As has been elucidated by many people – including my colleague Ben White in one of his excellent books, and myself in this column – Israel is an apartheid state. This does not mean that Israel is the same in every single respect as South Africa was under its discredited apartheid regime. What it does mean is that Israel is practicing a system of apartheid – in law and in practice – against the Palestinian (and Syrian) peoples.
Apartheid has a precise definition under international law. It is outlawed in documents including the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
Israel fits the bill. For example, different systems of law are enforced for Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Despite the fact that the presence of settlers is prohibited by international law, Israelis there have a favourable legal regime compared with the military law that Palestinians are subject to in the occupied territory.
It is increasingly and widely accepted that Israel is an apartheid state. A landmark UN report last year confirmed this in detail, finding “beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crimes of apartheid.” Although the report was supressed after threats and intimidation from the Trump administration, its conclusions of fact were never seriously disputed.
One of the issues that is sometimes said to mark out a very real difference between South Africa and Israel is the relative power and influence of the respective South African and Israeli lobbies in the West. There may well be something to that argument. However, I was most interested recently to review some examples of historical apologetics for South African apartheid. The similarities in the documents with Israeli propaganda are uncanny, with literally identical wording in some cases.
The documents were unearthed by Canadian PhD student Michael Bueckert. He runs the excellent @AntiBDSApp Twitter account which provides a close look at contemporary Israeli propaganda.
Bueckert has posted extracts from several examples of the documents online. For someone like me who is familiar professionally with how modern-day Israeli propaganda operates, the similarities are legion. It would be suplurfulous to list them all, but here are some of the most telling examples.
In a 1987 magazine apologetic for South African apartheid, it was claimed that “South Africa is judged by double, triple, and even quadruple standards” due to the anti-apartheid movement. A common theme of Israeli propaganda is that critics are guilty of “double standards” if they do not also mention every other country in the world any time they condemn an Israeli war crime or act of racism.
In fact, pro-Israel groups are even currently trying to embed this ridiculous standard into the law in western countries. This includes the attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel using the bogus International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (HRA) “working definition” of anti-Semitism, the document that has been so damaging to the Labour Party this year.
This preposterous “definition” — which should be scrapped altogether — claims that “applying double standards” to Israel is an “example” of anti-Semitism. This is not only wrong in fact, it is wrong in principle and dangerous to any genuine effort to combat real anti-Semitism.
Another fascinating document that Bueckert unearthed was a 1985 pro-apartheid comic created by Disney cartoonist Vic Lockman, and distributed by a far-right group in Canada. The comic contains openly racist caricatures of Black people, both in the illustrations and in the racist ideology put forward in the text.
Some of the propaganda apologetics for South Africa in the comic were identical to much of that currently used by Israel. This is no coincidence. Both regimes rest on a system of White supremacy.
One of the comic’s panels claimed that South Africa’s enemies wanted to “Drive South Africa into the Sea!” Replace “South Africa” with “Israel” and this could have been written today as it is a common refrain of Israeli propaganda that “the Arabs want to drive us into the sea” even though the reality is diametrically opposed to this. In truth, it was Israel that literally drove Palestinians into the sea in Haifa and in other places during the 1948 Nakba ethnic cleansing operations by the forerunners of the Israel Defence Forces.
Another claim in the comic was that “1 man, 1 vote” was an existential danger to both white and Black people in Africa, and that Black people are “ill equipped for self-rule”. The racist claim that “the natives” are incapable of ruling over themselves it quite common in imperialist ideology.
What was essentially being argued by the comic was that the call for equality in South Africa was actually a veiled threat of the genocide of white people. In exactly the same way today, Israeli propaganda claims that calls for a single democratic state in the whole of historic Palestine are actually “anti-Semitic” calls for “genocide”. Professor Marc Lamont Hill of Temple University was just fired as a CNN contributor in the US for advocating democracy and equal rights for all.
Finally, the comic attacked “Our liberal ‘do-gooders’” in the US for advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against South African apartheid. “Africans will be the first to suffer” from BDS, the comic strip claimed. Again, this is a tediously common refrain of Israeli propaganda.
Israeli propaganda is recycled from the dustbin of South African history. It didn’t fool people of good will then, and it doesn’t fool us now. We ended South African apartheid then; it’s time to end the Israeli version now.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.