Defending Apartheid: Then in South Africa, now in Palestine

Israel/Palestine
on 17 Comments

This past May, in a relatively banal column touting the necessity of an impossible “two-state solution” former Ha’aretz editor-in-chief David Landau commented on the “specious comparison” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made between a potential Israeli future to South African apartheid:

This resort to apartheid infuriates the majority of Israelis and Israel-lovers, including those in the peace camp, and one can readily understand why. Apartheid was based on racism; Israeli Jews are not racist. They may occupy, persecute and discriminate Palestinians, but they act out of misguided patriotism and a hundred years of bloody conflict. Not out of racism.

His claim that because “Israeli Jews are not racist,” and therefore Israel can’t possibly be deemed a “apartheid” state, not only misunderstands the actual definition of apartheid, which isn’t merely race-based discrimination and oppression. It also mirrors precisely the arguments made by defenders of South African apartheid in opposition to calls for equal human and civil rights.

Zionism’s defenders mirror apartheid’s apologists

Beyond the shared “promised land” and “chosen people” rhetoric that has inspired both the Afrikaner and Zionist ideologies of racial, religious, and ethnic supremacy, so has that of land redemption through settler-colonialism and transplanting indigenous populations. The connective tissue between apartheid and Zionism is thick, and not only in that both European colonial ideologies were officially institutionalized and implemented against native peoples as government policy in 1948.

Historian Donald Akenson has written, “The very spine of Afrikaner history (no less than the historical sense of the Hebrew scriptures upon which it is based) involves the winning of ‘the Land’ from alien, and indeed, evil forces.”

One can easily see a corollary in the words of David Ben-Gurion, written in a 1937 letter to his son, Amos. Palestine, he wrote, “contains vast colonization potential” for Jewish settlement to exploit. Moreover, he declared, “What we really want is not that the land remain whole and unified. What we want is that the whole and unified land be Jewish. A unified Eretz Israel would be no source of satisfaction for me – if it were Arab.” (emphasis in original)

This past June, settler leader Dani Dayan argued in the New York Times that, as summarized by David Samel, “Israel retain control of ‘Judea and Samaria,’ that it continue to exercise military rule over millions of stateless Palestinians, but that it loosen its stranglehold by making concerted efforts to make Palestinians happier despite the permanent loss of freedom, equality in the land of their birth, and justice under international law.”

Dayan’s essay calls for what is essentially, in Samel’s words, “window dressing of reduced restrictions on Palestinians” in order to “keep the natives happy.” Just like his more “liberal” counterparts like David Landau on the west side of the Green Line, Dayan insists, “we settlers were never driven — except for fringe elements — by bigotry, hate or racism.”

This argument effectively relies on the disingenuous presumption that the actual victims of an exclusivist, 19th century European ideology – the colonized indigenous population – are merely incidental to the ideology itself. That is, as Landau wrote, “misguided patriotism and a hundred years of bloody conflict” are really to blame for the oppression, discrimination and violence against Palestinians, not the racist obligations of Zionism.

In October 1964, Foreign Affairs published the lengthy essay, “In Defense of Apartheid,” by Charles A. W. Manning. Not only did Manning accuse outside meddlers and finger-waggers of refusing to acknowledge South Africa’s right to exist as an apartheid state, he also justified its racist policies as “a heritage from a complicated past.”

Quoting approvingly from the 1954 Tomlinson Commission, Manning wrote that while “a continuation of the policy of integration would intensify racial friction and animosity… the only alternative is to promote the establishment of separate communities in their own separate territories where each will have the fullest opportunity for self-expression and development.”

Two states for two peoples, indeed.

In the face of international opprobrium, apartheid is “the philosophy of patriots,” Manning explained, “a remedial treatment for a state of things deriving from the past.” He added that apartheid is a matter of “nationalism, rather than racialism.”

It is easy for the foreigner to deride a nationalism which he does not share; but nowhere in human history has nationalism ever been destroyed by foreign scorn. Admittedly, Afrikaner nationalism is a form of collective selfishness; but to say this is simply to say that it is an authentic case of nationalism. For what is nationalism anywhere if not collective self-love? What underlies apartheid is at bottom an attitude not toward the black man, but toward the forefathers-and the future-of the Afrikaner people.

Manning continued:

Deplore the white man’s collective self-concern, and you may equally well damn every other example of nationalism, white or black. It is absurd to assume that nationalism is nice, or nasty, according to its color.

