Friday, December 13, 2013

Belated Review (2): IT’S JUST ZIONISM

                       IT’S JUST ZIONISM

The Jordan Valley and the Zambezi Valley are alike frontiers today of the free world.”
South African Broadcasting Corporation, 1972.

Recessionary times being what they are, I ordered my second-hand copy of Sasha Polakov-Suransky’s The Unspoken AllianceIsrael’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa online from the USA. It arrived with a tag on the cover identifying its source as Timberland Regional Library, but with “OFFICIALLY WITHDRAWN FROM TIMBERLAND REGIONAL LIBRARY” stamped on the first fly-leaf. Presumably some local Zionist(s) in Washington State had complained so bitterly about the book that the library was terrorised into withdrawing it. If this interpretation is correct, it says a lot about the relentless attention to detail of the US Zionist lobby, and a great deal about its contempt for the free dissemination of information. (You can read a generous extract from the book here.)

The Unspoken Alliance disseminates a great deal of information about the mutual love-affair between apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel. This affair lingered long after even the United States had joined the sanctions campaign against apartheid, and was accompanied by the same barrage of official lies that has typified Israeli propaganda (hasbara) since the state’s foundation.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death the book has acquired fresh relevance, clarifying as it does in exhaustive detail just why Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might not have been welcome guests at the funeral of the same former “terrorist" who, according to  Israeli diplomat Elazar Granot as cited by Polakow-Suransky, asserted at a gathering of the Socialist International in 1993: “The people of South Africa will never forget the support of the state of Israel to the apartheid regime.” (p.219)

The former Israeli ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel threw cold water on the claim that “high travel costs” explained Netanyahu’s decision not to fly to the funeral. "Netanyahu is not a welcome guest in South Africa today. I think it was right of him not to go…" More doubtful is Liel’s thesis that Peres would have been more welcome: "Peres is a whole different story. Peres has an entire history and he represents a different policy. It's a shame he didn't go.” The “history” in question is marked by flagrant hypocrisy. Although Peres had the effrontery to state that “[a] Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew” (Polakow-Suransky, p.188), he presided for thirty years over deepening economic and military links between Israel and apartheid South Africa that helped the latter hold out against international opprobrium. The dissident Israeli journalist Amira Hass has recently epitomised Peres’s historical role with great clarity: “Peres played a major role in the security and economic ties Israel established with the racist regime in South Africa and its pro-Nazi founders. As one of the founding fathers of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and the instigator of the ‘functional solution,’ he bears a large responsibility for the policies of ‘separate development’ that prevail [in Israel/Palestine].”

Polakow-Suransky rightly has a particular antipathy to “the ever sanctimonious”  Peres (pp. 233-4). Given the bizarrely idealised reputation Peres enjoys in the USA (and elsewhere in the West) this may be one explanation why The Unspoken Alliance disappeared from the shelves of Timberland Regional Library. However, he is almost equally critical of the less blatantly sanctimonious but long since canonised Yithzak Rabin, Peres’s rival and eventual accomplice in devising the Oslo Accord, a massive confidence trick perpetrated against Palestinian rights. Polakow-Suransky quotes Liel (p.197) on his, Liel’s, attempts to make a case for sanctions against South Africa in 1986: “[With] Rabin, we knew we could not go through the moral arguments, we had to go through the realpolitik” – i.e. Rabin, who opposed sanctions (p.193), was impervious to political morality. When in 1987 Israel bowed to international pressure and “unveiled a comprehensive sanctions package”, Rabin “assured the South Africans that the changes would be ‘mainly symbolic’ and would be announced publicly to ‘lessen the negative effects of contact with the RSA,’ which was damaging Israel’s image.” (p.204)
While I hope that the renewed focus on the Israel/Apartheid South Africa link will lead more people to read this book, I have some reservations about its political slant. Although Polakow-Suransky ruthlessly dismembers Israeli hasbara concerning the links with apartheid, he seems all too willing to take it at face value in other respects.

He believes that Israel was founded by “socialist idealists” (p.5) and refers to “the strong socialist leanings of Ben-Gurion’s government” (p.23): assessments that only make sense if you believe that ethnic cleansing is compatible with idealism and exclusivist nationalism with socialism.

