This essay draws parallels between themovement for justice in Palestine and the South African experience during the anti-apartheid struggle, engaging critically with supporters and practitioners of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Notwithstanding their very different contexts, the author argues that in the South African case, the decision to broaden the struggle to all opponents of apartheid, thereby transcending the racialism normalized by the very structure of the state, enabled the movement to gain the momentum necessary to bring down the apartheid regime. Neither armed resistance nor boycott alone was sufficient to win the battle without the added component of mass-based direct action. The essay challenges the activists of the contemporary Palestinian movement to redefine their strategy and create their own South African moment. The text is based on the author’s remarks as discussant at a talk by BDS cofounder Omar Barghouti, held at Columbia University on 2 December 2014.
Mahmood Mamdani is a professor at Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala, Uganda, and Columbia University in New York City.