S. Africa Jewish leaders slam campaign to free Palestinian prisoners

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — The South African Zionist Federation condemned an international campaign launched in Cape Town to free Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Launched late last month by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years of a 27-year imprisonment by the apartheid government, the Free Marwan Barghouti campaign’s support committee includes five Nobel Peace laureates, among them the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

 The South African Zionist Federation, or SAZF, said in a statement that Barghouti had been jailed for terrorism and the murder of Israeli civilians and it was an insult to compare him to leaders like Mandela, the daily Cape Times reported.

“Barghouti is not a political prisoner but a terrorist guilty of multiple crimes against humanity,” the SAZF said. “As a leader of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, he was responsible for dozens of terrorist acts over a number of years.”

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, and Kathrada, who was incarcerated with Mandela on Robben Island, visited Mandela’s former cell to mark the launch.

Kathrada expressed the wish that the campaign would “surpass the Release Mandela campaign.”

“Just as apartheid South Africa was isolated, we want Israel to be isolated from the civil world. That is what we aim to do,” he said.

Kathrada, who spent a week in the Palestinian territories earlier this year, said that “in some ways [the situation] was worse than apartheid.”

Muhammed Desai, spokesman for the South Africa BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) campaign, said the SAZF was not qualified to talk about the anti-apartheid movement as it had officially supported the apartheid regime.

“The federation was on the wrong side of history when it supported apartheid South Africa,” Desai said. “It’s a pity it is now, again, on the wrong side of history by supporting apartheid Israel.”

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