The August 2009 issue of the French news monthly, “Le Monde Diplomatique,” has an excellent piece recounting the connected histories of South Africa and Israel, both under Apartheid and since the advent of democratic rule in the former country. “By a quirk of history, just a few weeks separate the creation of Israel in May 1948 and the electoral victory of the National Party in South Africa.”
Reporter Alian Gresh details the close relationship (especially militarily and economically) between the Apartheid government and its Israeli counterpart (official visits kicked off in 1950), quoting an Israeli professor:
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, who teaches at the University of Haifa, explained the paradox: “One can detest Jews and love Israelis, because Israelis somehow are not Jews. Israelis are colonial fighters and settlers, just like Afrikaners. They are tough and resilient. They know how to dominate. Jews are different. They are, among other qualities, gentle, non-physical, often passive, intellectual. So one can go on disliking Jews while admiring the Israelis.”
Gresh, quotes Andrew Feinstein, who is Jewish and is a former ANC member of Parliament:
[Feinstein] explains that, like most white South Africans, the country’s 100,000 Jews remained silent during the apartheid years, even though “there are clear parallels between the policies imposed on the Jews by the Nazis between 1933 and 1939 and those imposed on the majority of South Africans during the apartheid era”. He mentions Percy Yutar, the chief prosecutor who called for the death penalty at Mandela’s trial. Yutar was later elected to lead Johannesburg’s most important orthodox synagogue and lauded by community leaders as a “credit to the community.”
Back to”Le Monde Diplomatique.” Former postapartheid Cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils (the son of Jewish immigrants from the Baltic states; he was born in Johannesburg in 1938 and was a leading opposition figure against Apartheid) talks about the Apartheid comparisons:
… In February 2004 when he was a minister, [Kasrils] visited Yasser Arafat, surrounded by the Israeli army at his headquarters in the Muqata complex in Ramallah. ‘Arafat showed me the view from the window saying ‘this is nothing but a Bantustan!’ I replied: ‘No! No Bantustan has been bombed by warplanes, pulverized by tanks … the South African government pumped funds, constructed impressive administrative buildings and even allowed Bantustans airlines so as to make them recognized by the international community’.
Adam Habib, an academic who was refused entry into the United States in 2006 because of his vocal criticism of the US’s so-called “War on Terror,” tells the reporter:
At the grassroots level … there is an implicit sympathy for the Palestinians because everyone understands the parallel between Palestine and South Africa, Gaza and Transkei or Ciskei.
The piece continues:
The [postapartheid] South African government condemned “unequivocally and in the strongest possible terms the escalation of violence on the part of Israel brought about by the launching of a ground invasion into Gaza”. It called on Israel to halt its “massacre” and to withdraw its troops “immediately and unconditionally”. In a meeting with the Israeli ambassador, South African members of parliament asserted that the army’s abuses “made apartheid look like a Sunday school picnic” and the president of the foreign affairs commission, Job Sithole, compared the treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints to that of “cattle through a dip.”
The piece concludes, however, that the postapartheid South African government, despite its earlier rhetorical commitments to the Palestinian people, are guided by “realpolitik”:
[F]ormer president Thabo Mbeki was “in favour of a normalisation of relations with Israel. Trade between the two countries has increased 15-20% this year, especially in the field of security equipment. There have even been attempts to revive military relations.” And imposing sanctions on Israel is no longer on the agenda, even though Richard Goldstone, the judge who chairs the UN commission on crimes committed in Gaza, is a South African.