THE argument that Israel represents the ‘Jews of South Africa’, often made by members of the SAJBD is as fallacious as the equal assertion that BDS and its leadership represent the diversity of Jewish history and culture, in particular the legacy of Jewish activists during the freedom struggle.
Butler maintains, that “BDS draws on longstanding traditions, some of which were importantly developed in the context of the struggle against apartheid”. While the two struggles may appear similar in mode at the surface, there are significant and important divergences, differences which we disregard at our peril.
For starters, the South African struggle was an epic battle against colonialism and white domination in support of democracy and secularism. Activists such as myself were pitted against a white regime which was theocratic, undemocratic and avowedly Christian in outlook.
Butler goes on to write: “Let us not forget the large numbers of Jews who have fought in social justice struggles, including the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Ruth First, Albie Sachs, Helen Suzman), who contest the radical inequalities that form the basis of Israel’s claim of Jewish sovereignty and its claim to maintain Jewish demographic advantage at all costs.”
The claims made with regard to Goldreich and Helen Suzman are instructive and bear greater consideration. A piece published by Benjamin Pogrund for the Helen Suzman Foundation states: “Use of the apartheid label and repeated references to “genocide” against Palestinians and denunciations of Zionism as “racism” are at best ignorant and naïve and at worst cynical and manipulative.”
Unlike the South African struggle where Jews enjoyed leadership roles, and where persons such as Joe Slovo were in many respects over-represented than other minority groups, both Fatah and Hamas have failed miserably to include Jews in top positions.
Palestinian claims about the alleged “Jewish race” share more in common with the racist objectives and malicious aims of the puritans of the Nationalist Party than the alleged non-racialism of the ANC. To reiterate, nations are not races.
Unlike the Palestinian struggle which lacks any meaningful document such as the Freedom Charter setting out winnable aims and objectives, civil rights for all, the South African situation is rather different, and thus the recipe for achieving a negotiated outcome and peace settlement in our own country was founded upon a winning constitutional formula.
BDS have failed time and again to canvas the opinion of persons either referred to as ‘Jews’ or self-defined as Jewish, in a skewed solidarity politics that ignores the problem of Jewish identity. Butler is only able to espouse her own views because other views and Jewish voices have been silenced by the BDS politburo.
Though Butler’s misguided rhetoric on anti-semitism is to be welcomed, let’s be forthright and stop beating around the bush, anti-semitism is open hostility towards secular Jewish identity.
Attempting to provide a non-violent and anti-racist veneer to a religious struggle in which both sides are informed by religious texts in a battle over the final status of Jerusalem, avoids the open inquiry and evidence-based empirical research that needs to occur if we are understand the many dimensions to the problem.
As a person whose Jewish identity has become the subject of a racist legal inquisition in South Africa at the behest of the perpetrators of apartheid, I therefore do take exception to the banning of opinion and obliteration of independent voices outside of these two diametrically opposed camps, injustice vs injustice.
I can only commend UCT council for not caving into the zealots.
It is not too late, nor out of the bounds of reason, to embrace a secularist and non-partisan ‘third way’, that avoids scapegoating of those who disagree with leaders and pundits on either side, and which avoids sacrificing democratic freedoms, freedom of speech, while protecting constitutional rights in our own country.
NOTE: For the record, DRL a graduate of UCT Center for African Studies, is opposed to the separation barrier, is in favour of a limited arms embargo against the State of Israel, and does not support any cultural or academic boycott targeting persons of Jewish descent on the basis of our alleged history and identity.
As a hostage to the conflict being waged by conservatives on either side, I wish to once again place on record my objections to the war in the Middle East. In particular the internecine, sectarian conflict involving members of various faith groups, who refuse to recognise the rights of secularists such as myself.
The conflict is clearly a long-standing, religious-based conflict involving the deployment of displacement theology by either side, in the battle over identity and the status of Jerusalem, a city regarded as holy by many religions.
