THE BLOG
26/06/2018 11:04 SAST | Updated 26/06/2018 11:06 SAST

'Dear Shashi Naidoo: Like You, I Too Share The Desire For Peace'

'The vile and vicious attacks directed at you were to serve as a warning to other public figures holding dissenting views.'

Shashi Naidoo.
John Liebenberg/ Sunday Times/ Getty Images
Shashi Naidoo.

Dear Shashi,

Like many in the Indian diaspora, I have closely followed the recent public and media storm surrounding your recent comments. We in the diaspora take great pride when our daughters and sons distinguish themselves and contribute to the academic, cultural and social life of their adopted country. Having attained so much at such a young age, you have become a source of hope and inspiration for many in the Indian-South African community.

It is therefore unbearably distressing for many of us to see you threatened and bullied for merely expressing your opinion. The hysteria was not restricted to an inappropriate expression, for which you have since apologised, but for holding a contrarian view to crowd sentiment. The vile and vicious attacks directed at you were to serve as a warning to other public figures holding dissenting views.

You, personally, chose to make peace with the bullies and intimidators, and I will not judge you for that.

But I was certainly dismayed seeing you share the stage with anti-Israel boycott group BDS South Africa, a group that publicly campaigns for the economic and cultural boycott of Israel and covertly works to destroy the Jewish state. You talked about undergoing "re-education", something authoritarian regimes employ to exterminate dissent and intellectual diversity. You reassuringly talked about "promoting peace", but did so from the BDS platform that has ideological and operational ties to terror groups such as Hamas and PFLP.

Needless to say, the incident gives antisemites yet another opportunity to defame and demonise Israel, a country that many of us in India and the diaspora have come to hold in great esteem.

Having survived the biggest genocide in human history that saw the murder of six-million European Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime, Jews decided to create a nation based on the values of democracy, rule of law and equality for men and women — regardless of their faith and ethnicity. Today, over a million Arabs enjoy equal citizenship rights in Israel and religious freedom unheard of in the Muslim world. Arab Israelis participate in all areas of Israeli society and hold prominent places in academics, media, military and political.

Given this shared heritage of struggle, it will be nothing short of a betrayal if Indian diaspora or Indian South Africans failed to stand with their Jewish sisters and brothers – at a time when antisemitism rears its ugly heads in South Africa and elsewhere.

Israel absorbed wave after wave of immigration, including a million of Jews driven out of the Arab lands soon after the creation of Israel in 1948. Today, Israel is home to some 80,000 Jews of Indian origin. Indian Jews are well-integrated and have excelled in many areas of Israeli society. They serve gallantly in the Israel Defence Force and bring glory to the country in sports. An IDF soldier of Indian origin, Barak Degorker, was killed by Hamas mortar fire during the Gaza conflict of 2014. Mumbai-born Sarah Avraham became Israel's 2012 women's Thai boxing champion.

Today, Israel and India are cooperating in areas ranging from space exploration to water conservation. Israeli universities are training the next generation of India technology and business leaders — with special programmes aimed at Indian women entrepreneurs.

India-based agriculture project run by Israel's MASHAV, the government-run agency for development cooperation, is the largest of its kind, with some 30 agriculture centres located across the country, bringing latest farming techniques and innovation to rural India. These agri-tech centres also host experts and farmers from African countries interested in benefitting from this pioneering project.

If the BDS Movement has its way, all these avenues of cooperation and advancement will be scrapped for good.

South African Jews and Indians had stood shoulder to shoulder in the struggle to end apartheid. The civil disobedience movement that freed Indian from British imperialism was first perfected on the streets of Durban. Given this shared heritage of struggle, it will be nothing short of a betrayal if Indian diaspora or Indian South Africans failed to stand with their Jewish sisters and brothers — at a time when antisemitism rears its ugly heads in South Africa and elsewhere.

Like you, I too share the desire for peace. Despite my religious Hindu upbringing, I share a common belief with practising Jews. I believe, one day, hostilities against the Jews and the Jewish state will cease. Arab nations will come to realise that it is they who have suffered the most from the incitement and violence aimed at the Jewish state and will focus on rebuilding their societies and tackling real issues.

Vijeta Uniyal is an Indian journalist based in Germany.