Demolishing the Spurious, Libelous Claim That Israel Is an Apartheid State
Benjamin Pogrund was born in South Africa. As a journalist, he fought the apartheid regime, most notably through his work for The Rand Daily Mail. When the government closed the paper down and exiled him, Benjamin moved to London, where he joined The Independent and The Sunday Times. In his latest book, Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel, he completely demolishes the spurious, not to say libelous, claim that Israel is an apartheid state.
I became an opponent of apartheid when my father took me with him to South Africa in 1955, on one of his lecture tours. While he was busy, I was placed in the charge of some lovely Jewish ladies who turned out to be radical adversaries of the system. They took me around the country, making sure I saw the evils of the system first hand. As a student, I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement, eventually rising to become honorary president of the Scottish arm of the movement.
In 1985, I was approached by the then-chief rabbi of South Africa Bernard Casper, to consider succeeding him. I spent a month in Johannesburg to explore the possibilities, and familiarize myself with the inside story of South Africa — to see whether there was anything I could do, if I took the position, to mitigate or even combat the apartheid government. It was through Benjamin’s good offices that I met many of the African National Congress and Congress of South African Trade Unions underground leadership — not an easy feat. Only Benjamin’s reputation and the enormous respect they had for him got me through. They all advised me not to move to South Africa, telling me that if I would take a stand, I’d be put on the next plane out of the country. They said the situation was hopeless, and a bloodbath was imminent. Of course, fortunately, things worked out differently, due overwhelmingly to the greatness of Nelson Mandela and the realism of President de Klerk. And the late Rabbi Cyril Harris, who took on Rabbi Casper’s role, did an excellent job shepherding the Jewish community through the transition.
Benjamin and his family subsequently moved to Israel, where he joined my late brother, Mickey, in setting up the Centre for Social Concern at Yakar, in Jerusalem, to try to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.
Unlike most people, Benjamin personally knows and has experienced apartheid. Hence, he is better able than most to deal with the charges that Israel is an apartheid state. He can say, categorically, that applying the term apartheid to Israel is simply ignorance, if not malice. To call Israel genocidal when its Arab population has doubled is a joke. Even the population of the Palestinian territories has mushroomed. Which means that Israelis must be the most incompetent genocidists ever!
In his balanced, detailed and honest book, Benjamin completely demolishes the comparison — by presenting entirely objective facts. Under apartheid, no black South African was allowed to vote or take up residence in white areas. In contrast, Israeli Arabs sit in the Knesset, the Supreme Court and hold senior positions never, ever accorded to blacks in South Africa under the old regime. The areas beyond the Green Line currently occupied by Israel are, indeed, in a state of limbo awaiting a final peace settlement, but only the Palestinians are looking for the area to be occupied by only one race. The Afrikaaner whites never intended to give any sovereignty to blacks, regardless of any settlement of differences. Theirs was an ideology of racial superiority, not an unfortunate political accommodation awaiting a peace treaty, in which peace was being pursued in principal, if not always in reality. This book is an excellent overview of the present struggle between two competing claims. It is possibly the fairest book on the market for a balanced, objective viewpoint of this conflict.
It is all the more important because, in examining the charges, Benjamin pulls no punches in criticizing Israel — as it functions within the Green Line, and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. He has no patience for extremism on either side. He points out Israel’s mistakes, failures and shortcomings without trying in any way to disguise or minimize them. This book is an important source of facts and arguments that will help anyone on the frontline defending Israel against the lies, half-truths and mendacious libels that one hears all the time and in almost every sector of the media, the glitterati, the NGOs, the charities and academia. That polemicists and politicians lie is, of course, a given. But that people professing honesty, objectivity and ethics lie illustrates the prejudice and hypocrisy that stalks the world we live in, and actually prevents and postpones any chance of a settlement.
This is the issue. Sadly, no matter what Benjamin, or anyone else for that matter, writes, it will make absolutely no difference. Ideological blindness is played out on university campuses where professors’ leanings become the only points of view acceptable if one intends to pass exams or gain promotions. There, aggressive, bullying student cadres look to disrupt and silence any other perspectives. All this, at a time when most of the nations who berate Israel as a colonial interloper and aggressor are themselves the most corrupt offenders against human rights and civilized behavior on earth.
Israel will survive. But the awful side effect of exaggerated and prejudiced anti-Israel propaganda is that it further empowers right-wing refusal to compromise. It reinforces a siege mentality, imperviousness to self-analysis. One despairs of a solution when exceptional, fair and experienced people like Benjamin will simply not be listened to, because they will be dismissed as tools of colonialism, regardless of their record. At the same time, he will be dismissed by the Israeli Right as being too liberal. Such is the mad, mad world we live in. It is only by encountering good, honest people like Benjamin Pogrund that we can retain some faith in humanity and its prospects.