The More Things Change: The South Africa Calumny
In the ancient days of campus battles on Israel, we did not have to contend with annual Israel hate weeks. Still, the situation was not that much different; it’s just that the anti-Israel activities were spread out over the course of the school year. In modern times, the Israeli hate weeks now focus on the antisemitic BDS campaign to link Israel to South Africa’s old racist, apartheid policies. But this linkage is also not new, and dates back decades.
As I once again perused my archives in an effort to declutter my office, I discovered an article that I co-authored as a graduate student with an undergraduate history major named Mitchell Hurvitz (where are you now, Mitchell?) in May 1985. The catalyst for the article was the appearance of a sign displayed on a campus in “Mandela City,” which depicted a white task-master wearing a Jewish star and whipping a black man. In our article, we observed that the real whipping boy was the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
It’s also striking to look back and see that the person we quoted in defending Israel was former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, who, we noted, was not known as a great supporter of Israel — as a result of policies he was associated with during the Carter administration. Nevertheless, Young said that, “It is unfair to link Israel to South Africa. If there is a link, you must compare Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States. All of them have links with South Africa. Israel becomes a too easy scapegoat for other problems we have.”
That’s actually an argument people today have mostly forgotten about. Israel’s relationship with South Africa was not unique. The fact that Israel is made a scapegoat is an indication that those trying to connect Israel and South Africa in such a manner are, indeed, antisemitic. Universities should be reminded that allowing hate weeks on their campuses each year are enabling and fomenting antisemitism. They are no more justified on free speech grounds than allowing a group to sponsor a “Gay Hate Week” or “Black Lives Don’t Matter” festival.
Responding to the Orwellian logic of Israel’s detractors, we pointed out, in our article, many of the basic facts that today’s activists are familiar with — such as Israel’s toleration of dissent and the right of Arab citizens to vote. By contrast, we reminded our fellow students, South Africa jailed and executed dissidents and denied its black majority the right to vote.
Something we also reported on, that few people today are aware of, is that Israel’s trade with South Africa at that time was $200 million, and accounted for 0.4 percent of South Africa’s imports and 0.7 percent of its exports. By comparison, a majority of black African states maintained robust trade ties with the racist regime there. Those countries imported $700 million worth of goods annually from South Africa, despite their calls for a boycott.
And where did South Africa get most of its oil from? We cited the Shipping and Research Bureau of Amsterdam, an anti-apartheid research foundation, which found that 76 percent of South Africa’s oil was imported from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman from mid-1981 through 1982. Today’s anti-Israel activists, of course, don’t know or care about the Arab role in the slave trade.
Israel was also constantly vilified for its military relationship with South Africa. Meanwhile, most of South Africa’s arms were purchased from other countries, primarily in Europe.
Ambassador Young, a vigorous opponent of South Africa’s policies, did not blame Israel for its relations with the regime that he and so many others despised. “I do not think it helps South African blacks one bit,” he said, “for Israel to cut their relationship off.”
It’s good to remember that the delegitimization of Israel that has become so widespread today is not new. Even that term was familiar to old school activists, as you can see from the conclusion that Mitchell and I drew 22 years ago, which remains valid today:
People concerned about the injustice of South Africa should not allow themselves to be fooled by those who would like to delegitimize the state of Israel by linking it with South Africa. These people would deny the Jews the right to self-determination just as the government of South Africa denies that right to its black majority.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of “Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” “The Arab Lobby,” and the novel “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”