“Each generation, must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it” –Frantz Fanon
For 56 days in July, August and September, New Zealanders were divided in the biggest civil unrest since the 1951 waterfront dispute. It is inconceivable to believe for many, that the cause of unrest was the arrival of the South African Springbok rugby team on the shores of our country. Today, New Zealanders remember the 1980’s protests at a symbolic moment in the history of Aotearoa, a moment where our nation for the very first time, had lost its innocence. Every day the country’s teachers, mothers, students, workers, farmers and many more, answered the call of the boycott movement and took to the streets in response to Apartheid South Africa and the Springbok Rugby tour of New Zealand. Today, that same call has been made by Palestinian civil society, and is heard on a global scale for a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel. We, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), answer this call and stand together in solidarity with the indigenous people of Palestine who are subject to occupation, ethnic cleansing and governed by a South-African-inspired apartheid racist system of dehumanisation.
The integrity and the veracity of this University was recently threatened by the very person who swore to uphold them: AUSA’s president, Arena Williams. Through a concealed and copiously funded trip to the Middle East, Williams accepted an offer to visit Israel. Our AUSA president took a tour of the apartheid state visiting bomb shelters in Sderot, posing for photographs with so-called Israeli peace negotiators and their foreign ministers. While our AUSA president insists that this visit to Israel was done within her own personal capacity, the question still remains: just what message is AUSA sending its students when its president is visiting a country that is facing heated political criticism by academics, lawyers, politicians and student bodies internationally? And what exactly does this trip reflect in regards to AUSA’s policies? In our eyes it reflects a serious biasness for the Israeli view and one that is detrimental to the Palestinian BDS movement. Ignoring the international boycott movement which has been recognised by much of the International community, universities throughout the world, our AUSA president proceeded to visit the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, settlements which have categorised as ‘illegal’ under International law, and even by the United States. While other universities around the world such as the Johannesburg University in South Africa as well as various student unions all across Europe have implemented BDS in their manifestos, our University however continues to betray its own heritage of social justice 31 years ago wherein it stood firm against Apartheid South Africa.
When undertaking her presidency, our AUSA president declared to this University that she has a responsibility to students and as a student organization we have demanded answers. Let us flip the situation: if this article was taking the opposing route and exposing our AUSA president’s recent trip to Palestine that was fully funded by Hamas, it would have provoked serious disapproval if not outrage from particular student political circles. We feel that an example needs to be made out of our current AUSA president to ensure that this indiscretion on her part does not occur again in the near future with anyone who is endeavouring to be president of AUSA. All affiliated clubs on campus must be respected and fully consulted with when such issues arise and especially given that this is such a contentious one. For this we were not.
SJP exists to articulate and represent the aspirations of Palestinians and be a voice for them in an Israeli-dominated media and political environment. We do not see this issue as one sided and defend Palestine with the full force of historical precedenets, truths and international law. Had our AUSA president returned from her trip and spoken on the atrocities commited by Israel, then it could be said that such a trip would have had some fundamental value in the overall picture; however, this organization finds her stance on the plight of the Palestinian people as an insult to us all as well as an insult to the international community of students, lecturers, human rights groups, and broader civil society calling for social justice.
Our AUSA president labelled the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a ‘war’ and gave the illusion that the two opposing sides are standing on an equal footing when it is in fact not equal at all. The technological and military disparity between the two and the political capital that Israel has held historically problematises the use of the term ‘war’ here. If the president claims that isolating Israel achieves little, well then we ask what her trip has achieved? How has she helped to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians? How has failing to describe the settlements in the West Bank as illegal helped Palestinians in their fundamental struggle to be recognised as a people who are facing an occupation? Having support from powerful nations in the EU and the U.S. certainly does not suggest Israel is isolated. It is because Israel can act with impunity that Palestinian civil society has resorted to calling on the international community to apply pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land and to meet its international legal obligations. The international boycotting of Apartheid South Africa was a salient factor in the destruction of its racist segregation system. Our president stated that there are ‘complexities surrounding the conflict’, but painting the current occupation as ‘too complex’ only intentionally obfuscates an issue that is perfectly understandable. This only masks the otherwise visible injustices that Palestinians are facing on a daily basis. Furthermore, it also prevents just solutions which are conveniently in line with the Israeli position. It was disappointing to read all of these misleading statements and more in our AUSA president’s article in Craccum explaining her position. Our president, who should at the very least be maintaining a neutral position on the issue in respect to all groups on campus, has rather published a statement that reads like an Israeli briefing report.
We owe it to ourselves and to our proud nation’s history to stand up and say NO to Israeli apartheid and NO to the normalisation of Israeli occupation. We as a student body must work towards actively implementing BDS through education, action and collaboration. Hasbara trips to the Zionist entity do not fall under any of these categories.
Students for Justice in Palestine.