Kangaroos in South Africa

Apartheid is a sexy catchword to denounce Israel, but it makes a mockery of and cheapens the tremendous suffering endured by South Africa’s black citizens.

Twisted version of Israel flag, Apartheid flag 311 (photo credit: Richard Millett)
Twisted version of Israel flag, Apartheid flag 311
(photo credit: Richard Millett)
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.
The Russell 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 Falk.
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 hijacker.
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 Africa.
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 1948.
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 time.
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.
South Africans 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 of movement.
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 could.
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 laws.
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 Africa.
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 it is.
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.