Israel and apartheid South Africa were the best of friends

My following article appears in today’s Canberra Times newspaper:

The headline in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz this week was striking: ”Who says Jews and racism don’t go together?” Columnist Akiva Eldar discussed the revelations in a new book by a senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine that details the extensive relationship between apartheid South Africa and Israel. The work by Sasha Polakow Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance, has already triggered front-page headlines across the globe, especially the allegation that Israel was on the verge of selling nuclear technology to Pretoria in the 1970s, a charge vigorously denied by Israel’s current President Shimon Peres, then defence minister.

Suransky recounts how in 1974 Peres, sitting in Yitzhak Rabin’s first government, returned from a secret visit to South Africa and wrote to his gracious hosts that, ”this cooperation is based not only on common interests and on the determination to resist equally our enemies, but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and refusal to submit to it.” Less than two years later, Israel welcomed South African prime minister Balthazar Johannes Vorster to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and he was given full diplomatic status throughout his stay.

Vorster was an unapologetic backer of National Socialism in Germany and regularly compared his country to the supposed achievements under Nazi Germany. In 1976, Israel was still searching the world for former Nazis but realpolitik took centre stage. The relationship between the nations was initially economic but soon developed into a deeper ideological commitment to racial supremacy.

Suransky writes in his prologue that by the end of the 1970s, ”many members of the [ruling] Likud Party shared with South Africa’s leaders an ideology of minority survivalism that presented the two countries as threatened outposts of European civilisation defending their existence against barbarians at the gates.”

The African National Congress and Palestinian Liberation Organisation were common enemies that allegedly threatened the established order so a brutal war against ”terrorism” had to be waged. Israel provided arms, uranium and military training to Pretoria when global sanctions were in place and even while the Jewish state publicly chastised the government’s extremism.

One of the few countries willing to provide secret support for South Africa’s racial policies until the fall of apartheid in 1994 was Israel. Suransky has uncovered mountains of documents that detail the close ties between the military establishments of both countries. For example, in 1977 South African General Constand Viljoen visited the occupied Palestinian territories and was astonished with the level of efficiency of the Israeli checkpoint system (hundreds of which are still in operation across the West Bank today). He wrote a report to his country’s defence minister that, ”the thoroughness with which Israel conducts this examination is astonishing. At the quickest, it takes individual Arabs that come through there about one-and-a-half hours. When the traffic is heavy, it takes from four to five hours.”

The Israeli policy of separation remains in effect today. US magazine The Nation recently uncovered a segregated road network throughout the West Bank, built by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, that facilitates the Israeli goal of annexing vast sections of the West Bank, making a Palestinian state impossible.

In another sign of South African-inspired policy, Route 443 is a road that runs through the West Bank and has long been inaccessible to Palestinians; only Israelis have been allowed to use it. Although the Israeli High Court ruled recently that the road be open to all, this week the Israeli military announced that they would introduce new checkpoints along the route, further isolating the indigenous population in the area.

The justifications for such moves are remarkably consistent with the South African model. ”Security” and ”fighting terrorism” are buzzwords used by the Zionist state to discriminate along racial lines. The announcement last week by musician Elvis Costello to not play in Israel due to his concerns over treatment of Palestinians is just the latest example of a growing global movement to isolate Israel until it conforms to international, humanitarian law. Similar tactics were used successfully against apartheid South Africa.

Recent months have even seen ongoing attacks against South African judge Richard Goldstone who documented for the United Nations war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas during the January 2009 invasion. He has been accused of being an ”apartheid judge” sentencing blacks to their deaths during the dark days of the regime but critics conveniently ignore, as Suransky notes in Foreign Policy, that, ”Israel’s government did far more to aid the apartheid regime than Goldstone ever did.”

Israel’s relationship with apartheid South Africa remains relevant today because one regime recognised the errors of its way and reformed while the other merely accelerates the colonisation process.

The Unspoken Alliance may be recent history, but its message resonates into the 21st century, highlighting the moral degradation of discriminating, harassing and isolating one people at the barrel of a gun.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and the author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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