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.
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.
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.