I also wish to reiterate my objections to the separation barrier and my rejection of the so-called ‘right of return’ on the basis of my Jewish ancestry, placed on record shortly after the wall was built in 2000, and published prominently in the Israeli media.
As a secular humanistic Jew and subscriber to the principles of the Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment. The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.
As a struggle veteran and war resister, I also wish to remind my fellow South Africans of my objections to the rationalisations of members of the IDF, in a combined ECC-IDF platform on UCT campus during 1987, and also the continued dispute involving my Jewish identity recorded in the decision of a South African court, and involving offensive race testing.
Apartheid, and its sequel in the new South Africa, should never be used as the justification for domination by one group over another, nor should its motivations be forgotten. Dialogue and compromise by all sides, is the only way forward. As objectors on both sides have shown, another reality is possible.
The recent letter from the Dagga Party and BDS refers.
There was a time when the solidarity campaign with Palestine tolerated secular Jews such as myself, who do not ascribe affiliation to any particular branch of Judaism as such. Over the years, as the campaign has grown, we have seen the closing down of debate, which has merely short-circuited around an untested analogy — the wholesale relocation of our nation’s own experience under apartheid — with the dire results, that unlike the anti-apartheid struggle, dissident points of view, divergent opinions and alternative solutions are ignored.
At no point has there been any consultation with those like myself, who require special needs, in particular that our justice system recognise that freedom of religion, is also freedom from religion, the right not to be subjected to laws governing a religion. The short-circuiting of debate on Israel and the Middle East, and the closing down of secular norms and values, has occurred hand in glove with the erosion of civil rights and freedoms in our own country.
I currently face religious and discursive sanctions in the newsroom as a music journalist, in a country which, having miraculously escaped its past under a Christian Theocracy and the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), looks set to repeat its historical failures and mistakes. A disputed decision handed down by a civil court in South Africa as late as 2010, and 16 years after democracy, not only slated the late Robbie Jansen and trashed the findings of the TRC Final Report, but it upheld the supposed right of employers to interrogate, to discipline and to enforce conformity, over those persons, like myself, who may not be members of a major religion per se, but merely secularists.
Despite my insistance that I am a secular humanist and progressive, who subscribes to the principles of secular humanism as outlined by the Society for Humanistic Judaism, I have been turned into a pariah, apostate and heretic by our justice system, which seemingly eschews secular Judaism and thus the roots of secularism, as anathema – outside the health and boundaries of acceptable discourse in the community.
To make matters worse, legal professionals such as Kahanovitz SC and Ashraf Mahomed, President of the Cape Law Society, have turned into religious police, and this conservative backlash against progressive values is increasing, with absurd consequences. None other than Jeremy Acton of the Dagga Party has jumped on the ecclesiastical band wagon, who when he is not campaigning for the abolition of cannabis prohibition in South Africa, finds the time to oppose cannabis research in the Middle East. His views on the subject in his recent letter to you, must therefore be rejected as the work of a hypocrite and opportunist.
Israel is the leading proponent of Medical Dagga in a region, where both homosexuals and drug users are routinely faced with capital punishment. In Syria, the death penalty is meted out for drug use and trafficking by a despotic regime, whose Ba’ath party under Assad bears the exact same Pan Arab flag waved around at BDS meetings. Unlike any of the Arab States, Israel has also turned into a technology leader where Cannabis is concerned.
Unlike some Orthodox Jewish sects, whose members in New York recently blessed the herb as Kosher for Passover, attempts to raise the issue of harm reduction, public health, rational drug use, medical cannabis, and the abolition of dagga laws amongst BDS, is guaranteed to raise the ire of affiliate organisations such as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad). The organisation eschews all forms of inebriation, recreational or otherwise. I do not have to explain to you what this means for your band, associated as it is with recreational drug use, and civil liberties.
The conservative assaults against traditional Khoisan herbs and beverages by religious cops and the vice squad in South Africa, supposedly enforcing the fatwas, edicts and religious strictures issued on a daily basis by BDS and others, have occurred in an atmosphere of intolerance and political inquisition. I have only to refer to the closing down of popular Observatory Jazz Venue Tagores, following a campaign against Jazz music by the Woodstock constabulary who perceive music itself as licentious, since it supposedly is a gateway to drug use.
Chomsky and many musicians and activists like myself, favour a limited sanctions campaign targeting goods produced by Israeli firms actively involved in the occupation. Such a position is both moderate, accurate and reasoned. It gives opportunity to engage both parties at the same time that it places our voices, behind peace and resistance to war on both sides. It also embraces and articulates the bipartisan position of our nation’s founder, the late Nelson Mandela.
“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the 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, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”
Clearly the lesson learnt from South Africa’s bitter and tragic experience under apartheid, in particular its unprecedented resolution, is that until we accepted that the other party was a part of the solution, there could be no solution to the problem. Similarly, unless we recognise the rights of both parties to the conflict, in particular Israel’s right to exist, which includes guarantees of access to Jerusalem and other holy sites in the region, as well as the right of access of all Muslims to Al-Aqsa, there will be no end in sight to to the conflict.
I therefore kindly request that you join solidarity with the global campaign for a secular solution to the problems in the Middle East.
THE HIGH court is allowing 16,000 protesters to gather outside US singer, Pharrell Williams‘ concert in two days. Williams, who recently performed in Tel Aviv, has come under fire from several pro-Palestinian groups for partnering with retailer, Woolworths, accused of trading with the Jewish state. South Africa currently has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and Pharrell Williams’ tour thus has full support of the country’s laws.
The move comes days after a fact-finding mission by opposition leaders, including Mosiuoa Lekota (Cope), Bantu Holomisa, (UDM), Pieter Mulder, (FF+) Kenneth Meshoe (ACDP), and Mangosuthu Buthelezi (IFP) who returned from Israel and the Palestinian territories, after meeting with the Palestinian Authority ambassador to South Africa.
The opposition group believes that Israel is not an apartheid state per se, and supports South Africa’s bipartisan role, drafted by the late Nelson Mandela, in bringing both sides to the negotiation table. The country must rather support peace though negotiations they say.
“I don’t see the signs of apartheid there,” says Lekota, “in Israel today, in the Knesset, their parliament, are sitting Jewish people, both supporting the party in power and other parties, and also sitting there are Palestinians with their representatives, and Muslim elected representatives. We could never sit in the Assembly under apartheid.”
Both Lekota and Holomisa met with their counterparts, leaders of the opposition in the Knesset and the Palestinian Authority. Holomisa, has travelled previously to Ramallah, as a guest of the late Yasser Arafat.
“They indicated their dissatisfaction, for instance, the Israeli flag does not express them. They don’t have equal language rights, the national anthem does not express them, when it comes to land rights, they don’t have equal land rights. Now those elements are there, but to say this is apartheid is a misnomer.” says Lekota.
This view is backed up by Holomisa who concurs: “What we have seen in Israel, we went to hospitals, we saw that Israelis and other communities are treated equally. We also saw in the streets that we don’t see taxi ranks, this one is for Israelis, that one is for Arabs. We also heard from minority MPs in the [Knesset], who say they don’t have access to land, and when we asked this question, they didn’t give us any answers. If Israel was an apartheid state, South Africa, I submit would not have established diplomatic ties with [the country], under the ANC.”
Lekota says he holds the firm views which Mandela taught him. “When we were here under apartheid, we understood from him that it was critical on our part to convince our oppressors that there would be no solution unless there was negotiation between us and them.The situation is not very dissimilar. It is critical to find a counterpart to negotiate with in Israel.”
Both agree with the Palestinian Authority, that the conflict in that part of the world, will never end “as long as USA is the sole mediator of peace”, in order to solve this problem, they would like to see a similar thing, as the team which negotiated in South Africa. But in order for this to happen, “we need to recognise the realities of people who have lived in the area for centuries”.
The predictable anger from the vocal Palestinian lobby on campus looks set to disintegrate into yet another round of name-calling. So far as PSF is concerned, issues in the Middle East should not be debated, Jews must be banned or restricted from holding any opinions not authored by the BDS central committee.
It is not surprising then that some of the basic tenets associated with the campaign are falling apart, since BDS appear to be living in a Cold War time warp, cherry-picking UN resolutions to back up their arguments.
“The official count found 111 nations in favor of repealing the statement and 25 nations, mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists, voting against. Thirteen nations abstained. Seventeen other countries, including Egypt, which recognizes Israel, and Kuwait and China, did not take part in the voting.”
The earlier 1975 resolution 3379 is the basis for several conferences in South Africa, each one arriving at the conclusion that Zionism is Racism and worse, apartheid.
The 1975 resolution is also the basis for a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) research paper reiterating its findings.
No resolution has ever been issued by the UN for any similar form of ethnic nationalism, for example: Kemalism.
FIRST there were the fatwas and pronouncements by Islamic scholars on the status of Woolworths in the global BDS movement. Then well-heeled young Muslim students staged a bizarre flash-mob event, consisting of coordinated dance and movement while shouting Pro-Palestinian slogans. Then the combined sit-ins by SACP and BDS members, and now the latest round involving COSAS and a badly executed pig.
The recent COSAS porker incident, (what about cruelty to animals?) involved a failed attempt to contaminate a “kosher” meat section of an outlet in Sea Point, frequented by Jews, and marks a strange new turn in the campaign.
If anything, COSAS has merely demonstrated the troublesome nature of competing dichotomies in the Middle East.
It is one thing to target so-called ‘Israel Made’ goods, it is quite another thing entirely to black-list Kosher products eaten by Jews, forcing Woolworths to also recall Halaal products. Similar dietary laws apply to both groups and many of the products affected have duel labeling.
WHEN Jean Paul Sartre wrote his seminal work, ‘Anti-Semite and Jew – an exploration of the etiology of hatred’, it was shortly after the liberation of Paris, Sartre had noticed that in discussions about postwar France, “the imminent return of French Jews deported by the Nazis was never mentioned …. Some of the speakers, he guessed, were not pleased by the prospect; others, friends of the Jews, thought it best to he silent. (Neither they nor Sartre knew how many of the deported Jews would never return.) Thinking about these discussions, Sartre decided to write a critique of anti-Semitism. ”1
In critiquing Rebecca Hodes opinion piece on the recent events surrounding the singing of “Dubul’ iJuda/Shoot the Jew”, Wits SRC deputy president Tokelo Nhlapo ignores the problems of stigma raised by Hodes while pursuing an offensive anti-Semitic inquiry on the issue of race identity: Does the Jew exist, and who exactly is a Jew?
“I don’t understand how black people in this country have experienced Jews differently from other whites,” writesNhlapo in the Daily Maverick “Put simply, we experience Jews first as whites, then as Jews. “ he says, defending the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign and its troubling resort to Dubul’ iJuda/Shoot the Jew – merely an “unfortunate” incident which “diverts attention from the real issue at hand: the contention that Israel is a racist, colonial Apartheid state in the name of the Jew.”
Nhlapo could do well to read Sartre,since his work serves as a prelude to the equally troubling question of existence, in this case, the imminent return of the Jews of District Six. A recent exhibition by the South African Jewish Museum paid homage to the contribution of South Africa’s black Jews — the Jews of District Six — expelled from a community which once represented a mosaic of culture and cross-pollination. Rendered all but invisible by the apartheid government, and persecuted today by ideologues like Nhlopo who would have every Jew conform to a normative model of Judaism in which the only Jews with acceptable identities are European, and the only Jews considered in possession of religion are the Orthodox.
The problem of South Africa’s Jewish assimilados, many of whom were assimilated into the coloured community, and who still identify as Jews while practicing a variety of faiths, are not wished away by a simplistic narrative which views the Jew as the oppressor and the Palestinians as the oppressed. It is thus dangerous to make such assumptions and associations, in articulating our history of struggle as a nation by linking with a solidarity campaign that opposes the history of Jews living in Israel, many of whom are as black as Nhlapo, and who are as much a part of African history as black people living in Europe are a part of European history.