Manning bemoaned that, as a result of misunderstanding the necessity and, yes, benevolence of apartheid, even South Africa’s best friends were beginning to abandon it. “Israel finds it necessary to ignore the analogy between South Africa’s predicament and her own,” he lamented.

Still, Israel maintained diplomatic relations with South Africa into 1987 and was one of the last countries to join the international boycott campaign.

‘National suicide’

In 2012, Israel’s High Court upheld the state’s explicitly discriminatory “Citizenship and Entry” law, which, as Ben White has explained, “places severe restrictions on the ability of Palestinian citizens of Israel to live with spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as from so-called ‘enemy states’ (defined as Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq).” The ruling stated that “Palestinians who gain Israeli citizenship through marriage pose a security threat.”

Writing in Al Jazeera, following the decision, White elaborated:

In the majority opinion, Justice Asher Grunis wrote that “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide”, a term often invoked by those worrying about what realising Palestinian rights would mean for Israel’s Jewish majority. This same phrase was invoked by the Interior Minister Eli Yishai, while coalition chair and Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin applauded the High Court judges for understanding, as he put it, that “human rights cannot jeopardize the State”.

A particularly instructive reaction came from Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who said that the decision “articulates the rationale of separation between the (two) peoples and the need to maintain a Jewish majority and the (Jewish) character of the state”.

The notion that advocating and legislating in favor of “human rights” and equality would be the death knell of the Israeli state – “national suicide” – perfectly articulates that inherent injustice of Zionism; indeed, it is a self-indicting statement.

And, as has already been noted here and elsewhere, is yet one more example of how Israel’s apologists employ precisely the same logic, arguments and excuses – often literally the same words, verbatim – as the staunch defenders of the apartheid system in South Africa.

In April 1953, on the eve of assembly elections in South Africa, Prime Minister D.F. Malan warned that outside forces – including “the United Nations, Communist Russia… as well as a hostile press” – were “trying to force upon us equality, which must inevitably mean to white South Africa nothing less than national suicide.”

Malan added, “I consider the approaching election South Africa’s last chance to remain a white man’s country.”

Just months after Malan and his National Party won the election and consolidated power, South Africa’s London-based High Commissioner A.L. Geyer delivered a speech on August 19, 1953 entitled, “The Case for Apartheid,” before the city’s Rotary Club. He argued against the indigenous claims of the native black population (“South Africa is no more the original home of its black Africans, the Bantu, than it is of its white Africans”); that the apartheid state is the only “homeland” known to white South Africans (“the only independent white nation in all Africa… a nation which has created a highly developed modern state”); and that “South Africa is the only independent country in the world in which white people are outnumbered by black people.”

These claims echo common hasbara tropes: that Palestinians are an “invented people” and that the Arab majority in Palestine was due to immigration into Palestine rather than an ancient indigenous population with roots in that land for centuries, if not millennia; that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East,” a bright bastion of technology and Western modernism amidst a sea of darker-skinned barbarians.

In his speech, Geyer – who was national chairman of the South African Bureau of Racial Affairs, known, ironically, by the acronym “SABRA” – turns to the question of what the future South Africa will look like and sees “two possible lines of development: Apartheid or Partnership.” He explains:

Partnership means Cooperation of the individual citizens within a single community, irrespective of race… [It] demands that there shall be no discrimination whatsoever in trade and industry, in the professions and the Public Service. Therefore, whether a man is black or a white African, must according to this policy be as irrelevant as whether in London a man is a Scotsman or an Englishman. I take it: that Partnership must also aim at the eventual disappearance of all social segregation based on race.

Geyer, speaking on behalf of those intent on maintaining a stratified and discriminatory society, was obviously not a fan of this prospective outcome. Just as those who still push for an illusory “two-state solution” insist that a Jewish majority must be artificially engineered to exclude as many non-Jews as possible within the area controlled by Israel for a “Jewish and democratic” state to continue existing, Geyer too bristled at the idea of true self-determination wherein the result wasn’t already predetermined through gerrymandered demographics.

If the black population were to be given full voting rights, for instance, whites would no longer hold a monopoly on political power in the country. The inevitable result, Geyer warned, would be “black domination, in the sense that power must pass to the immense African majority.”

This sentiment was similarly articulated by Ehud Olmert, then the Israeli Prime Minister, in a 2007 interview with Ha’aretz. “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories),” he said “then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

Here’s how Geyer, in 1953, articulated his argument against such a horrifying future of democracy, equality, and justice:

Need I say more to show that this policy of Partnership could, in South Africa, only mean the eventual disappearance of the white South African nation? And will you be greatly surprised if I tell you that this white nation is not prepared to commit national suicide, not even by slow poisoning? The only alternative is a policy of apartheid, the policy of separate development.

