Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a wonderful letter in support of the student activists at U.C. Berkeley who are working to get their student Senate– and beyond that, hopefully, the wealthy University of California system as a whole– to divest from companies that support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Tutu’s letter is important both because of the immense moral weight of his voice and because of its timing. Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Berkeley student Senate will be having a re-vote on the divestment decision, made necessary by the fact that an earlier 16-4 vote in favor of the divestment was vetoed by the Senate’s president.
Tutu’s letter was preceded by this one, also supporting the divestment campaign, that came from Naomi Klein. (Klein’s position on BDS has been evolving in a good direction, I think.)
Tutu wrote in his letter:
- I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.
The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.
Best of luck to all the pro-BDS activists at Berkeley on Wednesday!