IN1961, the South African prime minister and architect of South Africa’s apartheid policies, Hendrik Verwoerd, was reported to have dismissed an Israeli vote against South African apartheid at the United Nations, saying, “Israel is not consistent in its new anti-apartheid attitude … they took Israel away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” (1)
His successor John Vorster, one of the leaders of the Nazi affiliated Grey Shirts movement, also maintained the same view throwing blame whenever Israel called into question South Africa’s policies towards its black citizens and threatening Jews living in the country with retaliation.
In essence the apartheid analogy may be shown to have its origin in white South African kragdadigheid, and nationalist politicians and their self-serving justifications for unequal land distribution and race segregation at home by reference to the Post-War situation in the Middle East.
It is worth considering that while the conception of race and ethnicity delineated the apartheid regime and its attempts at partition via the creation of the so-called black bantustans, the plans for partition of Jerusalem and the emergence of a semblance of autonomy on the West Bank and to some extant, independence in Gaza have all arisen at the behest of international accords under Oslo. With the full participation of the nascent Arab nationalist movement, in other words Fatah.
In 1979, the Palestinian sociologist Elia Zureik argued that while not de jure an apartheid state, Israeli society was characterized by a latent form of apartheid. Over the years, the assertion that what is occurring in Israel is a type of apartheid have grown as has the belief that a 1975 UN resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism, is still in force.
It needs to be stated, after the end of the Cold War, the UN general assembly issued a resolution 46/86, (adopted on 16 December 1991), reversing its earlier resolution. Thus in 1991 “the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly … to revoke the bitterly contested statement it approved in 1975 that said: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
Which makes the suppression of an interview with a spokesperson for the Israeli blue and white party on SABC, all the more poignant. During the interview (subsequently removed) the member of the Knesset made the following observation: ‘If you believe in the two-state solution, there is no apartheid in Israel as such, but if you are looking for a one state solution, yes, there is apartheid, since the West Bank is currently excluded from the Knesset, while Gaza is a separate state.’
Just how complex the situation is, can be seen by the position of Ofer Cassif, a controversial Jewish MP on the Arab list.
Cassif opposes Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement that led to the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel.
“Zionism as a whole, in practice if not in theory, supports Jewish supremacy,” he says. “I am against any kind of ethnic or national supremacy, I am against Jewish supremacy just like I am against white supremacy, just like I am against Arab supremacy.”
How unfair the situation inside the West Bank, has become may be seen in a presentation by two former Israeli diplomats, showing areas under Palestinian autonomous rule and those purportedly under IDF Military rule. A Swiss cheese situation that has arisen because of the widely held view articulated by former PM Benjamin Netanyahu that a completely independent West Bank would ‘represent a third Palestinian State alongside Jordan and Gaza.’
In 2011 I asked a delegation of Palestinian doctors, attending a health conference, whether or not a binational state solution like that of Belgium which has two distinct ethnic groups, the Flemish and Walloons, could be a solution. Their answer was no. Both parties desire completely separate states, or should one say, separate conceptions of what a state ought to be?
It is more than a little ironic, that while a new Israeli government coalition is being formed, which includes both the far right, and members of the Unified Arab List in other words, Arab Israeli citizens, Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch has been referring to the unrest surrounding the Sheik Jarra neighbourhood of Jerusalem (which escalated into the incursions on the Temple Mount, and the recent war with Gaza) as a conflict occurring in a ‘mixed race’ area. (2)
It is unfortunate that the race typology deployed by both analysts and activists is overwhelmingly imposed from outside, rather than being the direct consequence of internal Israeli policy, lending credence to those who defend the status quo.
Local activists and would-be prosecutors of what can only be termed a’ religious’ Inquisition such as Ronnie Kasrils and Jessie Duarte et al, and even members of our judiciary, appear to want to suppress any view which does not abide by the hardline Hamas position, which demands the ‘annihilation of Israel in a final battle’.
Kasrils claims to be an atheist and ‘man of science’, and yet his writings on the subject are anything but scientific.
The Human Rights Watch report for instance, follows the exact same logic as an earlier disputed report issued by UN agency, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) which similarly imposed race categories on the conflict in order to meet legal definitions of apartheid. And likewise a 300-page report commissioned by a government agency, the South African Human Sciences Research Council. In short nations are not races. There is no plural in race.
South Africa itself, has discriminatory laws geared towards undoing its own racist legacy, and thus practices so-called positive discrimination. Instead of maintaining a charade of independence all the former ‘homelands’ were reincorporated into the country after 1994.
One would probably have the exact same difficulties attempting to start a Jewish Stetl in Saudi Arabia, and we may as well mention there already exists a Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which is a federal subject of Russia.
Internationally accepted definitions of antisemitism include, hostility toward Jewish secular identity, holding all Jews responsible for the actions of the State of Israel, and denying the right of Israel to exist as a country.
If you are a doctor supplying a diagnosis, then one expects at very least, the diagnosis to be informed by a scientific framework, that excludes unproven assumptions. In short, we should not be guessing at what the demands and positions of either side are to the conflict, but rather demanding free and open debate in which all parties may express their views.
Whether or not what is occurring is de facto apartheid (if not de jure apartheid) is extremely important in arriving at a common position and hopefully a solution, one that protects the rights of all involved.
A common misconception however that non-Jews are prevented from owning land in Israel proper has been thoroughly debunked. Less apparent is whether the fact that the country styles itself as a majority “Jewish state” has the perverse consequence of discrimination against other religious minorities.
So far as this writer is concerned, a secular Middle East road-map would be far preferable.
(1) I have been unable to independently verify the Johnathon Pollard quote commonly attributed to Verwoerd. From an online search, Verwoerd probably said something very similar in regard to separate development.
(2) See Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein statement slamming the organisation’s handling of Israel