Israel and the Hijacking of Apartheid
In remembering Nelson Mandela, we most recall his determined leadership in bringing down “apartheid” – the separation of races – in South Africa. His passing after a lifetime of suffering extreme prejudice and hatred causes us all to pause in honor of his deeds and in respect for his commitment to justice and equality.
The term “apartheid” evokes not only images of the struggle of his people in South Africa, but is a concept that is often taken, and sometimes mistaken, by advocates determined to achieve their own goals for their own purposes.
Such is the misuse of the term “apartheid” as it is thrown around in an accusatory framework against the State of Israel, which suffers regularly in the United Nations and in the press from the untrue and unfounded accusation that Israel, in building the terrorism prevention security fence, has built an “apartheid wall.”
For decades at the United Nations and in the press, the Palestinians and their supporters have blindly but broadly attempted to brand Israel as a racist criminal state, adopting resolutions equating Zionism with racism and continuing the war of words against Israel in repeated UN conferences and resolutions. The theme is simple and has been quite effective: brand Israel as Zionist … brand Zionism as racism. With racism and apartheid being criminal … brand Israelis as part of a Zionist racist criminal conspiracy to commit apartheid. This ugly effort lives on without regard to the truth.
During the raging Second Intifada, when Palestinian terrorists were infiltrating Israel for the purpose of murder, maiming, and heinous acts of terror through suicide-homicide bombings, Israel took the necessary and rightful decision to defend and protect her people. This decision took various forms, including steps to provide security on the edges of the land located between Israel and the Palestinian territories, particularly between Israel and Gaza and between Israel and the Judea and Samaria areas of ancient Israel situated on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Construction of the terrorism security fence began in 2001 in an attempt to fence out the terrorists, and it has proven to be most effective in saving lives, limbs, and the fiber and fabric of families and communities.
Exactly ten years ago, on December 9, 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution referring the question of the legal consequences of Israel’s construction of the security fence, calling it a wall, to the International Court of Justice. Israel’s opponents continually refer to it as a “separation barrier” for the specific purpose of evoking the image of separation between Israel and the Palestinians in a hijacking of “apartheid.”
The use of the ugly term apartheid in conjunction with wrongful accusations that Israel is a criminal racist state evidenced by the building of the security fence as a wall of separation, are unfair, untrue, and are maligning to the good name of Israel and the Jewish people.
Nelson Mandela fought apartheid for decades, was long imprisoned and then led the movement in South Africa to bring down apartheid. A review of the history of Israel’s relationship with South Africa goes back to the very beginning, with Israel’s establishment as a state in 1948 and admission into the United Nations.
South Africa was one of just 33 states that voted in favor of the 1947 UN partition resolution. Once Israel declared independence, South Africa was one of just a handful of nations to almost immediately grant de facto recognition to Israel, and ambassadors were exchanged. Yet, Israel was quite critical of the apartheid government which came to power in South Africa. This was evidenced clearly by Israel’s condemnation of a pro-apartheid speech given by South Africa at the UN on October 11, 1961. In 1963, Israel moved to recall its ambassador to the UN in protest of South African apartheid.
After the Six-Day War of 1967 and Yom Kippur War in 1973, relations between Israel and most African nations deteriorated. Surrounded by hostile neighbors armed by the USSR and bereft of friends in close-by Africa, relations with Israel, out of a perceived necessity, improved with South Africa. Despite Israel’s moral opposition to apartheid, both shared a common Cold War enemy, the USSR, which sponsored communist revolutionary movements in Africa including South Africa and armed Israel’s Arab neighbors.
After the fall of the apartheid regime, relations between South Africa and Israel were strained. Mandela was elected as President of South Africa and served for five years, from May 10, 1994 through June 16, 1999. Mandela visited Israel and the PA in 1999. Although Mandela was verbally supportive of Arafat and opposed the security fence, trade with Israel blossomed to more than $500 million by 2003. In 2004, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited South Africa. This was the first post-apartheid visit to South Africa by an Israeli leader.
Some leaders in South Africa today, unfortunately, presently refer to Israel in the context of apartheid, but the country’s leaders who lived through the apartheid period in South Africa did not. South Africa’s Ambassador to Israel, Major General Fumanekile Gqiba, certainly resisted the apartheid analogy, and once explained his rationale: “Before I came here, I regarded Jews as whites. Purely whites. But when I came here I discovered that, no, these guys are not purely whites… You’ve got Indian Jews, you’ve got African Jews, and you’ve got even Chinese Jews, right? I began to say to our comrades, no, Israel is not a white country… It’s difficult to say Israel is racist, in a classic sense.”
By the very definition of the term, how could Israel be racist if Israeli society is made up of all races, including its citizens and elected officials?
Recent remarks by South Africa’s Interior Minister, Maite Nkaona-Mashabane, who, as reported by The Algemeiner, turned heads with comments critical of Israel, saying, “The struggle of the people of Palestine is [the South African’s] struggle” seem to miss the greater lessons of South African history. The Minister also reportedly has stated that Ministers of South Africa do not visit Israel currently, further evidence of the anti-Israel bias displayed by the South African regime in a post-Mandela period, although the South African government has made statements this week to deny that fact, stating that there are no rules barring South African leaders from visiting Israel.
In memory of President Mandela, rightly viewed as a champion for equality, it is both timely and fitting to issue a call for the world to cease the inappropriate, unfair and untrue use of the term apartheid when referring to Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people. In that spirit, it should be remembered, acknowledged and appreciated that the Jewish people have historically stood against racism; have always stood for civil and individual rights; have always stood for the dignity and human rights of men, women and children from all religions, all races, all sexes, all national origins; and with a commitment to freedom, liberty and justice for all.
Richard D. Heideman serves as Senior Counsel of the Washington, D.C., law firm Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC, representing victims of terrorism and international human rights violations. He is the author of The Hague Odyssey: Israel’s Struggle for Security on the Front Lines of Terrorism and Her Battle for Justice at the United Nations (Bartleby Press, 2013; see thehagueodyssey.com). Contact [email protected] for more information.