Jews, Israel, and South Africa

An article in the Forward describes a new book by Sasha Polakow-Suransky on Israel’s relationship with apartheid South Africa (“Writer Takes Controversial Look at Israel-South Africa Ties“). It’s long been known that Israel had a warm relationship with South Africa. This book describes just how close they were. They engaged in “extended cooperation” on nuclear issues, with SA providing uranium and both countries cooperating in building and testing missiles.

More importantly, it claims that some important Israelis went beyond purely practical support to approving apartheid itself: “For at least some on the Israeli side, … it became a bond of two allies who understood and sympathized with each other’s existential struggles. He sees similarities between Afrikanner nationalism and the revisionist Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his ideological heirs.”

The latter claim especially is distasteful to Jews who want to believe that applied liberalism is a timeless moral imperative in Judaism — that is, the vast majority of American Jews. But the reality is, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently pointed out, at the present time Israel “is governed by [Jabotinsky’s] conscious heirs,” and Israel is routinely referred to as an apartheid state.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (left). A photo of Vladimir Jabotinsky (right) loomed over former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as he spoke at the Likud Party convention in August, 2004.

Polakow-Suransky’s parents left South Africa in 1973 because his mother faced the prospect of arrest for her anti-apartheid work. The parents were high-profile opponents of apartheid–an aspect of Jewish involvement in the left that has been such an important influence in the US and elsewhere. The Forward article quotes Gideon Shimoni, a prominent Israeli historian who is rather negative about the book because it presents Shimon Peres as a hypocrite “who spoke out against apartheid in public but fostered the relationship in secret.”

But hypocrisy among Jews about apartheid-related issues is utterly commonplace, and I can’t see any reason why Peres should be an exception. This is particularly an affliction of Jews in Western societies who simultaneously support a Jewish apartheid ethnostate in Israel and vigorously and effectively oppose any sign of ethnic/racial consciousness among Whites in the US.

Shimoni’s book on Jews in South Africa during apartheid presents a nuanced picture. This is my summary (see here, p. 338):

The great majority of Jews in South Africa cooperated with the apartheid system. Between 1948 and 1970, most Jews gave their political allegiance to the United Party which “was quite as committed to white supremacy as were the Afrikaner nationalists.” By the 1970s Jews were turning more to the Progressive Party which advocated a gradual dismantling of apartheid, but “there appeared to be a grain of truth in the then current cynical quip that most Jews spoke like Progressives, voted for the United Party, and hoped that the Nationalist Party would remain in power.”

However, the most striking feature of Jewish political behavior under apartheid was that Jews were vastly overrepresented among those banned by the government because of their opposition to apartheid. For example, Jews represented more than half the whites arrested in the Treason Trial of 1956 and almost half of whites suspected of being members of the Communist Party in 1962; in the public mind therefore, “Jews were inordinately prominent in the ranks of those who were attempting to subvert the state.” The best predictor of Jewish participation in radical politics in South Africa was exposure to the political radicalism of the Eastern European Jewish subculture as a child. As indicated below, it is the special character of this Jewish group that has been so critical to the revolution in race relations in the U.S. since WWII. (Shimoni, G. (2003; Community and Conscience: The Jews in Apartheid South Africa.)

This is similar to the American South prior to 1965. Jews generally went along with segregation. There is nothing in Judaism per se that is inconsistent with apartheid-style social systems. Indeed, ethnic separation is essential to Judaism, and Jews have often made alliances with oppressive elites.  It was the politically radical Eastern European Jews who changed the world by promoting political radicalism — often in conjunction with Zionism. Leftist radicalism and Zionism are the two great movements of Jews in the last 100 years. (See also Caryl Johnston’s current TOO article on Douglas Reed.)

The contradictions between leftist radicalism as a Jewish Diaspora strategy (aimed at displacing non-Jewish elites–often with a mask of universalism) and Zionism (aimed at establishing a Jewish ethnonationalist state) remain with us. Abe Foxman and his ilk are still trying to have their cake and eat it too by promoting the leftist anti-White agenda in the Diaspora in Western Societies while also supporting the most extreme manifestations of ethnonationalism among the Israelis. But their rhetoric is getting quite threadbare as Israel’s apartheid nature is becoming apparent to all. At least people like Sharon and Peres understood the reality that in the end Israel would have to be an apartheid state — even though they had to be hypocrites in public.

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