Let us not make the further error of forgetting all the Arab Jews, some 50% of Israeli’s, and those Arabian refugees, deported to Israel after 1948 or exiled from North Africa and the Arab States, and Southern Africa’s own Lemba people, a tribal group living in Zimbabwe and Limpopo who identify as Jews.
The ongoing middle east conflict, and its patina of similarity with the South African experience, does not allow for essentialist notions of struggle, and while one may sympathise with the Palestinian cause and the manner in which the quest for identity / self-identity is being raised by those seeking out the holy land as a focus point, can one do so without also posing the equally obnoxious question – do Palestinians exist and who exactly is a Palestinian?
Such inquiries if they do not result in violence because of the ongoing blood libel against Jews by the Christian Church and Islam’s ever-present vendetta against Israel, invariably produce an uncomfortable impasse— the answer usually presented in the form of a composite and patchwork view of idealised historical communities with tribal and religious affiliations to the holy land, all of whom need to be accommodated under a future political dispensation.
My own Jewish bobba, Fanny Katsef, the product of refugees from Eastern Europe spent most of her life escaping the Nazis and “blending in”, classified as white, but passing as coloured. Along with so many working class from Woodstock, Maitland and Salt River, she had both a white card and the card enumerated by people like A Abdurahmen and C Vogel who elaborated coloured identity according to the discourse of fraternization and assimilation deployed by the apartheid government in its pseudo-scientific attempt to remove undesirables from the white race.
Would Nhlapo wish that people chant “Kill the Gogo?” In his reductionist efforts to save the Palestinian struggle and its demand for self-determination and autonomy, the university graduate fails miserably. In not relating the problems presented by competing nationalisms and ethnic identities, the so-called colonial project, Nhlapo merely conveys his own ignorance of the subject matter. When people resort to the self-same logic of every brute who ever wished to persecute a minority group, first, by removing us from history, then by denying our common humanity, can one really blame those “unjust” Jews who support Israel, separating those who seek justice from those who at the face of it, do not, even though their religion may demand it?
Israel was created so that the Jews would no longer be treated as the objects of political intrigue but rather the subject of human rights. If entertaining a world in which “Zionism” exists alongside “Hamasism” makes one a collaborator in Nhlapo’s view, then so be it.
1Michael Walzer, in preface to Anti-Semite and Jew, An exploration of the Etoilogy of Hate, Schocken Books Inc. 1948
The Cape Town World Music Festival (CWM Festival) has begun in the face of a call to boycott the festival. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) has released a statement saying “We have recently learned that the Cape Town World Music Festival has crossed and violated the international-boycott-of-Israel-picket-line …Performing on a platform sponsored by Apartheid South Africa, or with a band from Apartheid South Africa, during the 1980s was to be on the wrong side of history. Today, performing on a platform sponsored by Israel, or with a band from Israel, is choosing to be on the wrong side of history. Be on the right side of history, don’t entertain Apartheid, and don’t collaborate with an Occupation regime. ” You can read the full statement on the website.
Aside from the strange assumption that Apartheid no longer exists in South Africa post-Marikana, and following the failure of the government to adopt recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the unwillingness of the ruling party to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity, one has to question the credibility of the claim that what is occurring in Israel is Apartheid and that merely replicating the anti-Apartheid struggle along with sanctions and boycotts is the correct course of action. (please see my posting on the Apartheid Analogy also Good Jew, Bad Jew and Hadrian’s Flotilla – Zionism and a Free Palestine under scrutiny.)
As a member of ‘Artists against Apartheid’ during the 1980s, I participated in a number of such actions aimed at undermining the power and authority of the Apartheid state. We were guided by the principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter, in particular the promise that the “Doors of Learning and Culture would be opened”, and that all people, regardless of the colour of ones skin would be able to participate in a democratic country. I thus fought against racial segregation in a freedom struggle whose aims and objectives were the creation of a constitutional state with a Bill of Rights.
