Leaden thinking

Author explains his book 'The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.'

Suransky 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Suransky 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is always easier to dismiss the research of those you disagree with if you depict them as ideologically motivated hacks or viciously anti-Israel proponents of the Zionism=racism variety. I am neither.
My book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa argues that the apartheid analogy does not apply today – because a minority group is not yet governing a disenfranchised majority – but that it is hitting closer to home every day.
I am not alone in voicing this concern: In late 2007 prime minister Ehud Olmert said that without a two-state solution Israel would soon “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
This February, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared: “If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or nondemocratic... If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don’t, it is an apartheid state.”
In addition, Emmanuel Navon suggests I am “insinuating that Israel and the Palestinians should follow the post-apartheid South African model” – in other words, a one-state solution.
In fact, my book argues the opposite: that if Israel does not act soon to ensure the creation of a viable Palestinian state, it will face Barak’s no-win nightmare of a non-Jewish or nondemocratic state.
I APPRECIATE Navon’s interest in my book.
However, he has misrepresented my argument. Indeed, he suggests that he is clarifying my inaccuracies when in fact his own outline of the 1967-1973 period is an almost verbatim repetition of chapters two and four of my book. While there are many issues Navon and I disagree on, the question of Israel’s relations with African states between 1967 and 1973 is not one of them.
My book discusses the demise of that relationship with black African states in great detail – including the inducements offered by Arab countries and the Africans’ eventual severing of ties during and after the Yom Kippur War. Had Navon more carefully read those chapters, he would have found a reference to the same Haaretz editorial he cites and to the same authors he draws on to make his own argument (Joel Peters, Aaron Klieman and Olusola Ojo). Instead, he has drawn a false dichotomy by misrepresenting my historical analysis and presenting his own “true version” as an alternative.
The historical revelations in my book confirm what many have long suspected: that military cooperation between Israel and South Africa was far more extensive and lucrative than anyone knew in the 1980s, and that it extended into the nuclear sphere. Navon’s article is somewhat self-contradictory; if he indeed believes that “the book contains no historical revelation,” then why seek to attack precisely those new revelations which buttress my case that Israel had a more significant relationship with South Africa than did other countries – one that helped prolong the life of the apartheid regime? Navon’s reaction to my book smacks of the same denialism prevalent in the Israeli government and in American Jewish organizations during the 1980s. As UN ambassador in 1986, Binyamin Netanyahu denounced Israel’s critics as “those who wish not only to defame Israel but also to deflect attention from their own furtive and enormously profitable trade with Pretoria.”
He cited incomplete International Monetary Fund data to argue that Israel’s trade with South Africa was negligible, but those data excluded arms, diamonds and the joint financing arrangements between the two defense industries.
When one includes these figures, the bilateral trade is much more significant; indeed, South Africa becomes one of Israel’s largest trading partners after the US – in close company with the UK and Germany.
And France, which was a key arms supplier to South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s, faded in importance after the socialist government of François Mitterrand came to power in 1981.
Had Navon factored in newly declassified data on Israeli arms sales to South Africa, he would see that Paris’s arms sales to Pretoria during the 1980s were nowhere near as significant as he asserts.
Seen in this context, using real rather than incomplete data, it is entirely reasonable to single out Israel because its relationship with South Africa was in fact unique in both financial and strategic terms. Indeed, it was a vital link for the beleaguered apartheid regime, and helped to sustain it in the face of international sanctions and withering criticism. Netanyahu’s deceptive statement to the UN in 1986 was full of unreliable numbers, and Navon is echoing those inaccuracies today.
NAVON GOES on to argue that singling out Israel “now” is perverse because of the Iranian nuclear menace. True, Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability and therefore poses a grave threat to Israel’s nuclear hegemony in the Middle East – not to mention the security of many Sunni Arab states. However, just as he misrepresented my motives for writing the book as ideological and anti-Israel, he has mistaken coincidence for intent when it comes to the book’s publication date.
I began this research in October 2003, and an earlier version of the book – replete with data, documents and similar arguments – has been sitting on the shelf of Oxford’s Bodleian Library since January 2007, when I completed my doctoral dissertation. It was slated for May 2010 publication a year ago.
The fact that Israel dug itself into a diplomatic hole by angering the US government in recent months and the fact that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability are entirely coincidental. To suggest that I or my publisher somehow have the power to influence the UN General Assembly’s nonproliferation policy is pure fantasy.
Finally, Navon blames the stalled peace talks entirely on the Palestinian leadership while finding absolutely no fault with the Netanyahu administration’s policies and actions – actions which have in recent months angered Israel’s most powerful ally and alienated its most important friend in the region. More alarmingly, he displays a misguided faith in the promise of unilateral disengagement as a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian impasse, arguing that “Israel will eventually pull the rug under the Palestinians’ feet by completing the construction of the security fence and by creating a de facto double polity (like in Cyprus).”
This would most likely be an unmitigated disaster, leading to a permanent state of war with one (or two) radical Palestinian state(s) and potentially jeopardizing the existing peace treaties with both Jordan and Egypt. Navon may believe my thinking is “radioactive,” but I shudder to think of the fallout were his own ideas to become official Israeli policy.
The writer is a senior editor at Foreign Affairs magazine and the author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.