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Opposing Apartheid: Palestine and the Experience of South Africa - with Ilan Pappe and Ronnie Kasrils

January 28, 2014 at 2:53 am

Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe and South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former government minister Ronnie Kasrils spoke on Wednesday 10 March 2010 in the Houses of Parliament on the subject of opposing apartheid. Drawing comparisons between the oppressive nature of the former South African apartheid regime and the current Israeli government they highlighted the way forward for Palestine.

Professor Ilan Pappe:

“Zionism is a very successful project of deception.” Deception can be challenged even if the occupation cannot.

Professor Ilan PappeSimply by looking at the title of one of his books, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, you can see why so many close-minded members of Israeli society made it their mission to make life so intolerable for the brave and outspoken academic Professor Ilan Pappe. So successful were they that he was forced to leave Israel, the land of his birth. Following repeated death threats and calls for him to be sacked he came to live in Britain. “Israel’s loss is our gain”, as was said at this programme. Now a Professor of History at Exeter University, Ilan Pappe is an Israeli Jew and one of the foremost in the group known as Revisionist or New Historians. He focuses on uncovering the myths of Zionism and exposing it for what it really is.

“Zionism is a very successful project of deception,” he said, and “the most important element an activist should be aware of is the element of deception. It is very, very important.” Prof. Pappe credited the late Palestinian Professor Edward Said for being one of the first intellectuals to point out that deception.


The deception that Israel uses to cover up its crimes must be addressed because it can have very serious ramifications. For example, the UN fact-finding mission that produced the Goldstone Report was not the first Commission to investigate Israel for war crimes. The McBride Commission took place after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and came to the conclusion that Israel had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. However, Prof. Pappe declared, “the McBride Report was buried”. In the UN not one Western government took it seriously. He said that this showed the power of the Zionist deception. Within only three months of the brutal Israeli massacres in Lebanon, the Western media and politicians had accepted Israel’s excuses and their false story about what happened. Israel simply said that the problem in Lebanon was a problem between Lebanese Christians and Lebanese Muslims and that it really had nothing to do with them. That lie was “digested” by the Western media without any real consideration of the facts. But Goldstone, he claims, has a chance to have a different fate if we wise up to Zionist tactics now. At the moment, there is a danger that history will repeat itself in that the Israeli assault on Gaza should speak for itself and yet there seems to be the same willingness in the West today as there was in 1982 to accept Israel’s version of the story when they say “we are a little to blame, they are a little to blame…”, let’s just move on. [In fact, as was reported in MEMO a few days ago, the ex-Head of Israel’s Shin Bet said exactly that – “Forget the past and move on” in London on 8 March.]

Prof. Pappe explained that the deception of Zionism has an entire state apparatus behind it. All of the resources of the Israeli state are channelled into selling people here, and around the world, their own “version” of events in order to provide cover for the next Israeli military incursion.

That is the depressing side of the matter. However, on a more optimistic note, he said, while Palestinians may not have military might, economic strength or even basic resources at hand, they do have activists and academics on their side, so the deception can and should be challenged even if the occupation, physically, cannot. There is at least one arena in the struggle between the Zionists and the Palestinians where there is a more even playing field and where the Palestinians are winning: Israel vs. Palestine is also rich vs. poor; diplomatic strength (Israel is supported by a superpower) vs. a fragmented national movement; military might vs. a civilian population. However, the balance of power when it comes to knowledge is won by Palestine. Thanks to the dissemination of genuine knowledge and a true historical narrative, the Palestine solidarity movement, the internet, honest media reporting and so on, “Israel has lost”.

Delegitimising Israel? – Time for a “regime change”.

