Israel 2023, South Africa 1948.
I’ve lived through it before: grabbing power, fascism and racism, destroying democracy. Israel is going where South Africa was 75 years ago. It’s like watching the replay of a horror movie.
In 1948, as a teenager in Cape Town, I followed the results of the May 26 election on a giant board on a newspaper building. The winner-takes-all electoral system produced distorted results: the Afrikaner Nationalist party, with its smaller partner, won 79 parliamentary seats against 74 for the United Party and its smaller partner.
But the Nats, as they were called, in fact won only 37.7 percent of the vote against the opposition’s 49.18 percent. Although the opposition got more than 11 percent more votes, the Nats said they had a majority and could do what they wanted.
In the Israel of 2023, I’m reliving some of these same experiences. Our proportional election system can distort results as well: last November, Likud, with its smaller partners, won 64 seats against 56 for the opposition. In fact, the right-wing bloc won by only 0.6 percent of the vote.
The 0.6 percent government says that it represents the will of the majority and can do whatever it wants. It goes on saying this even though a poll from the Israel Democracy Institute shows that less than one-third of Israelis back its law to end the so-called reasonableness standard, which allowed the High Court to overturn government decisions it deemed unreasonable.
South Africa enjoyed democracy – that is, among the whites who were 20 percent of the population. Blacks had no right to vote; only some multiracial and Asian South Africans could vote. Those who were not white suffered heavy racial discrimination in every part of their lives.
In Israel, Arabs, who form about 21 percent of the population, can vote. But they do suffer discrimination: Muslims and Christians are not drafted, and those who do not do army service lose out on benefits. The Jewish National Fund owns about 13 percent of Israel’s land and bars non-Jews – that is, Arabs – from owning or renting it.
The coalition promises to deepen the discrimination. It has already threatened to withdraw millions of shekels meant for upgrading poor Arab living conditions.
In South Africa, the Nationalist victory meant apartheid, which intensified and institutionalized the existing discrimination against people of color.
In 2001, I joined Israel’s government delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban. The Sharon government invited me because of my expertise after a quarter-century as a journalist in South Africa; my specialty was reporting apartheid close up.
At the conference, I was disturbed and angered by the multitude of lies and exaggerations about Israel. During the years since, I have argued with all my might against the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state: in lectures, newspaper articles, on TV and in a book.
However, the accusation is becoming fact. First, the Nation-State law elevates Jews above fellow citizens who are Arab – Muslim, Druze, Bedouin, and Christian. Every day sees government ministers and their allies venting racism, and following up with discriminatory actions. There is no mercy even for the Druze who, like Jews, have been conscripted into the military since 1948.
Second, Israel can no longer claim security as the reason for our behavior in the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. After 56 years, our occupation can no longer be explained as temporary, pending a solution to the conflict with Palestinians. We are heading toward annexation, with calls to double the 500,000 Israeli settlers already in the West Bank.
The army is fully complicit in the illegal seizure of land and the creation of settlement outposts. The government misuses many million shekels for settlers. It abuses its own laws. Settlers kill Palestinians and destroy houses and cars. The courts seldom intervene. Soldiers stand by and watch.
We deny Palestinians any hope of freedom and normal lives. We believe our own propaganda that a few million people will meekly accept perpetual inferiority and oppression.
The government is driving Israel deeper and deeper into inhuman, cruel behavior beyond any defense. I don’t have to be religious to know that this is a shameful betrayal of Jewish morality and history.
In South Africa, nice words were used for destructive laws. Imposing apartheid on universities to restrict black access was done by the “Extension of University Education Act.” Tightening the “pass” – the document which was the basic means of control over blacks – was done by the “Abolition of Passes (Coordination of Documents) Act.”
In Israel, “judicial reform” is used to describe the destruction of democracy, starting with ending judicial review of the executive and Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells foreign TV that the changes are small and the opposition is silly. He does not explain why then he and his partners have been ruthlessly determined to ram it through despite colossal opposition and with the country on fire.
In South Africa, removing the vote from multiracial and Asian citizens set off mass protests, led by World War II veterans. The highest court, the Appellate Division, struck down the vote law as unconstitutional. The Nationalists used their majority in parliament to set up a High Court of Parliament, which overruled the Appellate Division, and was then dumped. Multiracial and Asian citizens lost the right to vote.
