South African Zionism – Apartheid Squared

By Shafiq Morton – Cape Town

Recently there has been a determined, if not desperate flurry of letter writing to the press by the South African Zionist Federation. Strong sentiments on Israel at the African National Congress policy conference at Gallagher Estate near Johannesburg earlier this year has got the lobby in a flutter.

Trade Minister Rob Davie’s proposal – now adopted by Cabinet – that goods manufactured in West Bank settlements (deemed illegal by international law) should state “made in Palestine” instead of “made in Israel”, has caused protest. 

The statement by Deputy International Relations Minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, that trade visits to Israel should be discouraged, has angered the lobby, who now have the former activist lined up in their sights.

Ebrahim has become the victim of an insidious campaign. The tactic is to play the phobia card. The claim is that the South African Muslim community is being pandered to (on the Palestinian issue) to buy ANC votes.

The suggestion that the South African Jewish community is being “sacrificed” in the process – or to put it more bluntly, is a victim of ANC anti-Semitism – is as mischievous as it is misleading. One of the SAZF’s most vilified pro-Palestinian organizations, Open Shuhada Street, has local Jewish human rights activists in its ranks.

The other manufactured perception, that Israel is being especially targeted by the ANC after its policy conference, is laughable. The foreign policy report also mentions the Congo, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Cuba, Syria and Iran. South African foreign policy, as skewed as it may seem to the SAZF or anyone else, is not just focused on one country.

So when I’m told in reply – after mentioning some of these things in an op-ed in a local newspaper – that I should be grateful that Israel invented the USB memory stick, I can only sigh. This is from the same source that glibly suggested South Africa needed Israel to solve its post-apartheid challenges.

Of course, this has not been the first – and nor will it be the last – example of gobbledegook emanating from the Zionist camp; a camp whose desperate spinning – or hasbara – becomes less credible the more threatened it becomes. Admittedly, it must be a tough job when nobody believes you.

This is because the Mearsheimer Report, and other related research in the US on Jewish opinion, is indicating clearly that Israel is slipping significantly down the ladder of importance amongst Diaspora communities. 

In an attempt to engender sympathy, Israel complains garrulously that Islamic fundamentalism is banging at its gates and threatening Jewish identity, but neglects to mention the rise of religious fundamentalism in Israel itself, or that some of the most vociferous anti-Zionist voices in the world are Jewish.

But, no, the largely secular SAZF – like most of its sister bodies around the globe – will spuriously claim to be the authentic voice of Judaism. Jews of conscience (and there are many) will either be ignored or deemed “self-loathing”.

The South African Zionist Federation (one of the most proactive of the Zionist federations) has historically hidden behind two skirts –the first one being contrived victimization (not the topic here) and the second one apartheid.

I was reminded of it the other day by human rights campaigner, Zackie Achmat, in an interview about the “made in Israel” cabinet decision. When talking about Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim becoming the bête-noire of the Zionist lobby, he suggested that members of the SAZF were being self-righteous.

Their allegations of victimhood with regards to the ANC were hypocritical. During the sanctions era they had co-operated with Israel who broke the rules, and furthermore as whites, had benefited from apartheid’s preferential decrees.

Indeed, it is the apartheid memory that begins to explain why the SAZF says what it does on Israel in such a spirit of denial, and why former Rand Daily Mail journalist, Benjamin Progrund, was sent to South Africa to explain to us that there was oppression, but no apartheid in Israel. 

To see Progrund, an eloquent and respected journalist familiar with South African apartheid, trying to justify this was a low point in my career; it was like watching an elderly uncle getting lost in Wonderland.

The point is that Israel practices apartheid, which in its case is systemic discrimination against Palestinians. Apartheid has been codified as a crime against humanity by the international community. And so in terms of generic definition, its practice is not a carbon copy of South Africa.

This is a cute debating trick used by some protagonists, who say that Israel is not South Africa. The statement is true, yes, but the premise that follows is a fig leaf.

As South Africans, the SAZF should know better. Much better. But when it comes to Israel, we have to ask why a South African organization in 2012 will still suffer from the same delusional denial that most whites did under apartheid in 1976. 

No sensible person, God forbid, is propagating the extinction of Israelis. The liberation movements in South Africa never espoused the extinction of whites. The Palestinian liberation struggle has exactly the same outlook.  Those with a human rights conscience are merely asking for Israel to negotiate a just and enduring peace.

However, it has to be remembered peace is hardly ever negotiated between people who like each other. But, at the same time, it cannot become an international stunt to buy another five years of apartheid domination for Israel.

Apartheid builds all kinds of artificial barriers between peoples, and one has to ask whether members of the SAZF on their visits to Israel have ever met Palestinians, or even traveled to the West Bank.

In the same vein, we have to ask how many have spent time in a township – or even inter-acted on a meaningful level with fellow South Africans who suffered under apartheid. And if they have, why haven’t they connected the dotted lines?

Sadly, judging by its knee-jerk petitioning it is evident that the SAZF – which insists on defending the indefensible – has not moved on since 1994. I’m afraid that the apartheid era virus is still very much alive in the South African body. In fact, I would venture that mathematically and ideologically, the South African Zionist Federation equals apartheid squared.

– Shafiq Morton is a presenter at Voice of the Cape radio station. He was South African Vodacom Community Journalist of the Year in 2008 and was recently voted amongst the world’s 500 most influential Muslims by the Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategies Study Centre headed by Prof John Esposito of Georgetown University. He contributed this article to

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