going to be nonviolent resistance, like Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye will leave us all blind.” And this is the message for the churches: That there is another way, which is nonviolence that does not result in everyone being blind. So like Rama said, the original call for BDS came in 2005, although there was a history before that, and soon after that, in 2009, the Kairos Palestine, which is a group of Palestinian Christian leaders came together and issued a call for boycott and divestment as a means of resolving the conflict in a peaceful way. These are quotations from Kairos Palestine 2009, and many churches did respond. So, another Palestinian Christian group is called Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Center and then there are many solidarity groups which are international groups that go to Palestine and do various things in supporting the people against the occupation, providing that sanctuary, like I will mention some of that in a minute. But I want to ask, how many people here are active in churches or belong in churches? Many people. And I want to mention one of the groups that really, in a big way, answered the call of Kairos Palestine, which is the United Methodist Kairos response, and these are fairly large groups that are entirely focused on supporting a peace with justice in Palestine and answering the Kairos call. One of these big organizations is the Methodist for Social Action (MFSA). Chett Pritchett, who was here earlier, is the leader of MFSA. Just to give you an idea, MFSA, in the 50’s, along with the communist party and alleged communists, was persecuted by the McCarthy witch-hunt. They took such provocative stands, again, you know the issue of being passive versus very actively and provocatively involved in the fight for peace and justice. MFSA was targeted by the McCarthyites and this is a very large group. There are many other large groups like MFSA. United Methodist Women is, I think, the largest women’s organization in the country is very influential and has a very strong component of peaceful justice. The issue of apartheid has come up very, very strongly, of course with respect to Palestine. Bishop Desmond Tutu brought it up. He said the apartheid conditions he experienced in Palestine are actually in some ways worse than in South Africa. Jimmy Carter, who has a very strong connection to the faith community in the United States, brought it up in a very big and controversial way, so that’s a strong message for the churches.
And towards the middle of 2005, people started saying, “Look, we passed so many resolutions for peace and justice in the churches, calls for ending the occupation, but it is time to really back what we are doing with action” and that was behind many of the resolutions that are coming up.
I mentioned some of these organizations. Most of the mainstream protestant groups and Catholic groups, Pax Christi and the Marymount Sisters for example, have very strong peace and justice components. This is from the website of the United Church of Christ Palestine-Israel Network. They are working very hard on adopting boycott and divestment resolutions and in fact, the Presbyterians passed a vote in 2012, next day it was on the front pages of The New York Times. Netanyahu had to concede that this was a big victory. He made some reference to it in his speeches after the Presbyterian vote. That’s how big it is. And John Kerry made his very controversial statements right after the vote for the Presbyterians, so now there’s a huge, huge movement to isolate the Presbyterians and leave them high and dry. So the pro-Israel groups in this country and the Israel hasbara machine, the propaganda machine, has been doing everything to discredit the Presbyterian vote. Next year is the United Church of Christ General Synod and before then, there will be a resolution for divestment and the year after that, 2016, will be the United Methodist Church General Conference, also going to consider divestment resolution. If we do not win those fights, it will be a huge setback, if we win them, it will be an amazing step forward, so I urge you to find the groups like the United Methodist Kairos Response, like the Episcopal Israel-Palestine Network, try to find the churches in your home communities and connect with them. Offer them speakers, offer them resources and fundraising, that’s extremely important. You know how well funded the other side is? And our allies in the churches have very small resources and we really need to support them. Thank you very much.
Bill Fletcher: Good morning. Assalam Alaikom. So my task is to speak about the lessons from the South Africa Freedom Movement, and I want to begin by saying if we think of BDS as a series of tactics that are linked together, they get linked together with different strategies. It’s in and of itself, not a strategy, but they are tactics that are followed or flow from and linked to different strategies. And this becomes very important because as people can significant differences on strategy, as we saw in the South Africa movement, but nevertheless agree on certain tactical approach. So the four points that I’d like to make, drawing from the South African experience, and some of these actually I may have articulated several years ago at a conference here. But the first is, one of the things I was critical of, was the linkage with the movement on the ground. And in the case of South Africa, that was most especially the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, the latter getting very little attention in most histories and discussions of the South African freedom struggle, but was second to the ANC in terms of its mass base and support. There were, of course, other groups that were in existence, but those were the two major ones. So, the articulation of this movement around BDS in the South African context, the fact that it was linked to the forces on the ground, gave it immense credibility.