The Palestinian struggle has yet to produce a Freedom Charter. It has no such democratic goals, and does not aim to accommodate all people regardless of religious and ethnic identity. The illusion of a “Free Palestine” is exactly that, an illusion. It is a beguiling promise of a world free of the conflict that has raged on for the past 64 years, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered in the futile search for a new world order. As much as one wishes the conflict were as simple as the black and white patina of the South African conflict, the truth is rather different. Israel is home to both black and white, Jew and non-Jew, it accommodates Arabs including 1 million Jewish Arabs, it is home to indigenous Jews, as well as Jews from the diaspora. In Israel, 75.4% are Jewish, 16.9% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.7% Druze, while the remaining 4.0% are not classified by religion.
It is easy to forget the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world after 1948 and the issue of Ethiopian Jews (over a quarter of a million of them) and other Africans living in Israel, many of whom have fled their home countries seeking refuge. Israel exists because of ongoing internecine strife in the Arab world, the inability to provide basic human rights, such as gender equality and freedom of sexual orientation. Although 37 000 people have died in Syria over the past year alone, there is no call from BDS for a boycott of Assad’s government. The Palestinian territories on the other hand, have no specific, stand alone civil rights legislation that protect LGBT people from discrimination or harassment. Same-sex acts are ostensibly legal in the West Bank, precisely because of the occupation.
The current dispensation, set in place after the Cold War took its starting point as the resolution of the conflict which began during World War Two. Resolution 242 upon which the current territorial demands of both Israel and Palestine are now based, specifically outlaws the gaining of territory by acts of war and conquest, and yet the Palestinian Struggle, for all intents and purposes, has merely turned into a battle for the conquest and reconquest of territory — current demands by Hamas are for the return of all land in Israel, including Tel Aviv and Haifa in order to recreate the Ottoman Empire, and more specifically to return Jerusalem to Dar al Islam, the Islamic Empire.
Nevertheless, we are told that if we do not support the Palestinian struggle, we are on the wrong side of history. While South Africa struggles to protect the rights of LGBT people in the face of corrective rape, the promise of religious freedom enshrined in the South African constitution has turned into nothing more than an unaffordible and inaccessible dream. One has only to look at the Robbie Jansen Scandal (see here and here) and my 7 year labour discrimination case against an apartheid media company which refused to participate in the TRC and which declined to apologise to the victims and survivors of the apartheid system, to realise that South Africa falls well short of the vision encapsulated by the Freedom Charter. The South African struggle is thus far from over.
NOTE: Medialternatives has proposed a compromise solution called Israelstine. I am also on record as being opposed to the separation barrier, and have actively campaigned for equal rights for Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, as well as being against the War in Gaza. I support UN Resolution 242 and do not support the latest round of claims with regard to the return of land held under the Ottomans.
UPDATE: It appears a redacted version of this letter was published by the Cape Argus, as can be seen from a google search:
The Apartheid analogy is useful in describing what is occurring in Israel today. One cannot remain silent when pictures of Arab children massacred by the IDF find historical resonance in similar pictures taken during our own struggle. The tragic portrait of Hector Peterson is but one example. Unfortunately, like any analogy, the use of an emotive term such as apartheid is open to abuse, the more so when those who deploy the term, move from simple analogy to an outright revision of the historical record.
Blaming Jews for apartheid, like blaming Africans for slavery, is a form of apartheid denial which obliterates the memory of those most affected by the system of race segregation. A system which came about because of racist laws enacted under a Christian government. The role of the Dutch Reformed Church/Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) in the creation of the apartheid system is well documented by scholars and formed part of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Faith Communities hearings into the subject.
If the situation was 100% analogous to the South African situation, and anywhere correct from a semantic and heuristic point of view, both the PLO and Hamas would have a Freedom Charter guaranteeing rights for all, whether Jew or Arab. No such charter exists, instead, both organisations have highly inflammatory founding documents that are a far cry from the civil rights articles formulated in our own country, at Kliptown.
