Thursday June 30, 2022

Accepting apartheid

February 16, 2022

For months now, the African Union has been twisting in the wind over the question of granting Israel observer status. In July last year, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat controversially accredited the apartheid state, upsetting the continental organisation’s two-decade-long policy of boycotting the Israeli state and sparking protests from a number of member states led by South Africa and Algeria. The issue was to be put to a vote at the annual Heads of State summit held earlier this week in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

However, despite unconfirmed reports attributed to the Algerian delegation that Mahamat’s decision was set to be reversed, or perhaps because it was going to be, the vote was postponed to next year, which in essence meant his decision will hold at least till then. According to the AU’s newly elected chairperson, Senegalese President Macky Sall, there was fear the issue would split the organisation, which prefers to do things by consensus. The optics were not good. The vote was scheduled just days after Amnesty International, one of the oldest and most credible international human rights organisations, confirmed Israel’s status as an apartheid state, after investigating its treatment of Palestinians both citizens of Israel and those living under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories.

African countries, which had for decades ostracised South Africa for its practice of apartheid against its Black majority and had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli colonial oppression, publicly embracing an apartheid state to preserve dubious unity is clearly a step in the wrong direction.

The Amnesty report cast Mahamat’s original decision in a horrible light. Even worse is the fact that it is not the first report to brand Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as apartheid. In fact, less than three months prior to the AU’s abrupt U-turn, Human Rights Watch, another venerable global human rights institution, had too concluded that Israel was guilty of apartheid.

Defending his decision, Mahamat pointed out that most African countries had recognised Israel and established relations with it, and that a majority had requested such accreditation. He also argued that accrediting Israel would not only be in line with the AU’s consistent call for a two-state solution in Palestine but would also provide it with a means of advocating for Palestinian rights.

The problem with his argument is that it ignores the damaging consequence of his decision – the acceptance of Israel whose founding rationale is, to quote former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not to be “a state of all its citizens… [but] the nation state of the Jewish people”. For the AU to confer legitimacy on an entity that both in declaration and in practice excludes a section of its own population and brutally occupies and steals the land of another, is a betrayal of Africa’s own history of struggle against brutal colonial occupation and dispossession.

Excerpted: ‘The AU should not be legitimising an apartheid state’. Courtesy: