IT WAS South Africa’s Hendrick Verwoerd who first resorted to the apartheid analogy in 1961 when he dismissed an Israeli vote against South African apartheid at the United Nations, throwing blame and deflecting attention by 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)
Subsequent assertions emerged during the late 1980s alongside claims of a conspiracy between Pretoria and Tel Aviv to share nuclear secrets, however it is more likely that the regime first gained its technologies from the USA and France, when the Safari 1 reactor was built in cooperation with the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program run by the US DOE in the 1950s and ’60s, only later resorting to cooperation with Israel’s Menachem Begin in order to refuel reactors and share nuclear technology as sanctions kicked in.
The analogy received renewed impetus after the release of Nelson Mandela. At the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People in 1997, Mandela famously said: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world”.
The quote is often redacted to exclude other conflicts, and should be seen within the context of his earlier 1990 statement: “Support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders“.
The primary objection to the apartheid analogy which may be raised is that Nations are not races. The result is what philosopher Gilbert Ryle referred to as a ‘category error’. A semantic or ontological error in which ‘things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category’. While ethnicity plays a part, there is no scientific nor any legal basis for making such a claim.(2) (3).
Attributing race to Jews in order to make a false comparison with apartheid is racism and anti-Semitism, and meets definitions of anti-Semitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
A 2020 academic paper on the question Is Replacement Theology Anti-Semitic? begins by defining anti-Semitism as “normally understood as prejudice or hatred against Jewish people as a race” before concluding that since Christianity doesn’t perceive the Jews as a race, Christian theology cannot, by definition be anti-Semitic.
Advocates of the analogy often refer to the infamous 1975 UN resolution 3379 ‘equating Zionism with racism‘ which was overturned by an overwhelming majority of nations in 1991. The same assertion was voted out of the final text of the controversial 2001 Durban Conference on Racism and the text reaffirmed at Durban II.
A highly flawed 2017 UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report examining the policies of Israel within the context of a UN definition of apartheid, admits the error of race, proceeds to supply “reasons for the error of comparison” and states, there is ‘no single, authoritative, global definition of any race’ at the same time that it attributes race characteristics to Jews for the purposes of analysis.
The ESCWA report was withdrawn by UN Secretary-general Guterres in 2017, while the Goldstone report was similarly retracted in part. The same category error appears in an equally flawed 2009 local HSRC report written around the time of Durban II.
While the policies of Israel may, for many of its critics, be reprehensible and morally indefensible, the root cause is not race, (a loaded term) but rather the confluence of religion and nationality and in particular, religious schism which results in nationality on the basis of religion, a fact common to many Middle Eastern countries.