Israel needs to treat apartheid libel like a nuclear weapon threat - opinion

The intent of those who apply the apartheid label to Israel is the same as the Iranian regime: to destroy the Jewish state.

 PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard in Ramallah last week.  (photo credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE/REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard in Ramallah last week.
(photo credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE/REUTERS)

The Amnesty International report released this week seeks to harness the diplomatic equivalent of a nuclear weapon against the State of Israel: the apartheid libel. 

The accusation is a lie, without any foundation in truth. It is a desecration of the memory of the victims of the real apartheid, and it is a cynical abuse of the term in the cause of another form of bigotry – antisemitism. But its immorality and falsehood make it no less dangerous. 

The intent of those who apply the apartheid label to Israel is the same as the Iranian regime: to destroy the Jewish state. They are merely using another weapon – equally lethal.

I say this having grown up in South Africa through the 1980s, experiencing the effects of global sanctions against the apartheid government. It was a noble campaign to bring the evil National Party regime to its knees and cause the demise of the injustice of a real apartheid system. And it was devastatingly successful. 

It made being a South African citizen shameful. It completely broke the will of white South Africans to continue the apartheid policies. The economic sanctions hurt the pockets of the people, while the symbolically powerful sporting and cultural boycotts made white South Africans feel like pariahs. International travel with a South African passport was like walking around with a badge of shame. 

 South African demonstrators and BDS activists hold placards during a protest in May 2021 outside the Israel Trade offices in Sandton, SA, following a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence (credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS) South African demonstrators and BDS activists hold placards during a protest in May 2021 outside the Israel Trade offices in Sandton, SA, following a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence (credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)

The intention behind this Amnesty International report, like all those who falsely accuse Israel of apartheid, is to destroy the Jewish state by breaking the resolve of its brave citizens by making them ashamed of their country, reluctant to serve in its army or pay its taxes; instead looking to emigrate to avoid the disgrace and pain of sanctions and international ostracism. 

THE ISRAELI government needs to act with resolve commensurate with the gravity of the existential threat this libel poses. The Amnesty International report has been four years in the making, but the outcome – declaring Israel an apartheid state and calling for international opposition to it – was a foregone conclusion from day one. So why the feeble response? 

The Israeli government’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon have been suitably resolute and extensive. But the apartheid libel is no less an existential threat, and therefore needs to be combated with the same resolve and resources. 

The government needs to embark on a radical paradigm shift to counter the threat of the apartheid accusation. If it is not countered – the accusation will stick, despite its utter distortion of reality. As Joseph Goebbels, infamous minister of propaganda during the Nazi regime, noted: “If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.” And this lie is repeated every day in the capitals of the world by Israel’s enemies. 

And so it must be answered. The Jewish state cannot let this defamatory accusation stand. It is a mark of shame. If the apartheid libel is not defeated it will cast a shadow on Jewish history, and Israel can never truly be safe. 

It is not too late. The apartheid libel has not yet taken hold. But it will. Time is running out. The Israeli government must act now with urgency and marshal every resource at its disposal to refute this horrifically false accusation. And world Jewry and all Israel’s allies and supporters will rally to its support.

A coherent, multifaceted and generously resourced strategy to counter the threat must be implemented with speed. Research must be commissioned from think tanks and academic institutes to document the answer to every aspect – no matter how small or big – of the apartheid accusation. 

No detail of the libel must go unanswered – for the sake of the historical record of the Jewish people, and for the sake of the survival of the Jewish state. Israeli citizens, of all ages, Diaspora Jews and supporters of all faiths must be armed with the facts of this research.

Vast legal teams must be assembled to challenge the apartheid accusation in judicial fora across the globe. Every available communication platform must be filled with comprehensive content professionally presented refuting the lies. And an historic diplomatic offensive, training and equipping all Israeli ambassadors and diplomats, must be initiated on every level to counter the threat. 

The first step is to recognize the apartheid libel for what it is – an existential threat; the diplomatic equivalent of a nuclear weapon. A paradigm shift in the Israeli government’s approach is urgently needed. The future of the Jewish state, and the integrity of Jewish history, is at stake. Act now - before it is too late.

The writer is the chief rabbi of South Africa.