One of the most comprehensive pieces I know of debunking and explaining the motivation behind the modern libel that Israel is an Apartheid state has been posted on a new website called Z word. It was written by 2 South Africans, Rhoda Kadalie & Julia Bertelsmann, who were victims of Apartheid’s racist laws. Rhoda is a human rights activist while Julia is a student at Harvard. The article can be found here: Franchising Apartheid - Why South Africans Push the Analogy
Their detailed analysis raises many interesting points. It explores the disconnect between ordinary South Africa (more of whom support Israel than the Palestinians) and a few rabidly anti-Zionist South Africans that seems to dominate Middle East debates. Why is it, they ask, that these few South Africans, many of whom were involved in fighting against Apartheid, would so happily franchise their struggle to the Palestinians? For example, they explore the motives behind Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils’ ‘Not in My Name Campaign’ in the context of broader minority politics in South Africa.
Kadalie & Bertelsmann don’t pull their punches. They accuse Kasrils and co of having ‘joined a cottage industry that exploits the Israel-apartheid analogy for personal and political gain’ and even argue that ‘their anti-Israel diatribes are sometimes barely distinguishable from antisemitism’. Tutu, Kasrils and Dugard they claim ‘behave as though human rights violations and terror do not matter unless there is an Israeli nearby on whom the crime can be blamed’.
A major part of the piece is also dedicated to explaining why this analogy between present day Israel and Apartheid South Africa is so flawed. The crux of course is, as they point out, that ‘racism and discrimination do not form the rationale for Israel's policies and actions.’ Thus Arab citizens of Israel can vote, serve in the parliament, sit on the same benches as Jews, attended the same schools and restaurants as Jew and so on. My favorite observation they make about the extensive dissimilarities between the 2 situations is that ‘South Africa had a job reservation policy for white people; Israel has adopted pro-Arab affirmative action measures in some sectors.’ An Apartheid state indeed! Israel’s human rights record, although flawed, can hardly be compared with the behavior of her neighbours. On an objective assessment, Israel ranks as the only free country in the Middle East (the study was done by Freedom House). In addition the ANC government’s increasingly belligerent posture towards Israel is examined. They correctly see it as part of a return to the anti-Western fulminations of the Cold War era. As we at IAS have tried to expose on so many occasions, South Africa rarely misses an opportunity, from Iran to neighbouring Zimbabwe, to coddle up with dictators and tyrants who are seen to be fighting against the dominance of the Developed World.
Interestingly the South African Jewish community also comes in for some criticism. The authors feel that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) should have been more strident in opposing the ANC government’s Middle East foreign policy. While this is a position I passionately support, it would be informative to know what exactly they feel the SAJBD should be doing. Perhaps, given Kadalie’s struggle background, she could give us some tips on what can be done to advance a more balanced portrayal of Israel in South Africa.
Despite its criticism, South African Jewry should be open enough to embrace the authors. It is so important to remember that we are not alone and we do still have friends. I hope the article will get widespread coverage throughout the community. With the author’s permission, it should be published in the Jewish Report and distributed in the schools at a minimum.
Update at 2008-03-16
Zev Krengel, Chairman of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, has responded to criticism levelled at his leadership recently published in the above essay. Krengel responds to two main charges - (1) that the SAJBD's "supine" approach to government is indirectly creating an atmosphere where the ANC more readily bashes Israel, and (2) that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in South Africa.
Read the response here: SA Jewish Leader Responds to Criticism