Twisted version of Israel flag, Apartheid flag 311.
(photo credit: Richard Millett)
Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s new book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret
Relationship with Apartheid South Africa has a clear agenda: to argue that there
is an ideological similarity between Zionism and apartheid, and that today’s
Israel is the heir of yesterday’s South Africa. The book has been celebrated as
a welcome eye-opener by Israeli journalists, scholars and politicians such as
Akiva Eldar, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Yossi Beilin and Avi Shlaim.
however, the book contains no historical revelation (not even the alleged
nuclear cooperation between Israel and South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s). Nor
is there anything new about the attempt to make a case for the ideological
similarity between Zionism and apartheid: Arab propagandists and European
leftists have been playing that tune for over three decades.
goes like this: Starting in the mid- 1950s, Israel built diplomatic
with the new African states, offering its know-how and help to those who
suffered from oppression just like the Jews. But then Israel became a
power itself in 1967, thus alienating its African friends. After the
Kippur War, Israel was broke and couldn’t think of a better way of
meet than by selling weapons to South Africa. From alienated, African
became furious and broke their ties with the Jewish state. Today, Israel
itself an apartheid state and the only desirable outcome is for the Jews
follow the example of their Afrikaner brothers by rescinding power to
autochthonous and oppressed majority.
THE TRUE story, of course, is very
different. The fact that Israel extended its borders in June 1967 as a
a defensive war was not a source of outrage in sub-Saharan Africa – on
contrary. Africans are still resentful of their former Arab enslavers.
they have no sympathy for the Arabs (including for the secluded Lebanese
control entire swaths of Africa’s economies), African Christians are
admirers and supporters of Israel.
Africa is not exactly a continent
where no territories are acquired by force (think of Muammar Gaddafi’s
to conquer northern Chad). Africans were not “outraged” by Israel’s 1967
victory. They rejoiced at the Arabs’ humiliation, and could hardly
“unacceptability of the acquisition of territories by force” without
So why did Israel and its African friends become estranged in the
1970s? Because of the Soviet Union’s diplomatic indents, and because of
blackmail. Many African states became Marxist and pro-Soviet in the
they toed the Soviet anti-Israel party line.
In addition, Libya and Saudi
Arabia proactively lobbied the African continent, buying the goodwill of
leaders with petrodollars. By the end of the Yom Kippur War, all but
African countries (Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius and Swaziland) had severed
diplomatic relations with Israel under heavy Arab pressure.
So it is not
that African countries became mad at Israel because of its cooperation
South Africa. Rather, the Israel-South Africa relationship developed as a
of Israel’s international isolation, which itself was an outcome of the
betrayal. Because the Arab world managed to isolate Israel
the Yom Kippur War, it was compelled to develop diplomatic ties at
cost and to favor realpolitik over ethics. Even Haaretz argued in 1973
Israel should normalize relations with South Africa in light of the
its former African allies.
Moreover, economic and military ties with
South Africa after 1973 were not more significant, proportionally, than
economic and military ties between South Africa and countries such as
Britain or France. In the 1980s, both the Reagan and Thatcher
led a “constructive engagement” policy with the apartheid government,
the imposition of UN sanctions. In the early 1980s, more than half of
Africa’s military equipment was provided by France. The West did
apartheid South Africa because it has abundant mineral resources (such
uranium) and because it was seen at the time as a stronghold of
If anything, Israel had better reasons than France or Britain to be
This is the bottom line of my criticism: Singling out
Israel on its ties with apartheid South Africa is hypocritical, and
doing so now
POLAKOW-SURANSKY’S book comes at a time when Iran is defying
and deceiving the international community with its nuclear program, and
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deadlocked. Polakow-Suransky has managed
switch many people’s attention from Iran to Israel, making them wonder
if it is
not hypocritical to ask the world to stop Iran’s nuclear program when
developed its own nuclear program 40 years ago. Of course, it developed
weapons to protect itself from relentless enemies, while Iran is seeking
achieve regional hegemony and is openly calling for Israel’s
Shortly after the book’s publication (and favorable review
among the usual Israelbashers), the UN General Assembly passed a
calling for Israel to expose its alleged nuclear arsenal to
supervision. I don’t know how much credit Polakow-Suransky should get
but if having an impact was his purpose, he certainly did a good
Polakow-Suransky is insinuating that Israel and the Palestinians
should follow the postapartheid South African model. His true intentions
clear in the book’s epilogue, where he “warns” that Israel may face
Africa’s fate if it does not change its behavior toward the
also is sheer hypocrisy. The two-state solution/ partition has been
the Jews and rejected by the Arabs six times: in 1937 (Peel Commission),
(UNSCOP), in 1979 (Camp David agreements), in July 2000 (Camp David
December 2000 (Clinton parameters) and in September 2008 (Ehud Olmert’s
to Mahmoud Abbas).
While the present Israeli administration has declared
its commitment to the twostate solution, announced an unprecedented
freeze and removed dozens of checkpoints, the PA has refused for the
to negotiate, setting conditions it never demanded in the past and
streets after mass-murderers. So Israel doesn’t have to be “warned”
need to recognize the long-term dangers of the current stalemate.
Israel to become binational it would indeed turn into an apartheid
because most Arab-dominated countries are. Which is why it is reasonable
forecast that Israel will eventually pull the rug under the
by completing the construction of the security fence and by creating a
double polity (like in Cyprus). The Palestinians will not be able to
South African precedent, but at least they will have a chance to create
failed Arab state and to collaborate with enlightened countries such as
Saudi Arabia and Sudan.The writer is the founding partner of
Navon-Levy Group Ltd., an international consulting firm, and a lecturer
Abba Eban Graduate Program for Diplomacy Studies at Tel Aviv University.
the author of A Plight among the Nations: Israel’s Foreign Policy
Nationalism and Realism and he blogs at www.navon.com.
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