Indeed, as Israeli Justice Grunis reminded us, “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide.” Geyer couldn’t have agreed more. Denying basic and fundamental rights, while promoting and implementing a policy of demographic segregation and geographic separation, was a matter of survival, Geyer argued – just like his Zionist successors do now.

“Apartheid is a policy of self-preservation,” Geyer said. “We make no apology for possessing that very natural urge. But it is more than that. It is an attempt at self­-preservation in a manner that will enable the Bantu to develop fully as a separate people.” As the native black Africa population in South Africa was, Geyer noted, “still very immature,” efforts must be made “to develop the Bantu areas both agriculturally and industrially, with the object of making these areas in every sense the national home of the Bantu.”

Thirty years later, very little had actually changed.

In his infamous “Rubicon” speech, delivered in Durban on August 15, 1985, South African president P.W. Botha declared that “most leaders in their own right in South Africa and reasonable South Africans will not accept the principle of one-man-one-vote in a unitary system. That would lead to domination of one over the other and it would lead to chaos. Consequently, I reject it as a solution.”

Botha added, “I am not prepared to lead White South Africans and other minority groups on a road to abdication and suicide. Destroy White South Africa and our influence, and this country will drift into faction strife, chaos and poverty.”

In response, ANC president Oliver Tambo condemned Botha’s disingenuous statements about his apartheid regime’s commitment to “the protection of minorities” and “the just and equal treatment of all parts of South Africa.” Botha, he said, had instead committed to the continued “oppression of the overwhelming majority of our people” and “promised our people more brutal repression.”

Calling for increased resistance, through both armed struggle and the imposition of international sanctions, Tambo declared that all victims of apartheid were “ready to make any and all sacrifices to achieve justice and democracy based on the principle of one man, one vote in a unitary South Africa.”

That very same year, Raphael Israeli, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and future client of the neoconservative PR firm Benador Associates, published an essay promoting increased Zionist colonization of the West Bank and Gaza and then subsequent partition of what he called “Greater Palestine” (which includes Jordan) as part of a potential solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli argued that “the seemingly reasonable claim that the ‘state belongs to all its inhabitants'” anticipates the “nightmare of a bi-national state” in which “Israel is no longer a state of the Jews or a Jewish state.”

The essay, entitled “One Palestinian People and One Palestine,” was eventually included in a collection edited by Israeli himself entitled, “Dangers of a Palestinian State.”

In it, Israeli lays out his vision for a bizarre tripartite entity within “Greater Palestine,” with redefined parameters of sovereignty and self-determination in which a “Palestinian government” is established in Amman, Jordan, alongside the Hashemite monarchy, and Israeli military control over the West Bank continues until a final settlement on borders is agreed upon.

Israeli stresses that Jewish citizens of the Zionist state reject the implementation of a “one person, one vote” system throughout Israel and the territories it occupies because they would be “faced with an intractable dilemma: either a democratic and egalitarian Israel with rights for all, with the corollaries of a bi-national state immediately and an Arab-majority state in the future; or Jewish Israel where the Jews would maintain rights and rule and the Arabs would be devoid of both.”

“No Israeli government,” the renowned academic wrote, “could face that dilemma and resolve it in any acceptable way.”

For Zionism, as it was for apartheid, equality and human rights are non-starters. The fear that a “one person, one vote” system and of a “state for all its citizens” instills in Zionists is no different from that expressed by defenders of South African apartheid.

Defended by de Klerk

Following John Kerry’s “apartheid” comment earlier this year, F.W. de Klerk, the former South Africa prime minister who presided over the dismantling of the apartheid regime, came to Israel’s defense. “I think it’s unfair to call Israel an apartheid state,” he said.

This is the same de Klerk, however, who two years earlier reflected that, while “[i]n as much as it trampled human rights, [apartheid] was and remains morally indefensible,” he still defended what he said was the system’s “original concept of seeking to bring justice to all South Africans through the concept of nation states.”

De Klerk explained that the Bantustanization of South Africa was conceived as a way to “bring justice for black South Africans in a way which would not – that’s what I believed then – destroy the justice to which my people were entitled.”  He added that it was “not repugnant” to believe that “ethnic entities with one culture, with one language, can be happy and can fulfill their democratic aspirations in [their] own state,” separate from one another.