Opposition to apartheid grew. The Nats, with their majority in parliament, enacted the Suppression of Communism Act, giving the justice minister the authority to issue arbitrary decrees severely curtailing personal freedoms. Punishments included house arrest and being forbidden to be with more than one other person, and prohibition on public speaking or writing. Offenders could get up to five years in jail. Communists were the first target, followed by liberals – even fervent anti-communists – and anyone who opposed apartheid, peacefully or violently. Then came 30-day detention without trial, which grew to three months, then six months and finally detention without end.
Many thousands were “banned,” detained without trial and sentenced to lengthy imprisonment. Army and police repeatedly went into segregated black townships and killed and brutalized people.
In Israel, about 1,200 West Bank Palestinians are reported to be imprisoned without trial. The army constantly raids West Bank towns, wreaking havoc and detaining more so-called terrorist suspects. Tragedies continue.
Under the guise of fighting crime in the Arab community, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wants a law to give the police the power to jail Israelis without charge or trial – a policy already practiced in the West Bank.
Ben-Gvir has already replaced the Tel Aviv police chief, whom he reviled for being too lenient on protestors. He has ensured that the prisons head’s tenure will conclude at the end of this year. He is checking promotions and hiring in police and prisons. He wants an expensive “national guard,” under his control.
In South Africa, a secret Afrikaner organization, the Broederbond, (Band of Brothers), pulled the strings behind the scenes. It approved every job of significance: school headmasters, police, senior prison and army officers and the civil service members. Its partner was the Dutch Reformed Church, described as the Nationalist Party at prayer. Calvinist and conservative, its priests declared that the Bible was literally true, that it justified apartheid and Afrikaners were the Chosen People whose mission was to save “white civilization.”
The Nats applied “Christian National Education” to schools. Radio and television were tightly controlled. Movies and theater were censored. Thousands of books were banned as “undesirable, objectionable or obscene.” Marriage across color lines was prohibited. The entire country was divided so that people of different races lived in their own areas; whites took the most and the best. Millions of people of color were forced out of their homes.
In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox have joined forces with Likud and religious nationalists to secure unlimited money for their separate schools, to keep their children out of the army and to impose their religious dictates on the entire country. They control Jewish marriage and divorce, and allow only Orthodox marriages. Their reach is only spreading.
In South Africa, international opposition to apartheid was rejected. The country became the polecat of the world. United Nations condemnations and boycotts and business disinvestment were dismissed. The economy sank. Finally, ruined, it could no longer support apartheid and this was a major reason forcing whites to give up their power and privileges in 1994.
In Israel the results of the coalition’s assault on the judiciary, and its promises of much more to come, are well reported. The disastrous effects on the economy are already emerging. The United States gives Israel $3.8 billion-plus every year and defends us against attacks, whether justified or not, in international forums. We depend on the United States for survival, but we are losing support in Congress. Coalition leaders couldn’t care less.
The Education Ministry’s director general has quit in protest of the judicial overhaul. Judges are denigrated. The coalition wants the attorney general fired. The lawyers’ association is being defanged. Stringent control is underway for the media. Shabbat observance is coerced. Culture and women’s rights are coming under restrictive control. Bedouin are evicted en masse. Protestors are called traitors.
We are at the mercy of fascists and racists (both carefully chosen words) who cannot, and will not, stop.
I write about South Africa and Israel because I know both of them, 53 years in one and nearly 26 years in the other. Neither is unique. The same pattern of right-wing repression has happened in our time in Hungary and Poland, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and earlier, in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.
In Israel, I am now witnessing the apartheid with which I grew up. Israel is giving a gift to its enemies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its allies, especially in South Africa, where denial of Israel’s existence is intense among many Blacks, in trade unions and communist and Muslim circles. BDS activists will continue to make their claims, out of ignorance and/or malevolence, spreading lies about Israel. They have long distorted what is already bad into grotesqueness, but will now claim vindication. Israel is giving them truth.
Benjamin Pogrund, South African-born, was deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg, and came on Aliyah to launch a dialogue center in Jerusalem. He was awarded South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga Silver for services to journalism and academia during apartheid.Article link: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-08-10/ty-article-opinion/.premium/for-decades-i-defended-israel-from-claims-of-apartheid-i-no-longer-can/00000189-d4ac-d821-afdd-dfacb4060000
Article source: Haaretz | Benjamin Pogrund | Aug 10, 2023