Thursday, August 22, 2019

“There will come in Israel a turning point”: F.W. de Klerk receives honorary Haifa degree

By Beth Staton - May 29, 2014
Section: [Main News]

F.W. de Klerk shaking hands with Nelson Mandela.
From commentators and activists, it is a charge that’s met with scorn and ugly accusations. From John Kerry, it prompted denial and outrage. But when a warning of apartheid comes from the president who released Nelson Mandela and moved to dismantle South Africa’s racist regime, will the Israeli establishment finally take it seriously?
Although F.W. de Klerk called it “unfair” to say apartheid exists in Israel today, in a Tuesday interview with Israeli channel 2 TV he placed the Jewish state at a grim crossroads. “There will come in Israel a turning point,” he said,. “If the main obstacles at the moment which exist to a successful two-state solution are not removed, the two-state solution will become impossible." 
Such a state would not necessarily be akin to South Africa of the past, but the risks are very clear. “Will everybody have full political rights? Will everybody enjoy their full human rights?” De Klerk asked. “If they will, it's not an apartheid state."
F.W. de Klerk had a conservative reputation for much of his political career in apartheid-era South Africa – a period of history that some, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, say is comparable to modern-day Israel and Palestine. But after coming to power in 1989, de Klerk lifted bans on political parties, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, and released its members from prison. That paved the way for a long process of negotiations and the first universal elections in South Africa, after which de Klerk took the position of deputy Prime Minister in Mandela’s unity government.
De Klerk’s comments came as he visited Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University – a decision that was not in itself without controversy. In the run up to the ceremony, Palestinian citizens of Israel called on de Klerk to refuse the doctorate in protest against the state’s “racist” policies.  
In a call-out posted to Facebook, Jehad Abu Raya, a Palestinian activist based near Haifa, wrote that de Klerk’s acceptance of the PhD would “legitimise the apartheid regime which governs Palestine” – a system which “kills, suppresses and restricts freedoms,” and carries out “arrests, demolitions of homes, and the confiscation of lands.”
During the last month, the University of Haifa has come under fire for suppressing commemoration of the Nakba, by cancelling an event and suspending two of its student organisers. allegedly after pressure from right-wing groups. Tareq Yassin, the head of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Al-Jabhah) student group,  and Ahmad Masalha, of the Abnaa el-Balad student club, were allowed back to classes after a court appeal and outcry from academics from all over Israel. 
In a statement following the incident, the Al-Jabhah students’ organisation said “our feeling is that little by little we are returning to the period of military rule, and from the most unexpected place - academia.”
Amos Shapira, the President of the University of Haifa, said in a press release that the De Klerk’s “constant pursuit of equality, pluralism and coexistence between all peoples” were values entrenched in the University of Haifa’s ethos – and which made him “worthy of the highest honour the University awards.” 


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