Israel is taking very seriously the so-called campaign to “de-legitimise Israel”. Israelis leaving the country are even issued with a special “kit” at the airport which is supposed to help them be ambassadors for their country overseas. But there is no real campaign to de-legitimise Israel, Prof. Pappe said. This is an imaginary threat that the Israelis have created. “Nothing can justify 10,000 political prisoners, many of them children.” Nothing in any moral or ethical code can justify 40 years of occupation. “You cannot sustain an ethical justification after 40 years.” So, instead of confronting the ethical, moral and practical issues which threaten Israel they “create an imaginary threat to Israel”, the threat of the Palestine Solidarity Movement and even the “threat of Ilan Pappe”.

For the last seven or eight years they have focused on the threat of “anti-Semitism” but many of their critics are now Jews themselves and so they are finding that that cry won’t work any more. Now they are replacing that cry with an alleged threat to the very “existence of Israel”. If you dare to criticise Israel by talking about removing the separation wall or releasing their illegally detained prisoners they turn around and say, “you are questioning the basic right of Israel to exist”, but this is not true. In Prof. Pappe’s opinion, although the “State” of Israel may have a right to exist this does not mean that the “regime” in Israel has a right to exist. Regimes change all the time, he said, and, to the amusement of the audience, he pointed out that the West is very much an advocate of “regime change” whether it be in Iraq or anywhere else. The Israelis claim to adhere to high standards of ethical values which is great news because if that truly is the case, they themselves should be at the forefront of those now calling for a regime change in Tel Aviv.

Israel is in a state of “panic”.

“We are reaching a point that the Israeli defeat in the battle of information and narrative will make the Israeli regime even fiercer towards Palestine”, Prof. Pappe predicted. He drew the analogy that even the South Africa apartheid regime became more callous in its policies towards the end. He argued that the “willingness of Netanyahu to disobey America” (alluding to his refusal to freeze illegal settlement construction) was not a calculated tactic designed to embarrass America but instead “it is panic”. We are “very near to the moment of truth” and “there are no more options for Israel”; there are no more diplomatic options at least, no more gambits. Their current policies are clearly not working. There is no diplomatic way out for them but nor can they concede defeat so in their imaginings “maybe a war with Iran is a solution” or perhaps Lebanon, or “maybe the Palestinians will help us and start a third intifada”.

Hopefully, however, the victory that was achieved in South Africa will be replicated in Palestine. He urged everyone present to reach out to Israeli society itself, not to the government but to the NGOs and the individuals who can press for change. We should engage with them, he said, in order to bring about a regime change so that Jews can live peacefully with Palestinians.

Ronnie Kasrils:

Parallels between Israeli and South African Apartheid  Colonialism and the dispossession of the indigenous people.

Ronnie KasrilsRonnie Kasrils began on an optimistic note by saying that Jews and Israelis, such as Ilan Pappe, are following in the footsteps of the small group of white South Africans who stood up for fairness and justice during the darkest days of the South African apartheid era. They may have been vilified at the time but later, when justice won out, they were praised; and similarly, he told Prof. Pappe, when justice wins out in the case of Palestine, your compatriots will take their hats off to you for speaking out against the Israeli regime.

Israel’s parallels with the South African Apartheid government can be traced a long way back, said Mr. Kasrils. He read out a quote from 1961 and asked the audience if they could identify the person who said, “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” It was uttered by Dr Hendrick Verwoerd, the South African Prime Minister in the 1960s and the architect of apartheid. Verwoerd was able to make that comparison even as far back as 1961 because he could see the similarity, even then, of the ethnic, right-wing, nationalistic nature of both states. He also understood that both states are about “exclusivity” in the sense that they “exclude” the indigenous people. Israel is for Jews and apartheid South Africa under the Nationalist Party was for whites, regardless of the rights of the indigenous people. They are not considered to be citizens and they have no rights. The laws enacted by those in control provide a monopoly of power, rights and privilege to one group over another in both the ex-South Africa regime and in Israel. All colonial settlers deprive the indigenous people of their rights and expel them from their land. “Colonial genocide is horrific” he said. It took the Dutch and the English three centuries to achieve colonisation over South Africa but in Israel it has been much more swift. It is anachronistic that such colonialism took root in 1948, post-World War Two, and it is shocking that it still exists today in the twenty-first century.

