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Israel and South Africa’s former Apartheid regime: Is It a Fair Comparison?

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by Edward Corrigan [excerpted article]

There is a controversy raging in North America over Israeli Apartheid Week (March 1-7 2010).1 A resolution was passed in the Ontario Provincial Parliament which was unanimously supported (only 30 MPPs voted) and declared the comparison of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to apartheid as “odious.” To quote an article in the Toronto Star Canada’s largest circulation paper.

In a rare show of unanimity, Ontario MPPs of all political stripes have banded together to condemn “Israeli Apartheid Week.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman (Thornhill) tabled the motion Thursday to denounce the sixth annual provocative campus event that kicks off next week at universities and colleges in 35 cities around the world.

“Resolutions in the Ontario Legislature send a message. They are about moral suasion,” said Shurman, adding “it is close to hate speech” to liken democratic Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.

“I want the name changed. It’s just wrong,” he said, emphasizing that “respectful” debate about the Middle East is much more constructive than slinging slurs.

“Israeli Apartheid Week is not a dialogue, it’s a monologue, and it is an imposition of a view by the name itself – the name is hateful, it is odious,” he said, adding it is also offensive to the millions of black South Africans oppressed by a racist white regime until the early 1990s.2

Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman (Thornhill) was quoted as saying that he wants “the name changed. It’s just wrong” and that his resolution is about “moral suasion”, and that the term apartheid is “close to hate speech…hateful” and “odious”. He says he wants a “respectful” debate much more “constructive” than “slinging slurs.”

New Democratic MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) also claimed that the word apartheid is “inflammatory” and ”used inappropriately in the case of Israel”. “Apartheid does not help the discussion,” she states.

Shurman also argued that the comparison “is also offensive to the millions of black South Africans oppressed by a racist white regime until the early 1990s.”2

It is interesting to see what South African’s who actually lived under the Apartheid system have to say about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The natural basis of such kinship between the policies of Israel and South Africa was apparently recognized by the virulent supporter of Apartheid and prime minister of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd. He noted in 1961 that Jews “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that I agree with them, Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”3

The much revered leader of the struggle against racism and Apartheid in South Africa and the first President of the non-racist Republic of South Africa Nelson Mandela had the following to say on the issue of the Palestinians. To quote journalist John Pilger, “To Nelson Mandela, justice for the Palestinians is ‘the greatest moral issue of our time.’”4

Here is an excerpt from a speech Nelson Mandela gave on International day of Solidarity with the Palestinians.

The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own. We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others faces.

Yet we would be less than human if we did so.

It behooves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.

Even during the days of negotiations, our own experience taught us that the pursuit of human fraternity and equality — irrespective of race or religion – should stand at the centre of our peaceful endeavours. The choice is not between freedom and justice, on the one hand, and their opposite, on the other. Peace and prosperity; tranquility and security are only possible if these are enjoyed by all without discrimination.

It is in this spirit that I have come to join you today to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.5

In March 1985, Denis Goldberg, a Jewish South African and member of the African National Congress and sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment for “conspiring to overthrow the apartheid regime,” was released through the intercession of his daughter, an Israeli, and top Israeli officials, including the president of Israel and allowed to go into exile to Israel.

Goldberg said after arriving in Israel that he saw “many similarities in the oppression of blacks in South Africa and of Palestinians.” He called for a total economic boycott of South Africa, singling out Israel as a major ally of the apartheid regime. Refusing to live in a country that supported Apartheid South Africa Goldberg quickly left Israel and moved to London, England.6

Mr. Aziz Pahad, the South African Deputy Foreign Minister, and Mr. Kgalema Motlanthe, the Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), met with Palestinian human rights activists on 6 June 2008 in South Africa. The South Africans officials had recently returned from a visit to the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territory. In the meeting with Arab Political Leaders and Adalah representatives Mr. Pahad and Mr. Motlanthe stressed the South African government’s support for the Palestinian people. Mr. Motlanthe stated that in his view “the current situation for Palestinians in the OPT is worse than conditions were for Blacks under the Apartheid regime.”7

Here is an excerpt from an article describing the reactions of Veteran African Congress members after visiting the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle said last night that the restrictions endured by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories was in some respects worse than that imposed on the black majority under white rule in South Africa.

Members of a 23-strong human-rights team of prominent South Africans cited the impact of the Israeli military’s separation barrier, checkpoints, the permit system for Palestinian travel, and the extent to which Palestinians are barred from using roads in the West Bank.

After a five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories, some delegates expressed shock and dismay at conditions in the Israeli-controlled heart of Hebron. Uniquely among West Bank cities, 800 settlers now live there and segregation has seen the closure of nearly 3,000 Palestinian businesses and housing units. Palestinian cars (and in some sections pedestrians) are prohibited from using the once busy streets.

“Even with the system of permits, even with the limits of movement to South Africa, we never had as much restriction on movement as I see for the people here,” said an ANC parliamentarian, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge of the West Bank. “There are areas in which people would live their whole lifetime without visiting because it’s impossible.”8

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy also wrote an article on this visit by South African dignitaries. Here are excerpts from his report:

Lunch is in a hotel in the city, and Madlala-Routledge speaks. “It is hard for me to describe what I am feeling. What I see here is worse than what we experienced. But I am encouraged to find that there are courageous people here. We want to support you in your struggle, by every possible means. There are quite a few Jews in our delegation, and we are very proud that they are the ones who brought us here. They are demonstrating their commitment to support you. In our country we were able to unite all the forces behind one struggle, and there were courageous whites, including Jews, who joined the struggle. I hope we will see more Israeli Jews joining your struggle.”

