Anglican Church of Southern Africa declares Israel an apartheid state

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  October 5, 2023

Archbishop says failing to recognize ground reality as apartheid would render complicity in continuing crimes against Palestinians.

South Africans of faith must acknowledge that Israeli policies towards Palestinians are a carbon copy of the apartheid-era policies in South Africa or risk becoming complicit in the subjugation of Palestinians, the leader of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) has said.

In a statement released on 29 September, Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, said that the Church had recognized Israel as an apartheid state.

“As people of faith who are distressed by the pain of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – and who long for security and a just peace for both Palestine and Israel – we can no longer ignore the realities on the ground,” Makgoba said.

“Our hearts ache for our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, whose numbers include Anglicans but are rapidly declining. People of all faiths in South Africa have both a deep understanding of what it is to live under oppression,” he continued, before comparing Israel to South Africa under apartheid rule.

“When black South Africans who have lived under apartheid visit Israel, the parallels to apartheid are impossible to ignore. If we stand by and keep quiet, we will be complicit in the continuing oppression of the Palestinians,” Makgoba added.

While the South African Zionist Organization lashed out at the resolution, with its chairperson calling the resolution “appalling” and “antisemitic”, other civil society groups like the Palestine Solidarity Committee and South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Coalition (BDS), warmly welcomed the decision.

The Anglican Church said its stance was not an attack on Jewish people, “but to the policies of Israelis’ governments, which are becoming ever more extreme”.

Established in 2005, the BDS movement seeks to apply financial pressure on Israel to address its violation of Palestinians’ rights, a tactic the Israeli government has actively sought to discredit. The movement is inspired by the international pressure placed on South Africa’s apartheid regime.

‘Particularly impressive’

South Africa’s BDS Coalition described the Anglican Church’s resolution as “particularly impressive”.

“We salute the Anglican Church for not only calling out Israeli apartheid but also taking action. The Church will be joining millions of people around the world in a global anti-apartheid movement and participating in the international anti-apartheid conference for Palestine to be held in South Africa, now scheduled for May 2024,” the coalition said in a statement.

“The Anglican Church of Southern Africa is standing on the right side of history, fully supporting the Palestinian struggle for equality, human rights and justice,” the coalition added.

The church’s stance comes just over a year after South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, described Israel as an apartheid state, invoking parallels with the experience of Black South Africans prior to democracy in 1994.

The UN’s special rapporteurs and several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have concluded that Israel practices apartheid.

As Israeli slides further to the right and settler attacks on Palestinian life and land begin to escalate, activists are concerned that not enough is being done by civil society to address the institutional racism meted out by Israel.

In late September, Jeff Wright, an ordained minister of the US-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), called on American Churches to take a stance on Israel’s apartheid policies. Wright noted that in 1979, several leaders of American churches formed the Churches’ Emergency Committee on South Africa “to press for comprehensive government economic sanctions and the boycott and divestiture of US companies that refused to end their work in South Africa.”

“Now is the time for leaders of US denominations to join together – as they did during the movement for civil rights in the 1960s, the Vietnam War in the early 1970s and then again in the 1980s – to raise their collective moral voice and chart a campaign to oppose Israel’s settler colonial apartheid,” Wright added.