After his comments sparked negative reactions, de Klerk’s spokesman walked them back. When “an artificial creation” like apartheid fell, the spokesman said, “you can go two ways – either by going your separate ways like in the Soviet Union or in what is being suggested for Israel and Palestine, or by trying to build a multicultural society.”

When “the first option” failed in South Africa, apartheid leaders “changed course,” he said, continuing, “It is not immoral for the Afrikaners to want to rule themselves any more than it is for the Israelis or the Scots to wish for the same things.”

Israel and its defenders go to great lengths to insist the “Jewish state” is not an apartheid one. Curious, then, that the only arguments they can muster in their favor are precisely those that were used to apologize for South Africa’s decades of indefensible discrimination and violence.

A version of this post first appeared on Nima Shirazi’s website Wide Asleep in America.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog, WideAsleepinAmerica.com, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

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17 Responses

  1. just
    September 5, 2014, 10:12 am

    Standing ovation!!!

    Nima, this is brilliant.

    • Krauss
      September 5, 2014, 10:16 am

      I agree, it would be awesome if this site could hire or at least get Nima to write for us on a more frequent basis. This was a brilliant article.

      P.S.

      They may occupy, persecute and discriminate Palestinians, but they act out of misguided patriotism and a hundred years of bloody conflict. Not out of racism.

      Seriously. I laughed out loud when I read this. I can’t even get enraged. I honestly believe that Landau is not bullshitting on purpose here, I think he truly understands this to be the case, which makes it all the more hilarious.

      And it also underscores the futility of engaging with “liberal” Zionists when they more often than not act as covers for Likudniks.

      • Mooser
        September 5, 2014, 12:17 pm

        And there’ another article to do (although Phil has covered some of this) showing how exactly the defenders of Zionism and the mine-splitting solution (somebody gets the gold mine, somebody gets the shaft) correspond to the defenders of legal segregation in the US.

  2. ckg
    September 5, 2014, 11:03 am

    Excellent, Nima! There is also an 1989 op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor titled “South Africa Shouldn’t be Singled Out”. http://www.csmonitor.com/1989/1012/ekri.html

  3. amigo
    September 5, 2014, 12:03 pm

    Reading some of the hapless claims that Israel is not an Apartheid nation is reminiscent of Ted Bundy,s attempts to prove himself innocent.

    It really is quite astounding to watch and happily Zionism will meet the same end Bundy did after several narrow escapes.

    Court decision—The defendant,(Zionism) will be taken from this place , (Palestine) to a place of execution and sentence will be carried out in accordance with the laws of humanity and justice.

    May your soul and the souls of the !—wait a minute–Zionism has no soul.

    • DaBakr
      September 6, 2014, 6:26 pm

      a great synopsis of what the founder, PW, set out to prove upon starting this blog. And of course nobody could logically think to substitute the word ‘Zionism’ for “Israeli Jews’ because almost nobody in the world associated Zionism with Judaism. Or at least they should not. But Ted Bundy, naturally. Great point.

  4. GJB
    September 5, 2014, 1:13 pm

    “Apartheid was based on racism; Israeli Jews are not racist. They may occupy, persecute and discriminate Palestinians, but they act out of misguided patriotism and a hundred years of bloody conflict. Not out of racism.”

    Back in the ’80’s I saw a political cartoon, I forget by which cartoonist. It portrayed Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s UN ambassador, who had recently defended US support of “authoritarian” (right wing) regimes as opposed to “totalitarian” (Communist) ones. The totalitarian systems, the cartoon Kirpatrick says, murder, torture and imprison. Authoritarian systems, on the other hand, leave many of these functions to the private sector.” We need an updated version of this cartoon for David Landau: “In a racist system, individuals occupy, persecute and discriminate. In an apartheid one, many of these functions are left to the government.”

    • just
      September 5, 2014, 1:28 pm

      iirc, it was Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed.

      (bringing up Kirkpatrick, I was reminded that I felt much the same lack of grief when she passed as when Rivers did yesterday…)

  5. David Samel
    September 5, 2014, 6:49 pm

    Terrific article, Nima. You would think Israeli leaders and defenders would be careful to avoid phrases like “national suicide” that were used in defense of apartheid, but perhaps they are unaware of such previous use and just naturally arrived at the same arguments in defending an indefensible ideology whose similarity to apartheid is painfully obvious.

