Lessons from South Africa for the fight against Israeli apartheid

Salim Vally of the Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa (http://psc.za.org/), addressing a meeting on February 7, 2008, part of Toronto's Israeli Apartheid Week (http://www.apartheidweek.org/), draws on the experiences of the South African anti-apartheid movement to inspire the Palestinian anti-apartheid movement. Salim Vally was deeply involved in the South African anti-apartheid movement.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 01/29/2009 - 19:43



Israeli leaders are usually loath to admit that Israel is an apartheid-style state. Yet there have been moments of candor.

IN APRIL 1976, John Vorster, president of the then-racist apartheid regime of South Africa, paid an official state visit to Israel, where he was given the red-carpet treatment.

Israeli television showed him on his first day, visiting the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. At an official state banquet held for Vorster, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin toasted the "ideals shared by Israel and South Africa."

Why was an outspoken member of a Nazi militia in South Africa during the Second World War and a leading member of the party that crafted official apartheid policies in South Africa being feted in Israel?

A statement in the South African government's yearbook made two years after Vorster's visit provides an answer: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples."

These close ties came from the identification that both states had for each other's cause. Both were settler states that claimed to be bringing "civilization" to so-called backward peoples. And both were committed to using any and all means to maintain their regional domination over the "natives" that they had conquered--in South Africa, to create a white state based on the exploitation of Black labor; in Israel, to create an exclusively Jewish state through the systematic removal of the indigenous Palestinian population.

In an excellent two-part article in the Guardian in 2006, Chris McGreal quotes Ronnie Kasrils, then the intelligence minister in the post-apartheid government led by the African National Congress. Kasrils, who is Jewish and had co-authored a petition protesting Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, explained why such a close affinity could develop between the two countries:

Israelis claim that they are the chosen people, the elect of God, and find a biblical justification for their racism and Zionist exclusivity.

This is just like the Afrikaners of apartheid South Africa, who also had the biblical notion that the land was their God-given right. Like the Zionists who claimed that Palestine in the 1940s was "a land without people for a people without land," so the Afrikaner settlers spread the myth that there were no black people in South Africa when they first settled in the 17th century. They conquered by force of arms and terror and the provocation of a series of bloody colonial wars of conquest.

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VORSTER'S VISIT signaled an acceleration of economic, diplomatic and military cooperation between the two countries, a collaboration that already had a lengthy history.

South African Gen. Jan Smuts, who had a close relationship with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizman, Israel's first prime minister, had been instrumental in convincing Britain to sign the Balfour Declaration that agreed to the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." After 1948, South Africa was one of the first countries to recognize Israel.

N. Kirschner, a veteran South African Zionist leader, wrote in 1960 in an Israeli publication: "There exists a bond between Jewish aspirations and the aspirations of the people of South Africa."

That bond was expressed chiefly in growing military and secret nuclear cooperation. Each country shared its intelligence and counterinsurgency techniques with the other, and South Africa purchased arms from Israel. Israel purchased nuclear materials from South African in order to develop its secret weapons program, and in return, Israel provided scientific and technical assistance to help South African build its nuclear bombs.

Hundreds of white South Africans graduated from Israeli military training schools. "It is a clear and open secret," wrote an Israeli journalist in 1976, "that in army camps, one can find Israeli officers in not insignificant numbers who are busy teaching white soldiers to fight black terrorists, with methods imported from Israel."

The parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa are striking. In South Africa, the white colonial settler minority conquered the Black majority, forcing them into Bantustans--so-called independent African homelands--that covered only 13 percent of the country. This allowed the whites to declare South Africa a white country.

Blacks, who outnumbered whites by 4-to-1, became the cheap labor that built South Africa's economy, but they couldn't be citizens.

Likewise, Theodore Herzl, known as the father of Zionism, sold the Jewish state to its potential imperial backers as "an outpost of civilization against barbarism."

Variations on statements such as this one from Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department, can be found scattered throughout the writings of the founders of the state of Israel: "There is no room for both peoples together in this country...There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries. To transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe should be left."

These principles guided the Zionist armies and paramilitary gangs that used massacres and terror to drive 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 in order to create the state of Israel, and again led to the expulsion of 325,000 Palestinians from their land after the 1967 war.

These are not old, outdated views, but the deeply held conviction of leading Zionists today. Listen to the ravings of Israeli Professor Arnon Soffer, head of the Israel Defense Force's National Defense College, speaking to the Jerusalem Post in 2004 about Israel's unilateral pullout from Gaza:

We will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won't allow their husbands to shoot Qassams, because they will know what's waiting for them.

Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful.

It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day...If we don't kill, we will cease to exist...Unilateral separation doesn't guarantee "peace"--it guarantees a Zionist-Jewish state with an overwhelming majority of Jews.

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THERE ARE some differences between South African and Israeli apartheid.

Israel's relationship to Arab labor was different than that of the South Africa rulers to the Black majority. Rather than exploiting cheap Arab labor, the early Zionist settlers in Palestine built their state-in-embryo by excluding Arab labor, under the slogan "Jewish Land, Jewish Labor."

After the formation of the state of Israel, Arabs did become a source of cheap labor, but Israel has never been dependent on Arab labor--whereas in South Africa, strikes threatened to bring down apartheid because Black labor was its lifeblood.

Yet the similarities are more striking than the differences. If apartheid South Africa declared itself a white state by creating the fiction of Black "homelands" and implementing pass laws to severely restrict the movement of Africans, in Israel, an exclusively Jewish state was creating by expelling the majority of Palestinians from their lands and legally barring their return.

A battery of laws were put in place after 1948 that grant the state legal authority, in various ways, to seize Arab farms, orchards, homes and businesses if the owners are absent for any length of time, or for "security" reasons. At the same time, any Jew in the world was granted the legal right to enter Israel and become a citizen.

