On Tuesday, February 25th, the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Undergraduate Student Council voted on a divestment resolution authored by UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine.
The resolution, which called upon the UC Regents to halt the investment of student tuition funds into five U.S. companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation—Caterpillar, Cemex, CRH, GE, and Hewlett Packard—was ultimately voted down. The public comments portion of the evening, during which students were allowed to voice their opinions on the resolution, lasted nine hours. During this period, one technique utilized by anti-divestment students was the repetition of talking points. In particular, a statement from South African politician Reverend Kenneth Meshoe that categorically rejected the pro-Palestinian activists’ descriptions of Israel as an apartheid state was read several times. Reverend Meshoe’s statement featured the following observations:
As a black South African under apartheid, I, among other things, could not vote, nor could I freely travel the landscape of South Africa. No person of color could hold high government office. The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation. People of color had inferior hospitals, medical care and education. If a white doctor was willing to take a black patient, he had to examine him or her in a back room or some other hidden place. In my numerous visits to Israel, I did not see any of the above.
Ultimately, Reverend Meshoe claims that defining Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as apartheid “trivializes the meaning of the word apartheid.” While this might seem to be a powerful refutation, there are several important issues which need to be addressed.
In the first place, Reverend Meshoe and his party warrant a closer look. Reverend Meshoe is a member of the African Christian Democratic Party, a party which holds only three seats in the South African National Assembly, as opposed to the African National Congress, which holds 264 seats and is currently the governing party of South Africa.
This is especially important to remember in light of the fact that the ANC officially endorsed the BDS movement on December 21st, 2012. At the time, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete claimed that the situation faced by Palestinians in Israel is “far worse than apartheid South Africa”.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also referred to the treatment of Palestinians as apartheid , and though Nelson Mandela never made this comparison explicitly, Alon Liel, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, claims that Mandela believed the freedom of black South Africans from apartheid “will not really be complete until our brothers the Palestinians, who fought with us and supported us, will achieve their freedom’”  (this also calls into question Netanyahu’s conspicuous absence from Mandela’s funeral).
While it may not have been backed by every South African politician, endorsement of both the BDS movement and its central identification of Israeli treatment of Palestinians as apartheid (bdsmovement.net clearly defines BDS as “a movement against Israeli Apartheid”) constitutes mainstream political protocol within South Africa. What’s also interesting is that, while anti-divestment students are understandably eager to use the Reverend Meshoe’s statement, they never offer any details about the exact nature of his political work. Presumably this is because anti-divestment activists are primarily interested in Reverend Meshoe’s status as a black South African who lived under apartheid
Nevertheless, Reverend Meshoe’s party website reveals that The Christian Democratic Party, despite what its name may suggest, is actually a conservative party which advocates for the reduction of condom distribution as a means of curbing the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. As one of their press releases puts it, “The experience of other countries indicates that condom distribution alone actually encourages a culture of casual sex and risky sexual behavior”. Another press release reflects endorsement for a statement which seemed to imply that government grants for struggling parents could actually encourage the sexual abuse of children because such grants lead to the devaluation of parenthood’s intrinsic worth. Now, of course, the beliefs of Reverend Meshoe and his party are not a crime. But it’s worth considering: had anti-divestment students dug a little further, would they have really thought such an individual to be the best candidate to use in the defense of another nation’s progressivism?
Secondly, and most importantly, the Reverend’s remarks stand in stark contrast to the reality of life on the ground for Palestinians living in occupied Palestine. For instance, as the Seattle Mideast Awareness campaign describes:
Four million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories lack the right to vote for the government that controls their lives through a military occupation. In addition to controlling the borders, air space, water, tax revenues, and other vital matters pertaining to the Occupied Territories, Israel alone issues the identity cards that determine the ability of Palestinians to work and their freedom of movement .
A recent Amnesty International report states that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip “traps over 1.6 million Palestinian civilians. Many are cut off from jobs, medical care, and educational opportunities. 70% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip now depend on humanitarian aid as a result .”
There are segregated buses  and roads  within the West Bank. Palestinian freedom of movement is greatly impeded by the existence of hundreds of checkpoints, which often make something as simple as going to work or school impossible and cause degradation and even death. According to ifamericansknew.org, in some cases “Palestinian men and boys are held in metal cages or required to strip to their underwear, in many cases, they are blindfolded and their hands are tied with plastic ties that cut deeply into their wrists.” Furthermore, refusing Palestinians the right to pass through a checkpoint for medical purposes is all too frequent, a practice which has resulted in 46 women having to give birth at checkpoints and lead to at least 83 deaths . The infamous Separation Wall, which upon completion will measure around 403 miles and is around 25 feet high , was created with the purpose of restricting Palestinian movement into Israel  and, according to the International Court of Justice, “severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination and is therefore a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right .”
The human rights center Adalah has compiled an exhaustive list of over fifty laws that discriminate against Palestinians “in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures .” However one chooses to label them, Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians clearly constitute systemic oppression, separation and the denial of basic human rights. The Reverend’s refutation of this, though unfortunate, is by no means damning. It is merely another instance of how he is in the minority among his coevals, many of whom also lived under the same state sanctioned segregation and view the plight of the Palestinians as all too familiar.
A version of this article originally appeared here.