Daphna asked me to speak because I grew up in apartheid South Africa and she wondered whether there were lessons from the experience of the ending of apartheid which could be applicable to the Palestine Israeli situation.
It set me thinking both about the similarities between apartheid South Africa and the differences and about whether there are lessons from that time for the Palestinians today. I say Palestinians because they are the people who need self-determination. The Israeli Jews according to the polls are like all populations secure in their privilege, satisfied with the status quo and see no reason to forego any of their privileges , privileges which now extend to most of the Jews who live outside Israel. However the majority of Jews who support Israel and the majority of Israeli Jews, while happy to bask in their superiority to the indigenous Palestinians whom they characterize variously as Arabs, terrorists, problem, infiltrators (p59) deny that Israel merits the description an apartheid state.
The similarities are glaring. In terms of historical legitimacy young white South Africans were taught that South Africa was discovered by Jan Van Riebeek in 1652, a white Dutchman . The Africans were not indigenous and in fact conquered the land as they descended down the continent. Thus we were encouraged to believe in the legitimacy of white settlement. Those who were not white were excluded from consideration
Young Israelis are encouraged to believe that the land they live in was settled for generations by Jews . This is the land from which Jews were expelled 2000 years ago and which is part of the covenant between Jews and God. Therefore those living on the land when Jews began to settle from the early 20th Century are excluded. In the event young Israelis are taught that they are also excluded by their own action in not agreeing to partition and in fleeing from the advancing Israeli army. The young Israelis are not taught that the Jews in mandate Palestine as it then was and Israel as it later became were a minority and that the Palestinians were the settled majority community, ethnically cleansed by the Israeli army. The majority of the Jews present at the time of the partition resolution were in fact migrants. In both cases the authenticity and agency of the indigenous population is denied.
So how does it play out in practice
Excluded people have no voice in decisions affecting their lives and when the exclusion is predicated on fixed characteristics which do not apply to others with different characteristics then it can only be called racist. Definition: Racism is power +privilege leading to discrimination and oppression. Both states fit the bill admirably
Other areas of similarity
People in SA registered according to their ethnicity, Black white, Coloured, Indian, Chinese. Rights conferred according to racial characteristics with white dominant and entitled to full rights of citizenship. However there were exceptions namely Japanese who were because of their foreign economic status classed as honorary whites. In the same way migrants from South America are somehow discovered to be honorary Jews.
Israeli ID cards carry the bearer’s ethnicity, the main ones being Jew, Arab, Druze, Circassian. And West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have id cards in different colours as have those excluded from 1967 Israel. Full civil and political rights accorded to those with Jewish IDs
Control of movement in South Africa related to pass law a paper document. Electronic controls in Palestine/Israel far more effective. Palestinians under occupation have no freedom of movement. Israelis do. The occupied territories are completely fragmented and no movement is possible without the agreement of the occupying forces. And electronic control is far more effective than paper control.
In South Africa areas were zoned for different races. And once it was decided that an area was a white area, people of colour were removed. Israel demolishes houses built without permits and defines land according to the need of the Jewish population. While it invests money in Jewish areas it denies investment in the non Jewish areas in 1948 Israel and f course expropriates the best land in the OT for Jewish only settlement
Then there is the so called self government in the West Bank and Gaza. I compare these places to Bantustans cos in the end Israel maintains control over these areas. The population have no freedom of ,movement ; are registered under Israeli population registration; use Israeli currency and their rights are subject to Israeli diktat. Pretty much like the Bantustans which had the semblance of control in that they had flags and borders but were completely dependent on South Africa. But there is one difference that is seldom mentioned and that is that South Africa invested in those lands. Israel on the other hand uses the occupied territories to dump its own products on a captive population. Not only that but they are guilty of resource theft, land water stone quarries and with respect to Gaza gas. Meanwhile the Palestinians act as Israel’s police force in the West Bank which undermines their credibility with their people
Israel states that they are not an apartheid state cos Palestinians vote but the fact that Palestinians vote in Israeli elections is irrelevant cos if your vote cannot change anything it is but a token exercise as the Palestinians realised in the last election when many chose not to vote.
