Israel’s uneasy relationship with apartheid

Israel’s uneasy relationship with apartheid

Saudi Gazette Sunday, December 15, 2013 11:31 PM


President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, Ju...

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, July 4 1993. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nothing brandishes the apartheid label on Israel’s discriminatory policies more than the failure of its right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to attend the funeral of the anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela.

Mandela was no saint, but saints make terrible champions against evil and South Africa’s apartheid government was the epitome of evil in the 1970s and 1980s. And while Israel itself is not an apartheid regime, it embraces some of the most racist and ugly practices that were common in the apartheid regime of the Republic of South Africa.

In reality, Israel identified with South Africa for many years after its imposition on the people of Palestine in 1948. Israelis viewed Arabs the exact same way that Afrikaners viewed blacks.

The difference is that Israel saw how brutally the Republic of South Africa suffered for its open and unabashed racist policies, so Israel applied similarly racist policies in a more strategic, clever and deceptive manner. Those policies also enjoyed an empathy from pro-Israel and Jewish writers in the Western media who always gave Israel a pass but constantly slammed South Africa.

As a young activist, I recall how when then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and South Africa’s racist Prime Minister P. W. Botha met, they discussed ways to stand up to “terrorism.” It was probably only one of many times that the fight of black South Africans was compared equally to the fight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

“Apartheid” means “the state of being apart,” which is exactly what both the Republic of South Africa and Israel practiced for many years, but in slightly and significantly different ways.

Apartheid was evil incarnate in the eyes of the mainstream Western news media, when it involved South Africa, a nation that openly showcased its discrimination in laws, policies, signs and rhetoric.

But the apartheid-like policies of Israel have always been “soft-balled,” a term used by journalists to describe the weakening of an issue in their writing. American Jewish journalists and pro-Israel activists in journalism loved Israel and they also loved the fact that many American Jews fought side-by-side in the Civil Rights movement to free blacks in America who were subjected to “apartheid-like” policies in the United States in the 1950s.

Not unlike Israel, the media, though, never called America an “apartheid” nation, even though black Americans were subjected to practices and laws and rhetoric that forcibly separated blacks from the rest of the American white population.

The definition of apartheid is not written by the legalities of the discrimination but by the journalists, many of whom compromised their ethics and professionalism to separate and protect Israel and even the United States. American journalism was racist anti-black in the 1950s and it is racist anti-Arab today in America.

Why would Netanyahu want to remind the world about Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians? By going to South Africa for Mandela’s funeral, he would have stood out like a sore thumb. His remarks would have been criticized and analyzed and he would have become the focus of the post-apartheid debate in the dialogue about Mandela’s legacy.

No nation is closer to apartheid than Israel and Mandela knew it, which is why Mandela so actively embraced the Palestinian cause and championed their rights in speeches, rallies and public events. He even embraced the rhetoric of peace, speaking out about recognizing Israel’s right to exist, in the context of two-states and mutual recognition.

Mandela was a pragmatist, though. He recognized that in the era of peace talks and negotiations, screaming about Israel’s racism would not be productive, and he did what he could to encourage Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. As the world knows, though, Israel has no intention of making peace with the Palestinians. Israelis are using peace as a strategy to slowly consume the entire land mass of Palestine and slowly expel non-Jews from strategic regions of Israel’s populated areas.

The pro-Israel activists and news media are scrambling to do what they do best, obfuscate the issue and confuse it by piling on apologetic explanations. Some even went even to the extent of noting that the “turnout at the stadium for Mandela was very light,” with one of many Israeli posts on Facebook suggesting that maybe he wasn’t the saint everyone was crying about.

Of course, these pro-Israel writers play with facts about Mandela the way they play with facts about Palestine. It was heavy rain that held back the crowd at FNB Stadium in Soweto, and everyone could see that the outpouring of respect was unprecedented, with one “head of state” missing – Netanyahu.

Mandela was no saint. And he was no different than Yasser Arafat who led the Palestinian revolution against the racist policies of Israel’s apartheid-like government. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is one of the most racist occupations in the world in the post-Mandela era.

Mandela was the leader of a resistance movement that was no different than the Palestinian resistance movement against Israel that rose after Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967 and the imposition of oppressive, racist policies against non-Jews in the West Bank.

But Israelis are hoping that with the passing of Arafat’s close friend, Nelson Mandela, the world will eventually and slowly forget about all those comparisons. They won’t remember how close Israel and South Africa were when Mandela was imprisoned and apartheid was the official policy of the Republic of South Africa.

Israel embraced South Africa’s apartheid for strategic reasons and for reasons that touched it’s soul. Netanyahu had no choice but to stay home, given Israel’s past connection with South African apartheid.

– Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania. Ray is the managing editor of the Arab Daily News online

Categories: Middle East Topics

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4 replies


  1. Memory of Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel should be revived « Ray Hanania Columns
  2. Memory of Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel should be revived | The Arab Daily News
  3. In Middle East, Deep down, we all know that peace is best | The Arab Daily News
  4. Tabboun: Israelis seeking to defend Netanyahu’s Mandela snub | The Tabboun

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