  6. Martin Edwin Andersen
    September 5, 2014, 11:25 pm

    For a true path to peace based on the two-state solution, see the just-published “Pyrrhic victories and glass houses: The Palestinians, the Jewish State of Israel, and the Wobbly Ceasefire” @ http://goo.gl/kyn1u4

  7. iResistDe4iAm
    September 6, 2014, 9:14 am

    THEN:
    “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially” ~ Robert E. Lee, 1856

    “South Africa has achieved for its nonwhite people the best education and the highest standard of living among all the blacks of Africa” ~ James Kilpatrick, 1971

    “Yet South Africa is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that can feed itself. Blacks possess one of the highest living standards in all of Africa” ~ Anne-Marie Kriek, 1989

    NOW:
    “Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights … Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one-percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel!” ~ Benjamin Netanyahu, May 2011

    “The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren’t endangered but flourishing is Israel” ~ Michael Oren, March 2012

    “Israel on the West Bank is more democratic than any Arab or Muslim state in the world today” ~ Alan Dershowitz, May 2013

    MORAL:
    If you want to know what the slaves think, DON’T ask the slave-owners …ask the slaves!

  8. syael1339
    September 6, 2014, 10:02 am

    It’s not the Zionist ideology that’s responsible for Palestinian apartheid, as this author claims, but rather the band of racist, bombastic idiots currently running Israel. To whatever you attribute it, however, it’s still apartheid and it’s still unjustifiable. And it’s still going to lead to the eventual destruction of Israel as a nation state.

    • Shmuel
      September 6, 2014, 10:30 am

      It’s not the Zionist ideology that’s responsible for Palestinian apartheid, as this author claims, but rather the band of racist, bombastic idiots currently running Israel

      A few highlights of severe discrimination against non-Jews in Palestine/Israel, long before the arrival of the current “band of racist, bombastic idiots”:

      Ethnic cleansing (1947-48)
      Absentee Property Law (1948)
      Nationality Law (1952)
      Martial law (for Palestinians only) until 1966
      Annexation of East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank (1967) – “max. territory; min. Arabs”
      Jewish settlement in OT – beginning with Eshkol’s approval of return to Kfar Etzion in 1967.

      Every Israeli government since 1967 has actively contributed to creating the facts on the ground that amount to apartheid. So either they have all been “racist, bombastic idiots” and there is some form of pure Zionism that no one has ever tried, or there’s a problem with the basic ideology (which is Israel’s state ideology) that has guided all Israeli governments and the Yishuv leadership before that.

      • tree
        September 7, 2014, 3:15 am

        And even earlier instances of Zionist discrimination against non-Jews included the covenants that the JNF enacted on the land they bought, banning non-Jews from ever owning or working on the land; the early boycotts against Arab labor and against Jews buying Arab produce, the attempts to convince the British mandate government to give hiring preference to Jews and to pay them at a higher rate than non-Jews; the refusal to join in a Mandate Palestine Legislative Council unless given a 50 % percent representation even when Jews were less than 10% of the Palestinian population, and of course all the early talk about “transfer”.

        Its really no surprise that Israel turned out the way it did. Its origins, unfortunately, were steeped in an ideology than could only lead to apartheid conditions.

  9. ASBizar
    September 6, 2014, 5:39 pm

    Hi Nima, Fantastic Article. Although Hasbara will always have some excuses, we are narrowing it for them.

  10. andrew r
    September 7, 2014, 12:30 am

    When I first found these articles (It might have been Ali Abunimah’s twitter feed, but can’t remember), I did a double take in case these were satirical. These talking points in favor of apartheid in South Africa and Palestine are straight out of madlibs.

    South Africa Shouldn’t Be Singled Out
    http://www.csmonitor.com/1989/1012/ekri.html

    “Why is South Africa so harshly condemned while completely different standards apply to black Africa? Despite human rights violations in Zaire, President Bush applauds Mr. Muboto for his contribution in the Angola talks, while mentioning the atrocities in South Africa.

    “Is it that one form of repression is more acceptable than another, or is it that black/white oppression hits home? Or is it maybe that better conduct is expected of a white-ruled country than from black-ruled Africa?”

    http://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/15/business/beware-the-well-intentioned.html

    “South African problems defy simplistic solutions put forward by supporters of disinvestment and boycott. Ethnically, the country is diverse. It is not solely an issue of blacks versus whites. There are at least 17 different black ethnics. Several of whom, such as the Zulu and the Xhosa, have a centuries-old history of hostility. Black rule is no guarantee that the mass of South African blacks will be freer and have a higher standard of living. It could mean less, as the history of other African nations suggests.”

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