Israel “far worse” than apartheid South Africa

The situation for Arabs in Israel & Palestine is “far worse” than that of the blacks in what was apartheid South Africa. This was Ronnie Kasrils’ response to the question of whether Israel could be compared to South Africa during its apartheid era. He offered this during a speech he gave at an international conference I attended on Palestine, Israel and International Law at the Institute of Education in London last weekend.

Photo of Ronnie KasrilsRonnie Kasrils, who happens to be a Jew, was active in the fight against apartheid in South Africa from the 60’s onwards. He became a military leader around the time the ANC concluded that the methods of non-violence such as those utilised by Gandhi against the British Empire during their colonisation of India were not suitable against the brutal apartheid system. Along with Nelson Mandela, he was a terrorist and a hero. He is currently Minister of Intelligence and Deputy Minister of Defence in South Africa.

The conference included some other great speakers, including many intelligent and witty Jewish lawyers fighting for the human rights of Palestinian Arabs. The conference was quite a buzz and gave me real hope that there is a growing campaign to increase awareness of the plight of Arab Palestinians, and hence the prospect of Arabs and Jews living side by side again in peace, stepping back from the precipice of world war.

Book cover of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol 1On the other hand it’s extremely disheartening that so many intelligent people are still unwilling to speak out against the crimes of Israel and political Zionism for fear of being labeled anti-Jew (or anti-Semitic as the misleading term goes). And this because of the Nazi Holocaust. But some truths are so obvious that they often remain unstated, which doesn’t help the cause of understanding. As Alan Hart write’s in volume one of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews:

One such unstated truth is this: It was not the Arabs who slaughtered six million Jews, it was Europeans in Europe. But it was the Arabs as a whole, and the Arabs of Palestine in particular, who, in effect, were punished for a European crime.

In my analysis the insufferable self-righteousness that is the hallmark of Zionism is a mask for suppressed guilt on account of the injustice done to the Palestinians and, also, fear rooted in the past of the future.

One of Zionism’s greatest achievements for the first five decades of Israel’s existence was convincing the Western world that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same thing. They are not.

As Lenni Brenner, the anti-Zionist Jewish writer put it in 1983: Zionism is not now, nor was it ever, co-extensive with either Judaism or the Jewish people.

I remember when I was reasonably young and I was hearing a lot about Israel and the Arab Palestinians on the television. At the time I remember thinking to myself that these people were all as bad as each other; always attacking and counter-attacking each other. As a young ignorant mind this is how it appeared to me through my television, but when my curiosity got the better of me I eventually took just a cursory look at the situation away from the television; what struck me was the overwhelming injustice that had been dealt to the Arab Palestinian people by way of dispossesion of their land and their cruel oppression.

Subsequently I remember debating the situation with someone and being called anti-Semitic for my troubles. What was most interesting, such was my ignorance at the time, is that I didn’t even really know what a Jew was, or even what really happened in the Nazi Holocaust, let alone why anyone would want to be anti-Semitic.

So I was looking at the situation as a young person can with truly fresh eyes for what it was. Alas not any more. To this day I remember that and realise how easy and unjust it is to demonise one’s opponent simply by labeling them. For now I’ve come to an uneasy acceptance that articulating anti-Zionist views and being labeled anti-Semitic is part and parcel. For some Zionists even writing that last sentence makes me an anti-Semite, or a new anti-Semite, as they call it.

One day, I hope, reason will prevail. On both sides.

The hollow rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—that Israel must be wiped from the map*—should come as no surprise to anyone. This kind of damaging rhetoric has been common place in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Twentysix years and now there’s a commotion about it? This is just another notch in the propaganda war to create a pretext for invading Iran. Many are going to be sucked into this bullshit, just as they were sucked into all the bullshit required to invade Iraq. And we’ll be one more step closer to Armageddon. Great.

The Democrats Diary puts it all in perspective, while in a letter to The Guardian, Dr Nur Masalha of the University of Surrey writes:

The appalling comments on Israel made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Israel should be wiped off map, October 27) are both empty rhetoric and highly damaging to the Palestinian cause. I believe we (Palestinian Muslims and Christians) should always make a clear distinction between our political struggle against institutionalised racism and ethnic cleaning in Palestine-Israel and the fact that we and the Israelis would, ultimately, have to live together as equal citizens under some form of secular democracy – and not wipe each other out.

Muslim fundamentalists (Ahmadinejad included) have miserably failed to understand the reality in historic Palestine: in the process of brutal colonisation of the country, a Hebrew-speaking “nation” has emerged, with its own distinct language, culture and flourishing literature. There are 5-6 million Hebrew-speaking Israelis and no one has the right to talk about wiping them out.