The founding documents of Hamas, for example, call for the subjugation of Jews, the total destruction of the Jewish state, and its replacement by an Islamic Republic. Israel, on the other hand, has an “emergent” constitution which still has a long way to go before it ranks in terms of our own constitution which guarantees human rights for all.
Calling what is happening in Israel and the “occupied territories” a civil rights struggle in the making is thus more accurate than abusing a term which inevitably ends up by denigrating the memory of the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.
Many Jews for instance were active in the civil rights movement, and are vocal supporters of the Communist Party and ANC. Jews were imprisoned alongside Mandela during the Treason Trials and are found on the left as much as the right, as is the case with any religious grouping. Instead of banding around apartheid terminology, we must therefore take care to distinguish the facts on the ground in the Middle East, unpacking what is similar from what is actual reality.
We must also remember Jews are a threatened minority group in South Africa, comprising less than 1% of the population. Despite this, our courts have consistently failed to protect diversity and divergence of opinion within the community (my own problems with Jazz discrimination at an apartheid media company is case in point ) — typically, the corrupt legal system of South Africa can’t be bothered with such details and refuses to recognise the idiosyncracies of the Jewish religion — I am a progressive Jew not an Orthodox Jew.
It is arguable whether or not our own struggle has actually delivered tangible freedom and rights for the black majority as well as the minority of minorities — Progressive Jews. Despite a constitution which ostensibly grants freedom of belief and religion for all, we are lumped into the same category as Zionists and the Ultra-Orthodox. Has apartheid ended? Are we suffering from a collective delusion in forgetting the importance of minority rights?
While the black majority in South Africa has freedom of movement and association and may now purchase land anywhere in the world, no such universal rights exist for Jews. Many of the Arab states for example, forceably expelled their Jewish communities resulting in what is known as the Jewish refugee problem.
Although most “whites” in South Africa trace their descent from Europe, many as former “colonialists”, and Jews as relative newcomers from Eastern Europe were classified “white” under apartheid, this is not the case for Jews from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, Yemen, and the Arab Peninsula where Jewish communities have an entirely different culture and heritage and are not considered European. Apartheid denialists thus seek to diminish the existence of black Jews and the role of assimilated, non-white “whites” in the South African struggle while insisting on the validity of the apartheid race classification system.
Since there are at least a quarter of a million black Ethiopian Jews, and 2.5 million Arab Jews living in Israel, admissions policies which give local communities autonomy in deciding who can and cannot settle in Israel are thus no more racist than similar admissions policies restricting immigration in our own and other countries.
The genocide of European Jews is often used by the right-wing to justify atrocities in the name of religion, undoubtedly Jews as a people have a right to self-determination, the more so in the light of the Holocaust. In contrast, the genocide of the Khoisan by Europeans as well as the Bantu has gone unnoticed in South Africa where whites own more than 60% of the land as a result of the 1913 Land Act. In Israel, the reverse is true and there have been no such race laws, rather expropriations of land in Jerusalem and occupation of land in the disputed territories are the basis for the ongoing conflict over borders since the “Jewish State” has yet to define its boundaries following the 1948 War of Independence.
The historical reality shows less than 30% of the former British Mandate of Palestine, a country created shortly after World War 1, currently under Israeli control, while the remaining 70% including the Kingdom of Jordan is in Arab hands. South Africa has abundant land available for redistribution, while this is not the case in the Levant. Maps show Israel existing historically, on both sides of the Jordan river, thus an entirely different geographic problem prevails.
Many Israelis believe Jordan today, to be the Palestinian homeland, over 40% according to a poll conducted by the Christian Science Monitor. The country has exactly the same flag as the Palestinian flag, with the only real difference being the addition of a white star, denoting the Hashemite monarchy. In 1950 Jordan annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The country is home to some 2.6 million Palestinians and 1.5 million refugees from Palestinian West Bank and is 80% Palestinian Arab. The country later revoked citizenship of its West Bank refugees in order to prevent them from settling, using them as pawns in a power-play over control over precious land and natural resources in the Levant.