She was deputy defense minister from 1999 to 2004; in 1987 she served time in prison. Later, I asked her in what ways the situation here is worse than apartheid. “The absolute control of people’s lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw.”

Madlala-Routledge thinks that the struggle against the occupation is not succeeding here because of U.S. support for Israel – not the case with apartheid, which international sanctions helped destroy. Here, the racist ideology is also reinforced by religion, which was not the case in South Africa. “Talk about the ‘promised land’ and the ‘chosen people’ adds a religious dimension to racism which we did not have.”

Equally harsh are the remarks of the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times of South Africa, Mondli Makhanya, 38. “When you observe from afar you know that things are bad, but you do not know how bad. Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. In a certain sense, it is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.

“The apartheid regime viewed the blacks as inferior; I do not think the Israelis see the Palestinians as human beings at all. How can a human brain engineer this total separation, the separate roads, the checkpoints? What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible – and yet there is no comparison. Here it is more terrible. We also knew that it would end one day; here there is no end in sight. The end of the tunnel is blacker than black.9

Here is what other prominent South Africans have to say about the issue of Israel and Apartheid.   PLEASE SEE LINK


Serious discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must include the full spectrum of opinion in keeping with democratic values, free speech and much needed critical inquiry. In Israel, there is a vibrant political debate, and while this debate and democratic discourse is coming increasingly under attack, this debate contributes to the vitality of Israeli society as it deals with the Palestinian issue, the nature of a “Jewish State” and how to govern its society.

America, which provides a great deal of financial, military and political support for Israel, needs to be aware of this debate in Israel and in Jewish circles, and to understand the ramifications of uncritical support for the policies and actions of Israel toward the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. To stifle and censor the discussion of these important issues does no favors for the United States, Canada or for Israel or the Jewish people.

  1. Israeli Apartheid Week: Solidarity in action: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, March 1-7, 2010. []
  2. MPPs decry linking Israel to `apartheid’: In rare show of political unity, legislators join in denouncing ‘odious’ name of campus event,” Toronto Star, February 26, 2010. [] []
  3. Israel and South Africa: A Natural Alliance,” by Robert B. Ashmore, The Link, October-November 1988, Volume 21, Issue 4. []
  4. For Israel, a Reckoning,” by John Pilger,, January 14, 2010. []
  5. Address by President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Pretoria, 4 December 1997. []
  6. The Israeli-South African-U.S. Alliance,” by Jane Hunter, The Link, March-April 1986,Volume 19, Issue 1, p. 1. []
  7. Delegation of Arab Political Leaders and Adalah Representatives in South Africa Meet with Lawyers from the Legal Resources Center, Ministers and Government Officials to Discuss Constitution Building and Human Rights, Adalah, 9 June 2008. []
  8. ‘This is like apartheid’: ANC veterans visit West Bank,” By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, July 11, 2008. []
  9. Worse than apartheid,” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 10/07/2008. []
     Guardian, February 3, 2010. [] []

Edward C. Corrigan is a lawyer certified as a Specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada in London, Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Edward.

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Written by thecanadianheadlines

March 3, 2010 at 2:00 am

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2 Responses

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  1. Join the Pax evolution in Israeli-Palestinian peace-brokerage and social media. Follow Pax_101 on Facebook and Twitter – @Pax_101. Civil dialogue and respectful debate are the roads to the future.

    Pax R.

    March 5, 2010 at 6:51 pm

  2. Sir,

    May I remind you that Jews are not settlers of the Holy Land: they are just as indigenous as Arabs, Druse, Turks, etc., in the Middle East. Despite numerous expulsions, Jews have lived in the ME for thousands of years, so Mr. Verwoerd’s and others’ statements about Jews taking land from the Arabs is incorrect. This is not what can be said about the Europeans who settled North and South America, who massacred the native Indians and stole their lands.

    There are many areas worldwide where boundaries are disputed, so why single out Israel? Also, the Palestinians have brought the separation upon themselves — maybe, that separation wall would not be there if they had not sent in suicide bombers targeting Israeli civilians. It is the Arabs’ refusal to live in peace with the Jews that has brought many of the problems the Palestinians are experiencing. Any country has a right to take measures to prevent unprovoked attacks against its security, therefore these tight separation/security measures.

    What is not mentioned here is that the Nationalist Government of South Africa obtained its ideas of separating blacks from whites from Canada, in its treatment of the First Nations peoples, who, by the way, still live on reserves set apart for them, under living standards far below that of whites.

    My suggestion is that you clean up your own backyard, before pointing your finger at others, Mr. Corrigan — in the words (paraphrased) of Christ Jesus:

    * Judge not, lest you yourself be judged.
    * If anyone among you has not sinned, cast the first stone.

    Yola Miryam Hurwitz

    March 7, 2010 at 6:58 am

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