Nation state law actually publicly validates Israel’s racism making Jews world wide the preferred citizens while finally jettisoning any idea of equality between Jews and non Jews in 1948 Israel. So while Israel can say it is not an apartheid state the evidence belies this and it is easily challenged.
People look at the fact that South Africa went from an apartheid state to a democratic one and hope the same can be said about Israel which I believe is one reason why I was asked to talk today. But the situation then was very different. The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc had just imploded. Things were changing very fast and in spite of the use of the word ‘terrorist’ to describe Mandela by both Thatcher and Reagan, it became clear that economically South Africa was in trouble and had to make concessions. Not only that but its army had lost the battle of Cuido Carnivale in Angola against the combined might of Cubans and Angolans. Change was needed and so real negotiations began.
But let us also remember the culture of the time. The full throated support for Black South Africans was ever present. Think the huge Free Nelson Mandela concerts; think the support coming from the Black Caucus in the US; think the full throated response from the Christian churches and the world council of Churches; think of the response by the UN; think o the boycott against playing in sun city; the cricket and rugby boycotts and look at how the lovies are queueing up to play in Israel .
Now consider the response to the appalling treatment of the Palestinians. There is no Free Marwan Bharghouti concert; the UN rejects the Virginia Tilley Richard Falk report on Israel’s apartheid and the Black caucus quickly follows Israel’s lead by denying Palestinian reality. The EU says nothing about the massacres on Gaza’s borders but hurries to condemn the rockets from the Gaza prison. Does not even give the prisoners the recognition that this was a response to provocation. The lovies sign letters condemning boycotts ( which they support against Brunei over stoning of gays and adulterers) and tell the world they are supporting peace while providing cover for the Gaza snipers. Eurovision plays in Tel Aviv and Fifa allows football teams from illegal settlements to play in Israel’s league and continues to accept Israel as a full member in spite of efforts by activists.
Sometimes I wish that Israeli’s would be more like South Africans. At least white South Africans were honest. They justified apartheid. Israel imposes apartheid and in many cases far worse but denies the reality. I think this is called having your cake and eating it.
The Israeli state and its supporters have recognized that they cannot defend their gross human rights abuses so instead they use other tactics. They invest judiciously in education institutes, political parties etc so that if push comes to shove they can threaten to withdraw their money in order to sustain support for the country. This is quite an effective tool. Then of course there is the judicious use of the canard of antisemitism to silence support for Palestinians. In spite of the first amendment numerous States in America have prohibited BDS on the false grounds that it is Antisemitic. Each challenge in the courts so far has been won on the grounds that it is against the first amendment, but it costs money and time. And of course there is the ihra 7 of 11 of whose examples are about Israel not Jews and it acts as a tool of intimidation against support for Palestinian rights which seems to be its objective. The mainstream media as a rule follow the Israeli Point of View rather than cope with the avalanche of outrage that would be generated were they to offer a Palestinian perspective.
However sometimes hubris has an outcome not necessarily desired. Israel is now clearly poster child for the extreme right and we have to differentiate between the supremacist nationalistic ideology of the extreme right and what the conservatives call hate. The murderous violence of the extreme right targets Jews as facilitators of the destruction of the white race whereas free floating hate can encompass all sorts of people and therefore is not part of a recognized ideology. The Right wing tend to concentrate on what they call ‘hate’ which means they can talk about Muslims left wingers and others as hate mongers. But in actual fact if we look at the ideology of the white supremacists, they use the Jew as the instigator of migration and liberalization which weakens the white race. They are the people willing to kill Jews but envious of Israeli actions against Arabs
Israel has made common cause with those who promote the white supremacist ideology including Trump, Orban, Jair Bolsonaro and therefore is showing its true colours. This means Jews will in the end have to realise that they can either support an Israel which acts against Jewish interests outside Israei or join with those who act for human rights, which are indivisible. If that comes about then Israel will be isolated together with the racists whose cause it has made its own.
The other point to note in terms of Israel’s hubris is that it has now destroyed its protective shield namely the possibility of a Palestinian state. This will take some time to sink in but when it does then the only call that will have any purchase will be the same one that was delivered in South Africa namely one person one vote in a true democracy.
Diana Neslen, Jews for Justice for Palestinians