Boycott won’t help
IT IS a pity an organisation such as the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) could be prevented from attending a seminar in Israel (South Africans withdraw from Israeli conference, Weekend Argus, June 26).
South African civil society groups have great expertise and experience of working in contested societies. The historical experience of those groups in bringing about a negotiated settlement would be incredibly valuable in helping to facilitate an end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
A central lesson of the South African transition is the importance of bringing people of different political and ideological persuasions together in order that they might reach a common understanding. An approach that set out to divide and separate people, and prevent them from talking to each other, could never have achieved that result.
Dictating who South African civil society groups should (or should not) meet with would seem to be at odds with the experience of our own transition. Surely one of the great freedoms inherent in our constitution is the right to meet with any group to share and exchange views and experiences. To limit such freedom is equivalent to censorship – no different in many respects to the damaging decisions that the SABC has recently taken on what South Africans should be allowed to see and hear. Quite rightly civil society in South Africa has condemned the goings on at the SABC. Because we take seriously the freedoms afforded in the constitution the Institute of Race Relations has decided not to participate in boycotts that seek to undermine the free flow of ideas and information between different groups. In our analysis the boycott approach deepens tensions while offering no possibility of finding a resolution to the crises in the broader Israeli/Palestinian region.
We remain open to working with any Israeli or Palestinian group which might find some advantage in learning from our South African experience. In time our approach may help to ensure that the people in that volatile region may also come to share completely in the bounty of freedoms that we enjoy in South Africa.