The Same Apartheid, a Different Suzman

By Iqbal Jassat 

The grand old dame of apartheid era South Africa Helen Suzman is still able to make pretty biting comments laced with arsenic sarcasm. This much is evident from her bitter attack of Ronnie Kasrils in The Citizen (May 21, 2008). She takes exception to Kasrils endorsement of a statement on the Palestinian Nakba published as a full page advertisement a week earlier, under the heading: “We fought apartheid; we see no reason to celebrate it in Israel now!”

Despite being held up as a brave woman who stood up to challenge a succession of apartheid lawmakers in a racist parliament, Suzman appears to have the same difficulty besotting many Jewish South African activists – then and now – an inability to recognize the evils of an equally racist system in Israel.

Suzman’s attack of Kasrils is based on her naïve understanding that Israel cannot be compared with apartheid. The sum total of her argument is based on three major fallacies: Arab citizens in Israel can vote; Arab or Jew can use facilities at the same state hospitals and their children can attend the same state schools.

Such defensive reactions by apologists for Israel are not any different from the claptrap one was confronted with from apartheid SA’s array of spin- doctors. For close to 50years, National Party activists, diplomats and apologists sought to convince the world that apartheid was not comparable to Nazism and to promote its legitimacy it claimed that its policy of “separateness” was not discriminatory at all!

Yet the truth was far removed from their propaganda as indeed it is remotely detached from Suzman’s grasp of the brutal reality of the Nakba. One wonders whether Suzman is merely playing dumb whenever she takes a public position in defence of Israel. For, given her historic role in challenging National Party abuses of human rights at a time its apartheid state was declared a crime against humanity, she ought to know the sanctions busting programme by Israel to sustain and protect SA’s white minority rule.

Fact is that through an abundance of scholarly essays and academic research many – if not all – of the myths that abound in Western media about Israel’s so-called democracy have been shattered. The dismal politics of Israel and the racist legislation of the Knesset whereby non-Jews in general and Palestinian Arabs in particular are excluded from equal citizenship are well documented.

Suzman ought to familiarize herself with at least two notoriously racist enactments in this regard: the “Law of Return” and the “Absentee Property Law”. The first law defines the boundaries of inclusion whereby every Jew (including Suzman) has the right to immigrate to Israel while the second law defines the boundaries of exclusion (‘absentee’).

The question of citizenship therefore hinges on one’s Jewishness or non-Jewishness. In other words, these colonial laws permits every Jew throughout the world legal entitlement to Israeli citizenship upon immigration, while they deny citizenship to six million plus people, made up of the 1948 Palestinian Arabs and their descendants who were exiled as a consequence of the 1948-9 and the 1967 wars!

Since the demise of apartheid where else besides Israel does one find such crude forms of racism Mrs Suzman?

It’s impossible for any well-informed and sincere person to ignore the facts surrounding the founding of Israel before 1948 and since. As Tanya Reinhart put it so well: “A haunted, persecuted people sought to find a shelter and a state for itself, and did so at a horrible price to another people”.

-Iqbal Jassat is the chairman of the Media Review Network in South Africa. He contributed this article to For more information visit:

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