Acknowledging the current bi-national reality is something completely different from legitimising the colonial process by which this reality has come about. The fact that the Israelis are trying quietly, but systematically (although not always successfully), on the ground to do to Palestinians in the West Bank what Ahmadinejad seems to suggest should be done to Israel should only encourage us to seek an alternative vision, away from political Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism.

And to return to silly rhetoric we have Tony Blair asking us if we can imagine a State [that has the sentiment to wipe another from the map] having nuclear weapons? Well we don’t need to imagine. We only need to look across the map to Israel to find a country that is founded on the displacement and oppression of another people, is classified as an occupying power, is probably the only country in the Middle East to possess a nuclear arsenal, refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has flouted international law for decades.

While I believe Ahmadinejad’s hollow rhetoric is damaging I understand the anger and frustration of the Arabs. Their Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine have been truly fucked over by the inherent injustice and brutality that is political Zionism.

As freelance journalist Ben White writes:

Since Israel’s inception in 1948, Palestinian towns have been demolished, Arabic names replaced by Hebrew ones, the very existence of the Palestinian people has been called into question, and Israel has drawn up its own map based on annexed territory and unpunished occupation. But of course, Iran is the real threat to regional peace and stability. Right?

* Update (14 June, 2006): contrary to my assertion above, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears not to have said “Israel must be wiped from the map,” but instead something along the lines, “This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history” (my emphasis). A not insignificant difference.

** Update (26 May, 2007): Further clarification, in Farsi: “Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.” In English: “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”

External links:


11 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. kofi,

    Nonsense! Utter balderdash. The experience of blacks under the fascist rule of whites in South Africa was by far worse than the experience of the Palestinians.

  2. nangas,

    Brilliant, what else are we being misquoted with on a daily basis? No wonder most of us have our head in the sand!

  3. sally,

    Unfortunately not all jews are as brave as those who speak out against Israel and zionism, but there are a few and I applaud them.

    As for the comment by Kofi, Israel has broken over 200 UN human rights laws, South Africa broke less then 30, you do the math, if you can manage it.

    Plus Israel is a military occupation, the worst ever, Apartheid was not military it was by force – police force – but is was not the 3rd most powerful military against an unarmed civilian population.

  4. Nicole,

    I find it amazing that a comment of this magnitude. The unfortunate plight of apartheid in South Africa was horrendous and should not even be commpared to the events that are occurring in Israel. Apartheid was a means of capital gain by the racist Europeans to seize wealth and economic gain for themselves at the expence of an entitre nation of people. Israel is merely a military occupation and can be rectified if that was the government’s true intention!

  5. “Israel is merely a military occupation and can be rectified if that was the government’s true intention”?!!? Israel is not simply a military occupation, it is a country. Whether or not the world is ready to accept it Zionism (created because of their suffering accross Europe from Spain to Russia) has created a nation of people. A military occupation force could go home. But Israelis have nowhere other than where they are. And even if they were able to move elsewhere they would not be willing. Israel is now thought of as the one place that Jews could have gone in the twentieth century. But in fact before Israel came on the table Jews were offered the opportunity to settle in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). This split the Zionist movement, and eventually the call for Israel won. After living in Israel for this long I seriously doubt they would now consider moving elsewhere.

    It is not possible to go into the entire history here but both sides have reasons for their claims and their actions. You are right that it is the Israelis who need to be taking the first step, and many others are right to say that the Israelis have been hugely hypocritical in their treatment of the Palestinians. But Israel is not turning a cold shoulder on the Palestinians due to a belief in their racial superiority. They do so due to their philosophy of an ‘Iron Wall’ (Jabotinsky coined the concept in the 20s if you want to look it up). Basically they fear doing what might be construed as a sign of weakness. They fear creating a hole in this wall that their enemies will flood through, creating a new holocaust.

    That said however, the ‘iron wall’ is flawed for too many reasons to state. There are only two outcomes of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The first is death and misery, which I’m sure you’ll agree no one wants. The second is that Palestinians are given the ‘right of return’, even if only as a symbolical gesture, and that two states are created on the pre-1967 border with Jerusalem acting as a joint Capital guarded and enforced by UN Peacekeeping troops and also a UN police force. This solution will be incredibly difficult; it will require huge funds being invested into the new states to ensure that they are a success; and it will require a great deal of international pressure, perhaps even outright force to ensure. But that is the way forward.

  6. Two states first, yes, but ultimately the only lasting solution is one state (or no state).

  7. Where and when has it been done before?

  8. ..which makes the current circumstances completely different. We are not talking about genetic make-ups that make two groups of people more hostile to one another. We are talking about causes of conflict that have by on large all come into place in the last hundred years.

    And beside, even with your argument you neglect to take power and fear into account. For most of this period of history in which you note peace exisiting between Jews and Arabs, the Jews had no independent state. And neither had Arab nationalism or Zionism existed. The conflict is relatively modern because reasons to fear one another are relatively new.

Add Your Comments

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <ol> <ul> <li> <strong>