“One of the biggest lies about Israel is that Israel is an apartheid state,” said Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, a Christian minister and a member of South Africa’s parliament.
On Nov. 17, Meshoe (pronounced “meh-shway”) made this case in a dynamic address to approximately 400 people at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts — an address temporarily interrupted by a tornado warning that sent everyone into the basement for a short time.
“We have the Bible because of the Jewish people. There’s no Christianity without Judaism,” Meshoe further said. “All the black people [who were] denied privileges in the past should relate to Jews more than anyone else.”
Meshoe built his talk to a great extent around chapter four of the Bible’s Book of Esther. Mordechai instructs Queen Esther to speak to the Persian king on behalf of the Jews who have been sentenced to die by Haman’s plot.
Meshoe described Esther as making an excuse to dismiss the task of approaching the king. “[Anyone who] enters the king’s presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law for him, that he be put to death” (Esther 4:11).
Mordechai answered, “[I]f you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:14).
Just as Esther had an excuse, Meshoe said that Christians have excuses, but ignorance is no excuse for knowing the truth that Israel is not an apartheid state.
Moreover, “God is going to save our Jewish brothers. If we don’t stand up for justice, God will stand up with someone else,” he said.
Meshoe described seven of the old South Africa’s apartheid (racial separation and segregation) laws enacted and enforced during the period 1948 to 1994, and he pointed out that Israel has none of them.
“Google or visit Israel to see if their laws are apartheid. It’s an insult to say apartheid. It minimizes the pain of apartheid,” said Meshoe.
One apartheid law forbade different races to marry each other. Another prohibited sexual relations between a white man and black woman, called the Immorality Amendment Act.
Another was the Population Registration Act, whereupon every person’s race was recorded for family posterity. If a semi-dark-skinned girl was born to a white couple, that girl was separated from her parents. Families were torn apart because of color, Meshoe said.
The Group Alias Act physically separated residential areas by color. In addition, a law established black homelands to justify apartheid and people were thus denied South African passports.
Meshoe recounted an incident where he was detained at Heathrow Airport because his nationality was undetermined, when in fact Meshoe was born in South Africa’s capitol, Pretoria.
Another apartheid law was the Natives Act. Black people had to carry identification with them at all times. If blacks were found without their documents, it was a criminal offense. If a black person wanted to visit another suburb, he or she needed official permission.
Another law was that of The Restriction of Separate Amenities. There was forced segregation in all public places.
During apartheid, stores had separate entrances for whites and blacks. “I’ve been to stores in Israel and never saw such a thing,” Meshoe said.
In fact, Meshoe said, “We’ve visited Israel and seen everyone together, Jew, non-Jew, black, white. For them in Israel, it was just normal.”
Meshoe also pointed out that the current Miss Israel is a black Ethiopian, Yityish Aynaw. “In [apartheid] South Africa, you could never compete against a white person. It was a crime,” he said.
He added, “There were separate sports facilities” for the races. Boxing was prohibited between races because no one could imagine a black man hitting a white man, he said.
Such laws and the attitudes behind them led to personal humiliations for many black South Africans. Meshoe recalled an incident where “My own father was kicked by an 8-year-old white boy, and my father could only respond, ‘Little boss it is hurting me.’”
Meshoe denounced the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). He pointed out that many components of laptop computers and cell phones were made in Israel. “Will you boycott your cell phones and your laptops?” he asked.
Meshoe proclaimed to Jews, “We commit ourselves to you. We love you. If we perish, I will perish, but I will not betray the truth and betray you. You are part of us. Your enemies are our enemies.”
At the end of his address, Meshoe invited all Jews present in the audience onto the stage. With approximately 20 Jews on stage, Meshoe personally apologized on behalf of all Christians for the ignorance and perpetuation of lies against the Jews and Israel.
The attending Jews included Peggy Shapiro, the Deerfield, Ill.-based Midwest community coordinator for the national pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which was a co-sponsor of the event and was bringing Meshoe and his wife Lydia to the U.S. for a national speaking tour.
Shapiro told the audience that she is the child of Holocaust survivors and said that if more Christians then had the attitudes and beliefs expressed at this event, the Holocaust might not have happened.
The host of the event, as well as the other co-sponsor, was the World Outreach and Bible Training Center, a Milwaukee Christian organization led by Pastors Melva and Ervin Henderson. Among the organizations this group supports as part of its national missions, according to its website, is Christians United for Israel.
Meshoe, 59, is pastor of the Hope of Glory Tabernacle and president of the African Christian Democratic Party. He was a member of the South African National Parliament from 1994 to June 2013.
Joshua Becker is a Spanish teacher for Shorewood Public Schools and a freelance writer.