South African ties with Israel: A Blot on Freedom Struggle against Apartheid

Will South Africa ever again accept racism as a political formula for constructing a state? “Never again” is the emphatic and resounding cry from the icon of the anti-apartheid struggle, Nelson Mandela. From the release of imprisoned leaders of the freedom movement; the return of exiled members of the struggle to the historic first ever democratic elections which marked the dawn of a new era, South Africa has decisively been forging ahead to build a society free of racism.

Yet it appears that those who claim gate-keeping roles of the SA Jewish community are hyper sensitive whenever members of the government raise objections against similar and in many instances, worst racist practices in Israel. The irony is that since the demise of apartheid, it appears that those who were soaked in the privileges accorded exclusively to “whites”, as indeed is the case in Israel which reserves rights for Jews only, have suddenly lost their memories!

This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa. While apartheid reigned, only brave and courageous individuals from the privileged white minority took up the cudgels to resist racism alongside the indigenous majority. In similar vein, many brave Jews in Israel have opted to contest Israeli apartheid. Their fate, having to put up with smears and defamation such as “self-hating Jews” is also not any different from the nasty insults experienced by whites who positioned themselves within the liberation camps.

This explains too the malicious abuse directed against Jimmy Carter. His Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has faced severe criticism from pro-Israeli apologists for daring to address many sensitive political issues which they would prefer to keep out of the public domain. And as is the wont of those whose unflinching support for unjust causes blinds them to the ugly realities emanating from apartheid policies, they find it easier to throw abuse instead of challenging facts.

Saree Makdisi, professor of English literature at UCLA, at a recent conference on “Israel and the Apartheid Analogy” observed that Carter’s book confirms there are indeed two separate road systems: wide and well-lit for Jews only, donkey trails interrupted by more than 500 roadblocks for Palestinians. Every Palestinian town is encircled by blockades. There are indeed two separate legal and administrative systems. The separation wall literally makes apartheid concrete!

According to free-lance writer Jane Adas, at a similar event under the theme “Challenging Israeli Apartheid”, Prof. Joseph Massad of Columbia University, author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question, posited that all Israel asks of the Palestinians is that they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a racist state. Zionism has always offered some Palestinians financial benefits if they accept this proposition and some in the PLO and PA have done so. Those who resist, as Hamas is doing, are penalized by international isolation and economic strangulation, supplemented by bombing and raids.

This is the tragic status quo. Massad’s explanation is that Israel feels it needs to be racist based on three premises: Jews are always in danger in the world and are safe only in a Jewish state; Jews are the carriers of Western civilization against Oriental terrorism and barbarism; and God gave this land to Jews to safeguard them from Gentiles, who hate them –” a proposition upheld even by secular Jews such as David Ben-Gurion and Christians like Bill Clinton.

These are the type of arguments made in defense of Israeli policies which resonated with the Afrikaner establishment in SA then. The question is why has the ANC-led government –” with a proud tradition and legacy of fighting racism –” bought into such irrational logic? In recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a “sovereign state”, it in effect affirms its so-called “special needs” whereby it justifies racism propped up by racist laws.

Apartheid rationale paved the way to legislate racial entitlement for the white minority. This resulted in statutory acts which legalized racism and sanctioned discrimination. Some key acts with horrendous consequences for the oppressed masses of SA were: Population Registration, Group Areas, Separate Amenities, Section 10 Urban Areas Consolidation Act, Homeland Government Act, etc.

Yet, despite the parallels and ties with SA apartheid being widely researched and documented, it appears that the ANC’s commitment to local Zionist lobbies seems to reflect a degree of amnesia regarding its abhorrence for racism. Maintaining diplomatic ties with Israel is itself reflective of policies conflicting with a human rights culture which cannot explain the demolition of 18,000 Palestinian homes or the uprooting of more than a million Palestinian olive and fruit trees.

It’s not surprising therefore that Jeff Halper; coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) has characterized Israel today as an ethnocracy rather than a democracy. Its control by an ethnic group also explains why 93 percent of land within Israel is forbidden to non-Jewish Israeli citizens. How on earth can SA accord such a rogue state the privilege of flying its flag in Pretoria, the capital of a newly liberated country after decades of battle against notorious racism which is alive and kicking in Israel?