South Africa is considering imposing economic and cultural sanctions on Israel as part of the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The country’s Minister of Arts and Culture announced at a conference in Pretoria last week that the government is seeking to increase support for the dispossessed Palestinian people.
“We want to step up our support of the Palestinians and are investigating a number of peaceful ways to upgrade this support. We have no problem with supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel,” Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile told a local newspaper.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has long supported Palestinian independence due to their experience of life under apartheid.
Mashatile also announced a cultural agreement between South Africa and Palestine. He said the commitment was important to the Palestinian cause was particularly strong “because we count the people of Palestine among those patriots who stood by us in our struggle for national liberation.”
The BDS campaign, which began in 2005, aims to create pressure on Israel by calling for economic and cultural sanctions against the country.
It demands an end to Israel’s occupation of all Arab lands as well as recognition of the rights of Palestinians inside the Occupied Territories.
Omar Barghouti, human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, warmly welcomed the announcement.
“Mashatile’s public embracing of BDS indicates that the South African government is seriously considering imposing sanctions on Israel as a result of its intensifying destruction of Palestinian society and denial of basic Palestinian rights,” he told Al-Akhbar.
“By imposing meaningful sanctions against Israel, South Africa would establish itself as a world leader in upholding international law and holding to account states that are gravely violating it,” he added.
A 2009 Stop the Wall campaign highlighted the involvement of South African businesses and government ministries in Israeli projects and partnerships that expressly violate international law and Palestinian rights.
Many of these dealings are prohibited by the South African constitution, which emphasizes the country’s firm commitment to human rights, domestically and on the international stage.
Muhammed Desai, Coordinator for the BDS campaign in South Africa, hailed the announcement as a significant step forward.
“It is great, it is in the direction we think the South African government is going to be moving towards,” he told Al-Akhbar.
The minister did not divulge exactly what sanctions South Africa was considering, but Desai believes it will focus initially on economic sanctions, with cultural sanctions following later.
“I hope there will be a broad based boycott on Israel but specifically I think government imposed sanctions on issues like the military,” Desai said
“We have known for many years now that the South African government has an unsaid policy of not supplying or buying Israeli weapons but now it would become official government policy.”
Asad Ghsoub, from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon, said the announcement could be a major turning point in the campaign to end the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.
“It’s a great boost for the BDS campaign, and at same time not surprising as the South African people know what apartheid is,” he said.
“I believe this would be the first major non-Middle Eastern state to take out sanctions against Israel and would set a precedent. It will encourage others to follow suit and put Arab governments to shame.
If the sanctions are comprehensive and serious it could be the start of something big,” he added.
Should South Africa move to impose sanctions on Israel, it would represent a significant blow to the Jewish state.
South Africa is a country of growing international influence, and forms part of the BRICS bloc of emerging powers unaligned with the West, along with Brazil, Russia, India and China.
While Israel enjoys unwavering support in the West, it may face increasing pressure as emerging powers transform symbolic forms of support to the Palestinian people into concrete action.