Today, Israel treats the Arab minority within its current borders as third-class citizens (behind the Mizrahim, or the Middle Eastern, as opposed to European, Jews). Palestinians receive lower wages and education funding, face routine harassment and police brutality, and are subjected to high incarceration rates; they are restricted from owning land, and are victims of land seizures and expulsions that continue to this day.

A paper on Israel's Arab minority by Eric Gust of the Center for Contemporary Conflict explained that "advancement of Arabs within Israeli society, whether in the demographic, economic, political or educational sectors, is viewed as occurring at the expense of the Jewish population, and could be perceived as a threat to the Jewish nature of Israel."

Israel is also an apartheid state in form, if not in legal terms, because it has turned the lands it occupied in 1967--the West Bank and Gaza--into South African-style Bantustans, whose inhabitants face economic blockade and routine assaults from the Israeli army and settlers, and whose towns and refugee camps are cut off from each other by an apartheid wall and a system of checkpoints, while special roads crisscross the West Bank that can only be used by Jews.

Any "two-state" solution that Israel accepts will merely put a legal stamp on this fact.

Israeli leaders are usually loath to publicly admit that Israel is an apartheid-style state. Yet there are moments of candor.

Former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force, Gen. Rafael Eitan, speaking at a closed meeting of Israeli professionals in 1983, gave a presentation that considered South Africa's Bantustan policy as a possible solution to the Palestinian problem.

Last November, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a statement that if Israel was unable to implement a two-state solution, it would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

He had warned four years earlier: "We don't have unlimited time. More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against 'occupation,' in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle--and ultimately, a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state."

Israel leaders look with horror on the prospect of the struggle for a democratic, secular Palestine--a state for all its inhabitants--because the whole basis of the existence of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state would be destroyed.

For that same reason, those of us who oppose Zionism should welcome such a struggle with open arms.

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Columnist: Paul D'Amato

Paul D'Amato Paul D'Amato is managing editor of the International Socialist Review [3] and author of The Meaning of Marxism [4], a lively and accessible introduction to the ideas of Karl Marx and the tradition he founded.

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  1. [1] http://socialistworker.org/department/History-and-Traditions/Paul-D%27Amato
  2. [2] http://socialistworker.org/issue/689
  3. [3] http://www.isreview.org
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Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 01/29/2009 - 20:17


The following is a statement released by Australia's socialist youth organisation, Resistance.

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral" — Paulo Freire.

When Israel's launched its latest barbarous assault on the Gaza Strip on December 27, Resistance activists from across the country didn't wash their hands of the conflict but instead stood firmly and proudly on the side of the oppressed, the Palestinians.

We stood with the Palestinians, by engaging in what we believe the best type of solidarity — attempting to build the biggest and broadest mass demonstrations to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.

We organised to place pressure on Israel to stop its brutal assault, to build maximum pressure on the Australian government to reverse its support for Israel's war and to call on the Australian government to cut ties with the apartheid state of Israel.

Resistance helped to initiate and build these demonstrations across the country, part of a worldwide movement that successfully exposed Israel's war crimes to the world.

A "ceasefire" has been announced and Israeli troops have withdrawn from Gaza, but Resistance still believes it is an imperative for progressive activists to continue building a movement in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

We believe the "ceasefire" to be a sham. The Israeli military themselves have been clear on this.

For instance, Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi stated, "even now, after the ceasefire, the army is prepared to respond with all the means at its disposal".

Furthermore, the total blockade imposed by Israel remains. Food, aid, medicine and other materials cannot enter into Gaza. In this way, Israel has turned Gaza into the world's biggest concentration camp.

Poverty, which before the blockade was bad, has become even worse.

The Israeli blockade has led to severe water supply shortages. Forty percent of Gazans only have access to water three times a week. The near destruction of the electricity supply and sewerage system in Gaza are other consequences of Israel's terrorism.

Resistance believes that Israel's economic blockade is a declaration of war, so to talk of "peace" or a "ceasefire" while the blockade remains is meaningless.

According to a January 21 Associated Press report:

"International aid agencies warned on Tuesday that Gaza was at risk of a 'total collapse' of its infrastructure if Israeli blockade measures continued."

All those opposed to Israel's military assault, must also oppose Israel's blockade and seek to apply maximum pressure on the Israeli government to end it. People in Gaza will continue to perish, and in higher numbers, unless the siege is immediately lifted.

Resistance will also continue to work to isolate Israel internationally. Primarily we seek to do this by contributing to the burgeoning, worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

This campaign has the support of over 180 Palestinian organisations and unions. Other supporters include the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

We will be taking the campaign onto campuses, encouraging academics and universities to join the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The president of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees put the case for an academic boycott saying: "We urge academics around the world to intensify their boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and to isolate the Israeli academy in international forums, associations of academics, and other international venues.

Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the entrenched system of oppression practiced by the Israeli state and their silence at this critical moment is only the most vociferous indicator of this complicity."

Some commentators have sought to portray all those who opposed Israel's war as supporting Hamas. We reject this view.

However, we believe that the democratic will of the Palestinians must be respected and that Hamas should be recognised as the legitimate and democratically elected government of Palestine.

We also support the right of Palestinians to resist the occupation, a right recognised under international law.

The Geneva Declaration on Terrorism states: "peoples who are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination have the right to use force to accomplish their objectives within the framework of international humanitarian law. Such lawful uses of force must not be confused with acts of international terrorism."

Resistance remains firmly committed to helping the Palestinians in their fight "against colonial domination and alien occupation" and believes all those who are committed to justice should join us in the struggle to free Palestine.