As an ex-South African and now a citizen of Israel, I am compelled to speak up.
The State of Israel has been put on trial this week in Cape Town for supposed
Apartheid crimes against the Palestinians by the “judicial” (and I use that term
loosely) farce known as the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
Tribunal forms part of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, which was
originally formed to investigate violations of international law and human
rights. But for the past three days the sounds of kangaroos hopping their way to
the courthouse has drowned out all sounds of reason. The jury selection for this
has been full of them (with sincere apologies to the cute marsupials from
Australia!), from former special rapporteur for the UN on Palestine, John
Dugard, who is almost as heinous as his successor in that role, Richard
And let’s not forget “red” Ronnie Kasrils, the famous communist who
served as minister of intelligence and has devoted his energies since leaving
government to anti-Israel campaigns. Or Archbishop Desmond Tutu, or Winnie
Mandela (though, to be fair, Winnie did withdraw from the panel. Perhaps her own
scurrilous human rights record should face its own tribunal). And,lest I forget,
the star witness is Leila Khaled, the infamous first female airplane
These are the people who presume to judge Israel for human
rights abuses? It would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that the
tribunal is taking place in South Africa, the former home of apartheid, or if
the jurists weren’t famed anti-Apartheid activists and the venue for this
theater of the absurd wasn’t the District Six Museum. It is all very symbolic.
This is enough to have any anti-Israeli turning cartwheels and thinking all
their birthdays have arrived at once.
AS SOMEONE who grew up during the
emergency state years in South Africa, I bore witness to the crime that was
apartheid. As an Israeli, I live the reality of what Israel is like every single
day. Is there racism in this country? Yes, just as there is in any other. Israel
is no utopia, but neither is any other country – including South
We tend to forget what the word apartheid really means. The term
comes from the Afrikaans word meaning ‘separation’ and was the racial, social
policy introduced by the National Party government of South Africa in
Today it is often used to describe Israel. It’s a very sexy
catchword, after all; it is emotive, evocative and provocative. Perfect if you
want to package and market hatred. But the very use of it to describe Israel is
not only odious, but it also makes a mockery and cheapens the tremendous
suffering endured by South Africa’s black citizens during that period of
Growing up in apartheid South Africa, I bore witness on a daily
basis to the inhumane suffering of my fellow citizens. Only they were not
regarded as such.
Denied the right to vote or have political
representation, they had no voice in government. Unlike MK Haneen Zoabi, an Arab
member of the Knesset and another “star” tribunal witness.
who were not perfect white specimens were denied the right to a decent
education, receiving a “bantu education,” which was inferior to the schooling I
received. The apartheid laws in South Africa denied black citizens the freedom
I remember witnessing the humiliation of black men who were
out past their curfew as police checked their pass books and in some
circumstances whipped them with a sjambok (whip). Just because they
As a child I once asked my mother why it was that nannies
(domestic workers) always sat on the grass in the park. Was it that they did not
like the chairs? Imagine my mother’s discomfort explaining to me that nannies
were not allowed to sit on benches because they were for “whites only.” An idea
that was unimaginable to my naïve childish mind. I also wondered where the black
children were because they did not attend my school or my ballet class or swim
in the same swimming pool as I did. If my father gave our “nanny” a lift
anywhere, she had to sit in the back of the car for fear of breaking any racial
We as Jews understand only too well the implications of racial
laws. I could go on and on about the injustices suffered by black South Africans
and it is extremely painful to write this piece as I also must acknowledge how
I, as a white child, benefitted.
So what about Israel? I am proud to be
an Israeli citizen.
It is the realization of a lifelong dream. Yes, this
country is defined along ethnic lines – as was legally voted on by the United
Nations and in a manner no different from the countries, and there are many, who
define themselves according to their Islamic identity.
I live the day to
day reality and it pains me to hear my country so erroneously compared to South
Visit any Israeli hospital where Arab doctors treat Jewish
patients and vice versa. Take the public transport and revel in the fact that
there are no seats marked “Jews only.” Attend any of our universities, which are
fully integrated. Visit the beach. Enjoy your lunch or coffee in any of our
restaurants and coffee shops. Find your way around our country in Hebrew or
Arabic (and yes, sometimes even English) as they are our official languages.
Vote for the Arab parties if you so wish. Have your case heard before Arab
Supreme Court judge, Justice Joubron. Serve in our army or foreign service. Rest
assured these are not positions reserved for Jews only. I am proud of our
imperfect yet pluralistic democracy.
I am proud to call myself a Zionist
Israeli. I challenge the jury of buffoons who dare sit in judgement to truly
look at Israel with open eyes. The Russell Tribunal would not have been out of
place in Salem circa the witch trials, because a witch hunt it is exactly what
Jurists of the tribunal, under the laws of balanced, democratic
jurisprudence, I find you guilty of racism.
The writer is a member of the
Media Team-Israel, an arm of the South African Zionist Federation, and deals
with bias in the media. She is regularly interviewed on Israel and Middle East
issues on South African radio.
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