The “chosen people”.

Ronnie Kasrils said that the “chosen people” aspect is another stark similarity between the mindsets of the two regimes. The Boers [the term used to describe the white Afrikaners] used the same tactic that the Zionists have used.

[At this point in Mr. Kasrils’ speech a Zionist heckler stood up and shouted “lies” and held up a banner of the Israeli flag with something along the lines of “lies” or “liars” scrawled across the front. He was then removed from the committee room by the police.]

Undaunted and in good humour, Mr. Kasrils continued with his analogy. According to both white South Africans at the time of apartheid and Zionist Israelis, each have a covenant with God who “acts as an agent of real estate” and decides to give these people such and such land regardless of its indigenous inhabitants.

He also expressed great concern about the racist ideology that is fed to children in schools as a result of this mentality. In relation to children in Zionists schools particularly he said “the extent to which they are being brainwashed today is actually quite frightening”.

South African Apartheid “is like a picnic compared to what Palestinians are going through.”

South African Apartheid "is like a picnic compared to what Palestinians are going through."Any South African who goes to Palestine today and visits the West Bank and Gaza, or Palestinians living in the State of Israel, “come away shocked and, shaking their heads” saying “This is far worse than the apartheid we knew.” South Africans in great numbers are saying, “What we went through is like a picnic compared to what Palestinians are going through.”

Mr. Kasrils told the audience about a visit he once made to the West Bank in which he met with the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Arafat told those gathered to look around and said that they would see that the West Bank was exactly like a South African Bantustan [apartheid-created “homelands” for the various tribes], to which Kasrils replied, “No President, it is not like a Bantustan.” A surprised silence followed before he clarified his statement and said, “You see Mr President, the Bantustans in South Africa never had fences around them.” He further differentiated between them by explaining that “tanks were never sent into the Bantustans”. Yes, there were arrests, torture and murders, he told the audience, but as a result of police action, not as full-scale military operations sanctioned by the government. Furthermore, he continued, when there were curfews in South Africa, they may have lasted a weekend or a week, or two, or even six, but nothing like what we are seeing in the West Bank or Gaza. Gaza has now been under siege for over 1000 days! We “South Africans are appalled at what we see taking place.”

Palestine needs the support of “progressive humanity” to “stop the madness of the rogue, racist state of Israel”

Ronnie Kasrils ended, as he had started, on a positive note. He explained that the changes in South Africa would never have come about if it were not for the “support of progressive humanity” and he said “the Palestine needs the support of "progressive humanity" to "stop the madness of the rogue, racist state of Israel"moment is ripe and is further ripening for emulation of the lessons of the anti-apartheid movement” in Palestine today. We need to use Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS); we need to isolate Israel; we need to call upon the EU to tend to its responsibilities and all citizens need to put pressure on their governments to do likewise. He praised the Russell Tribunal for Palestine that took place in Barcelona recently and assured us that the people who struggle for justice will ultimately prevail.

If we do not “stop the madness of the rogue, racist state of Israel” he proclaimed, it is not only the Palestinians who are in trouble but it will go further and will reach our doorsteps in Britain. Israel talks of Palestine needs the support of "progressive humanity" to "stop the madness of the rogue, racist state of Israel"nuclear attacks on Iran. Will that keep us all safe? “We are facing the rise of a monster,” he said. “When things get serious for rogues in power that is when they behave in the most monstrous way. Humanity has stood up in the past and we must stand up again”. Support those groups such as the Palestine Solitary Campaign and work together for justice and to support the people of Palestine, he urged.

The numerous Zionist hecklers who had spread themselves throughout the audience last night did their best to disrupt the proceedings in the most discourteous manner but did not manage to detract from the powerful speeches.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.