He tells us that in the early 1960s “most Israeli government officials opposed apartheid on moral grounds” and quotes Ben-Gurion’s assertion that “[a] Jew can’t be for discrimination” (p.31), a slogan that Peres was clearly echoing with his cynical “[a] Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew”. However, as I have pointed out in the preceding blog, “between 1948 and 1966 the Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a gruelling system of de facto military dictatorship” which “allowed for the expulsion of population, the arbitrary summoning of any citizen to a police station at any time, arrest and detention without trial, the imposition of curfews, and curtailment of the freedom of the press and expression.” To have “opposed apartheid on moral grounds” while implementing such a system of de facto apartheid against Palestinian Israelis itself implies a racist double standard.

We read that prime minister Golda Meir, who apparently saw Africa through a “moral prism” (p.73), sought to “fulfil… a dream of Zionism’s founding father, Theodor Herzl, to assist in the redemption of the Africans” (p.28). In return, she “was… revered by the leaders of Africa’s anticolonial revolutions… as a foe of racism and colonialism” (p.32).

This is the same Golda Meir who proclaimed: “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” To “revere” someone with such views as “a foe of racism and colonialism” is a mockery.

In his Prologue, Polakow-Suransky assures us that “[t]his book does not equate Zionism with South African racism, as a 1975 United Nations resolution infamously did” (p.10). However, UNGA Resolution 3379, determining that “Zionism is a form of racism”, did nothing of the sort: it recalled resolution 3151 G (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973 which condemned “the unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism” (my emphasis) which is, after all, the theme of Polakow-Suransky’s book.

In the Epilogue we read that “the apartheid analogy is an imperfect one”, a claim Polakow-Suransky backs up by enumerating the differences between Israel and “white South Africa and many other colonial regimes” (pp.236-7). One might indeed counter this by listing developments since the book’s publication that make the analogy more apposite, but this would also be missing the point: apartheid is not an analogy, but a crime, and as such is condemned under international law – most notably the UN’s 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Professor John Dugard’s take on this is worth quoting at length:

Apartheid features as a crime in the Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind adopted by the International Law Commission on first reading in 1991 without any reference to South Africa and in 1996 the Draft Code adopted on second reading recognized institutionalized racial discrimination as species of crime against humanity in article 18 (f) and explained in its commentary that this “is in fact the crime of apartheid under a more general denomination”…  In 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court included the “crime of apartheid” as a form of crime against humanity (art. 7). It may be concluded that the Apartheid Convention is dead as far as the original cause for its creation – apartheid in South Africa – is concerned, but that it lives on as a species of the crime against humanity, under both customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (My emphasis)

Strangely enough, at no point does Polakow-Suransky refer to apartheid as a crime under international law, so when he claims that “[t]he apartheid analogy may be inexact today, but it won’t be forever” his argument, whether accurate or not, remains beside the point. Zionism is a political ideology that cannot be implemented without the perpetration of “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them” and the implementation of “measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group” (1973 Convention). In a word: Zionism is institutionalised racism, and hence a form of apartheid.

It is insufficient, therefore, for Polakow-Suransky to call upon Israel to “move soon to dismantle West Bank settlements on a large scale and create a viable Palestinian state” that would consign Palestinian Israelis to permanent second-class citizenship within a Jewish ethnocracy while denying the Palestinian right of return. Just as South Africa had to shed apartheid before it could become a democracy (with all its admitted imperfections), Israel must shed Zionism before it can be admitted, in the words of its so-called Declaration of Independence, “into the family of nations”.

Indeed ultimately it must become possible to cease “equating” or “comparing” Zionism with apartheid: the term “Zionism” must eventually be seen as sufficiently infamous in itself.
Do these flaws discredit The Unspoken Alliance? On the contrary. The very fact that Polakow-Suransky holds views that one might describe as “liberal Zionist” lends added weight to his meticulously documented critique of Israel’s behaviour (although not  in the eyes of the ultra-Zionist Commentary, in which James Kirchick denounces the author’s whole project as “manipulative, irresponsible, and offensive”. To be thus slated by Commentary is itself a badge of honour). The Unspoken Alliance is a mine of information and a brisk, compulsive read. The members of Timberland Public Library should protest against their deprivation.


  1. I don't think the two state solution is possible anymore. It seems to me that, difficult though it may be to achieve, one state with equal rights for all is what we should be striving for.

  2. Eoin - I agree with you about the two state solution, of course. However, it's up to the Palestinians to strive for it - or to tell us, through representatives they trust, that this is what they also want us to strive for.