At no point has there ever been a separation barrier in South Africa. Apartheid instead used laws to segregate and de-emancipate people of colour. It oppressed black Christians as much as those from other groups who were not members of the NGK . The race-based political system denationalised non-Europeans and created bantustans which allowed Europeans to rule with impunity. This is precisely what the policies of Hamas and the PLO seek to do in their attempt to reclaim the Ottoman Empire (Turkey is a member of the European Union) while delegitimising the state of Israel in order to seek control over 100% of the former British Mandate of Palestine.
Flag of Palestine
How many Palestinian states does the world need? Why are their now three different Palestinian entities – Jordan, Gaza and West Bank? Are we not seeing the tragic result of the United Nation’s sponsored balkanisation of the Middle East?
Unlike the current Palestinian-Israel conflict, the freedom struggle in South Africa aimed to unify all South Africans under a common Bill of Rights. All the land was to be shared by all the people. It sprung into motion upon the motivation for class solidarity and equality for all and was not overly characterized by separatist calls for independence and self-determination by ethnic groups. This is why South Africa now has 11 official languages.
While the adoption of Hebrew as the national language of Israel has overtones of Afrikaner Volkstaat, it is the universal civil rights struggle which is most pertinent to the problem in the Middle East today, not our country’s historical legacy of race laws. In particular it is religion not race which is the political and social determinant underpinning the conflict. As can be expected, Israel remains the sole Jewish state and it is this claim which needs to be examined if we are to understand the root cause of the problem.
Why are there 9 Roman Catholic nations in Europe and South America, 4 Eastern Orthodox and 4 Lutheran in Europe and one Anglican country, the United Kingdom? Why are there 49 Muslim countries in which Muslims are in the majority?
Clearly, it is religious separatism which is the problem in Israel today. Yet calling this separatism, ‘religious apartheid’ results in a strange invective, in which one must undo history, first by denying the Covenant and then forgetting the blood libel against the Jews, who were accused of murdering Jesus Christ during the Middle Ages.
Yes the Jewish religion has retained its tribal identification with the Israelites of the Old Testament and does not proselytise because of the historical journey over the eons in which Christianity and Islam gained the upper hand.
The accusation that Judaism is thus inherently racist, since it generally refuses to induct gentiles should be seen for what it is, the tragic result of ongoing anti-Semitism.
Let’s look at the problem from another angle:
Is it also not the case that those who are not Hebrew-speakers suffer the most from lower status in Israel? An Arabic speaker is more likely to be searched when stopped at a check-point than a Hebrew-speaker.
The Haredim, a particular sect of Rabbinical Judaism involved in a recent controversy surrounding gender segregation on a Jerusalem bus, illustrate the complex problems found in a quixotic nation that is avowedly all about protecting the religious and linguistic rights of its Jewish citizens to the detriment of other groups. While the controversy has called into question Israel’s claim to be a modern democracy, tolerant of diversity and expression, unlike its neighbours Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, where no such freedom exists, the incident has more in common with the civil rights movement than the apartheid struggle.
If the apartheid analogy truly fitted as anything more than a metaphor, one would expect race not religion, (comprising gender and linguistic dimensions) to be the important deciding factor in discrimination, discrimination which, since it is religious in nature, is lawful by any standard. One might as well argue for changes in laws restricting non-Muslim access to Mecca, and yet Muslims are allowed to visit Jerusalem, a city which is holy to all three monotheistic religions.
Has the apartheid label been misappropriated? How useful is the apartheid analogy when one constantly has to qualify it, with other terms that are more applicable to any analysis of the “holy land”, for example, religious apartheid?
As tragic as the 64 year old conflict is, and as terrible as the ongoing violence and aggression by religious fanatics on either side remains, the apartheid label does not serve as anything more than a metaphor, a loose analogy that expresses solidarity with an oppressed people in the face of military aggression.
We must therefore take care to avoid stripping it of its meaning, since doing so, destroys the historical narrative of those who directly experienced the apartheid system in South Africa.