September 15, 2014
Zionism and Apartheid
It’s quite common to find, among the One State Solution advocates, an analogue with Apartheid South Africa. If the trenchant racist Afrikaner regime was able to accept a peaceful transfer of power, why would this not be possible in Israel ? If activism were to focus on healing the rift, wouldn’t Zionism be dead within a decade ?
I grew up fighting against apartheid, as a member of a deeply divided Jewish family. So I understand both the culture of apartheid and the culture of extreme Zionism, and in my view, it is ridiculous to compare Israel today, with the pre-Mandela realties of South Africa. Certainly, the Israelis have adopted many of the methods and techniques of South African Apartheid, but the cultural settings are entirely different. Both Zionism and Apartheid are doctrines of exploitation and oppression. But the sources, context, and solutions are in no way similar.
The whites, mainly from Flanders, came to South Africa during the seventeenth century, starting in 1652. They were settlers at the time, but after the next three hundred years, they were anything but settlers by the time the Apartheid regime was established by Daniel François Malan in 1948. Apartheid was not an Afrikaner invention. It was an adaptation of the system of tribal lands and chiefdoms created over two centuries by the British colonial administration. During their long history, Afrikaners or Boers became a white African tribe competing with the blacks for land. They belong to the history of South Africa as much as their black rivals. They no longer have any connection to their European roots aside from some cultural legacy. Almost all Israelis arrived in Palestine after 1949, and significant numbers are recent settlers who belong as much to Manhattan, Johannesburg or Kiev as they do to Tel-Aviv. The Israeli analogue should not be to Apartheid South Africa, but the British settlers who colonised Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
South African apartheid was a system, based on British imperial structures of establishing colonial exploitation within the boundaries of the country, and for that to work it had to create “homelands” or bantustans where the blacks belonged. Of course, typical of colonialism, this was not either fair or equal. It was theft, no doubt about it. In terms of the methods and techniques adopted, there are many similarities between what happened under apartheid and what Israel is doing. That is unremarkable given the prominent role South African zionists have played in Israel and the support Israel gave to apartheid South Africa. But while all South African apartheid governments strongly supported the Bantustan policy, no Israeli regime has supported the creation of Palestinian bantustans. The goal has always been the complete absorption of Palestine into a religious Israeli state. In their miserable way, the intellectual leaders of Apartheid, such as Jan Verwoerd, argued his case for separate development based on the principles of Rousseau’s “noble savage” and deep mutual respect for different cultures. Much of this was pretence, but there is no such parallel in the history of Israel.
Equally important, in distinguishing between the cultural context of Apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel, is the role played by religion. Much of the Jewish world outside of Israel is now secular and often progressive. The Biblical account of the Israelites and their tribal god, are accepted as colourful myths which help to establish the history of Jewish cultural identity. The literal acceptance of the Israelite myth and the concepts of racial superiority and right to dominate, are a living reality only in Israel and among fundamentalist Jewish groups outside of Israel. Aside from a few crazed extremists, Afrikaners did not claim any mythical or biblical rights to South Africa, or claim to be the children of God accorded racial superiority. Although there were lunatic claims from time to time that God had placed the Afrikaner at the foot of Africa intended establish racial hegemony, these proclamations were embarrassing to the Apartheid governments and regarded as idolatries. They were also harshly rejected by the Dutch Reformed Church, the official church of Apartheid South Africa, which eventually played an active role in the collapse of apartheid. De Klerk has said that his personal faith was one of the largest factors that led him to negotiate the transfer of power.
Throughout South African history, miscegenation among Afrikaners, and Blacks and other indigenous races, was so common it created the Coloured People, a group equal in size to the Whites as a whole, and larger than the Afrikaners. Efforts to make this illegal under the Immorality Act failed hopelessly, and the legislation was withdrawn by P W Botha, long before Mandela came to power. The Coloured People speak Afrikaans and continue to support Afrikaner political parties.
Apartheid was a violent and hateful oppression on the black population of South Africa. But it was based on the orthodox principles of colonialism, not on beliefs in God ordained rights for a people selected and ordered by a tribal god to keep itself apart and pure. Because there was no fundamentalist anathema of whites towards blacks in South Africa, and because the races lived together throughout South African history, it was relatively simple, albeit painful, for the majority of white South Africans to accept that their period of domination could not be sustained. They accepted the transfer of power and very few ever left. The solution has proven highly imperfect because there was no transfer of economic power due largely to the prominent role played by the CIA in the transfer process. However, South Africa has chosen a new direction and the majority of whites have embraced it.
Those who advocate a Single State and base this upon the transfer of power in South Africa, assume that Israelis are prepared to abandon zionism in the way that the white minority abandoned apartheid. The existence of a monitory group of progressive Jews in Israel is a very thin foundation for assuming that extreme Israelis would even consider abandoning their beliefs in the racial superiority, god-given, of Jews, and the imperative for them to remain separate and pure. There is a simple test: what would happen if the situation in Israel were to become unacceptable for Israelis. In South Africa, the Afrikaners stayed and adapted to the transfer of power. In Israel, there would be a significant exodus. Today almost a third of Israelis consider leaving Israel. Their presence in Israel is based on maintaining dominance, and the determination to establish a Jewish state with rights for Jews only.
There are two final points to be made regarding the revived campaign for a Single State based on the untenable concept that there would be a mass abandonment of zionism in Israel. The first is that if there ever were a Single State, the Palestinians would end up living like Native Americans on squalid reservations. The second, is that it is highly presumptuous of liberal Israelis to expect of demand that Palestinians abandon their quest for a Palestinian state, based purely on the belief that a small number of decent and civilised Israelis can be successful in obliterating fundamentalist zionism in Israel. All power to their well-intentioned efforts, but there is no reason why Palestinians should place their future in the hands of these rescuers, regardless of how noble their intentions may be.