The second point was strategic targeting that was aimed at crippling South Africa, as well as the utilization of symbolic targets. One of the issues that comes up, and it has come up in the BDS movement around Palestine, is the issue of strategic targeting, that in other words, it’s not just in general, “Let’s boycott, let’s divest,” it’s how to identify which targets, if you know them down, will actually have an impact on our opponents. And I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with having that discussion because there’s many targets but if you go after all of them, we use up very valuable resources, but there’s certain targets that frankly are more important than others, from the standpoint of crippling the other side. But then there are targets that may not be crippling, but are very important symbolically. For example, Arthur Ashe refusing to play tennis in South Africa, did not in any way cripple the South African economy, but it was nevertheless incredibly important because what it did was to help in a larger global effort to turn South Africa into a pariah state. This is absolutely what the Israelis fear and that’s when they start using that term delegitimation. And on our side, we must be aiming at turning them into a pariah state. They must be completely and totally isolated globally, in the same way that happened in the case of South Africa. That people understand that the litmus test of morality is your stand on South Africa. And the same thing must be the case when we’re dealing with Israel and the occupation. What was interesting about the Arthur Ashe case, if you allow me a second, was that Ashe originally played in South Africa and he was leaned on by Harry Belafonte and others, who said, “This is not what you’re supposed to do,” and he said, “Well, I thought that by a black man playing in South Africa, it would start to change the image.” And Belafonte and others basically had to take him out to the wood-shed and explain it to him that it was not appropriate and that it was not about demonstrating the humanity of people of African descent, it was ultimately about isolating this pariah state. That was point two.
The third is something that really has nothing really to do with BDS but I would argue is incredibly important. And that is that our movement was linked to a face to the South African struggle. That is, most well-known, was the struggle to free Nelson Mandela. The struggle to free Nelson Mandela was ultimately really about putting a face on the South African movement. In the United States and in the West as a whole, those of us of color exist as a brown mass that is indistinguishable. It is just a mass. And what happened with the Nelson Mandela campaign was not simply humanizing, but giving a face to the movement, that people could start to identify, hear the story, and through that, there were other narratives that developed. And I think that this is one of the reasons the global campaign, to free Marwan Barghouti, is very important and is underemphasized, that we really need that campaign not simply to free him, but in order to put a certain face to the Palestinian movement in every day discussion. Whether we’re in Idaho, or Illinois, we have to be able to bring these out. It also is important when you’re linking with campaigns to free political prisoners, it helps to illustrate the repression and barbarism of the other side. And this, I think, is particularly important in the case of Israel. In the case of South Africa, Reagan and Cheney and others, they viewed South Africa as humane and it was a bit easier to convince people of the barbarism of the system. In the case of Israel, particularly given various linkages and the way that the media deals with it, no matter what Israel does that’s inhumane, it is always explained away and part of what we have to do in these campaigns to free political prisoners, is to demonstrate the inhumanity, the barbarism and the repression of the system.
My fourth point is that the development of the Free South Africa movement, which was launched by TransAfrica under the leadership of Randall Robinson, was of great significance because it was a broad organizational form that transcended any one organization or affiliation. What was beautiful about the Free South Africa movement was that one could be aligned with ANC or someone like me who supported the PAC, but there was nevertheless a home. There was a place for common action and activity. There were also those that didn’t support any particular force in South Africa that nevertheless found in Free South Africa movement a home where they could actually continue their work. And I think it was a terrible mistake when TransAfrica dissolved the Free South Africa movement shortly after sanctions were won because the struggle was certainly not over and it was actually entering a very, very complicated period. So those four points again: Linkages with movements on the ground, strategic targeting as well as symbolic targeting, linkages with the campaigns, particularly around political prisoners and their freedom, and the necessity to build a broad movement here in the United States that transcends any organization or affiliation either in the United States or in Palestine. I believe we’re very central to its success.
There’s one final point I want to make, which goes way beyond this, which is that, in the aftermath in the success of the South African movement, in the aftermath in the success in the Eritrean movement, in the aftermath of the peace accords in Northern Ireland, something very bizarre happened, which is that the linkages that existed between the organizations that were leading those freedom struggles and those of us on the ground that were supporting them, were shattered. That the organizations in those particular countries decided, for a variety of reasons, to abandon those relationships in favor of, and I’m being very blunt, cultivating stronger relations with the U.S. establishment. And I think that when we’re thinking about as the movement progresses, this is a very, very serious issue. We’ve seen that obviously in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, but when Palestinians are ultimately victorious, I would argue that this danger will nevertheless re-emerge, but it may look slightly different. And therefore, it’s something that we need to be undergoing a discussion about what to do and how to try to prevent in. In the case of the South Africans, many South African activists in ANC and in some of the allied groups, recognized albeit late, that that was a terrible mistake because it left a very sour taste in the mouths of many people who dedicated an immense amount of time and resources and put their lives on the line in order to support and demonstrate practical solidarity. Thank you very much.
Bill Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941; the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of Solidarity Divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice; and the author of ‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty other myths about unions. Fletcher is a syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator on television, radio and the web. He has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staffperson in the national AFL-CIO.
Philip Farah is a Palestinian Christian born and raised in East Jerusalem. He immigrated to the US in 1978 at the age of 27. He has lived, studied, and worked in several countries in the Middle East. He now works as a natural resources economist and lives in the Washington DC Metro area with his wife and three children. He is a founding member of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace. He has addressed audiences across the U.S. on Middle East peace and justice issues.
Ramah Kudaimi has worked at several grassroots activist organizations including CODEPINK, the Washington Peace Center, and the Arab American Action Network. She has a Master of Arts degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University. Her writing has been published by Al Jazeera English, The Progressive, Truthout, and more.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.