South African church leaders endorse Israeli Apartheid Week

Christian leaders in South Africa have thrown their full support behind Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a global campaign to educate and mobilize the public against Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

On Sunday, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu reiterated his support for IAW and for the Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.

“People who are denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings,” Tutu said in a statement.

“I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under Apartheid,” Tutu added.

“Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”

Recalling the role of BDS in ending apartheid in South Africa, Tutu said the “same issues of inequality and injustice today motivate the divestment movement trying to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory and the unfair and prejudicial treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them.”

“I associate myself with the objectives of the 10th international Israeli Apartheid Week.”

Church backing

Tutu’s backing reflects much broader support among South African Christian leaders.

“We urge churches to campaign for greater awareness on all Palestinian struggles in general and the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular,” the South African Council of Churches said in the concluding statement of its conference last month.

“We also request churches to dedicate Sunday services on 16 March during the upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week campaign to reflect and pray for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.”

The statement urged “all parties concerned to work towards a just peace and reiterated our solidarity and support for all those working towards this goal.”

The campaign group BDS South Africa published several video statements from South African church leaders.


In the video at the top of this post, Reverend Ziphozihle Siwa, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and president of the South African Council of Churches said, “Yes I am in full support of the Israeli Apartheid Week campaign” and “our conference last year did endorse BDS.”

Siwa spoke of his own experience visiting Palestine: “It was very traumatizing to see the type of restrictions and land invasions where the land has been taken away from the people for settlements.”

Siwa affirmed that Israel’s abuses were “even more” than what South Africans experienced under apartheid. “I think they are very brutal.”

Similarities “clear”

Reverend Dr. Moss Nthla, pastor of the Ebenezer Bible Church and General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa related similar “traumatic” experiences visiting Palestine: “I had to relive the experiences I had when I was in South Africa.”

“Many Christians around the world, including in South Africa, are not sufficiently informed about what is going on in the Middle East and what Israel is doing to Palestinians. Israeli Apartheid Week is a good opportunity to raise awareness,” he explained.

“From my own experience and many of us who’ve been in the struggle against apartheid, the similarities are as clear as anything – there’s no other way to describe what we’ve seen in Israel.

“I have spoken to many Jewish people in this country who’ve said to me ‘what Israel is doing is not comparable to apartheid.’ And I’ve said to them, ‘I am a Black South African and you are a white South African. Between you and I, who do you think would be the best one to tell whether or not what’s going on in Israel is apartheid?”

In another video, Reverend Pieter Grove, vice chair of the Cape Synod of the United Reformed Church in Southern Africa observed, “In my opinion the situation in Israel/Palestine is worse than it was in apartheid South Africa.”

Paying a price for criticism

Reverend Dr. Frank Chikane, president of Apostolic Faith Mission International, and vice president of the South African Council of Churches said that after he had witnessed the situation firsthand, “I made a statement and I paid a price for it.”

“Because once you say ‘what I saw there is worse than what I experienced in the apartheid setting,’ people thought, ‘no, you are against the Israelis or the Jews.’”

“I love the Jews and the Palestinians alike,” Chikane said. “When I look at what happens I look at it from the perspective of justice.”


Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.