Is Israel more like apartheid South Africa or colonial Algeria?


Today is election day in South Africa, 20 years after the election in which Nelson Mandela became president and apartheid was effectively ended. It seems like the African National Congress will be re-elected to office despite the record of corruption of the party and its leader president Jacob Zuma, which is partly blamed for the voting apathy of the so-called ‘born frees’, young people who were born after end of apartheid and who can vote for the first time.

The word apartheid that was once inextricably linked to South Africa is now increasingly associated with Israel because the way that it treats Palestinians within Israel and in the Occupied Territories bears so many strong similarities to the way that white South Africans treated blacks in that country.

Even US Secretary of State John Kerry in a private meaning warned that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state. His use of that word, coupled with his earlier warning of the rise of the boycott movement, caused the Israel lobby to spring into action, with some demanding that he withdraw his statement and others calling for president Obama to fire him. But others, including many in Israel, have faulted Kerry for implying that Israel is not already an apartheid state.

As could have been predicted, Kerry apologized for what he claimed was a poor choice of words. But he is a veteran politician. I cannot imagine that this was an inadvertent slip on his part. He must have known that the word apartheid is loaded and that his remarks would be leaked. I suspect that using it was a deliberate choice, in order to highlight the real problem that Israel’s policies are creating for itself and its sponsor the US.

Zaid Jilani writes about how the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress, under pressure from the Israel lobby, warned their bloggers initially not to write about Israel at all and to never use the apartheid analogy. But he says that the US and Israel have lost control of the word and that what was commonly said in private is now being said in public. Despite the massive efforts of the Israel lobby to suppress use of the word, it is now out there and cannot be taken back

But South Africa is not the only historical parallel for Israel’s policies. Historian James D. Le Sueur argues that the closer parallel to Israel’s relationship with the Occupied Territories may the French colonial occupation of Algeria, in that Israel sees the Occupied Territories as its own land, just like the French did in Algeria.

And after the beginning of the occupation of Algeria in the 1830′s and 1840′s, France almost immediately converted Algeria into three overseas provinces. That is very important because, in the French mind, when soldiers fought for the continuation of the French control in Algeria, they fought on French soil for France itself, and not in abstract terms. Hence the French stake in Algeria was a very significant feature of how the French became ever more imbedded in that conflict. As they said, “Algeria is France.” In the French mind, it was not a colony and what they did there was legally and entirely a French matter, and it continued to remain so all the way through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, as Algerian nationalists tried to bring the matter to the UN.

On the other hand the two histories, Algeria and Israel/Palestine, might be comparable because the violence continues to escalate in Israel/Palestine and has since Israel was created, because Palestinians view this as a colonial occupation. I have many friends who are on both sides of this issue, including liberal Jewish friends who oppose the continuation of the occupation. And on the ground, the settlements look a lot like French colonialism in some real ways. And the logic of the settlements looks a lot like the logic given by French settlers for ‘occupation’ of Algeria.

Most people would agree that the more radical Jewish settlers, the ones who have built and who continue to build houses in illegal areas, they’re essentially colonial in outlook.

I see this debate about settlers as a pretty universal colonial question; it happens with all settler societies when they see themselves being surrounded by hostile forces and desirous of someone else’s land. And it’s tautological. Settlers need more military protection because they continue to make contested moves, and the more settlers there are, the more the military is needed to protect them. And as a result settlers have militaries that are bound to protect them and settler societies develop increasingly radical politics. So a government like Israel feels that contradiction of trying to protect settlers and at the same time rein them in because they’re considered even by most moderates in Israel to be pretty problematic.

He suggests that just as Algeria and France passed the point where they could negotiate an end to the occupation and an outright battle ensued, that point may have already been reached with Israel’s occupation. But in France’s case Charles de Gaulle emerged who, although he hated the idea of relinquishing Algeria, realized that he had no choice.

That said, he was never in favor of ending the French empire. Never, not even as he negotiate the peace in Algeria. Was he pro FLN? Absolutely not. Was he someone who liked to retreat? No way. He did it because he knew that France couldn’t survive economically or politically the continuation of this crisis that Algeria had become. He knew that continued war might destroy France.

Not only that. But there was substantial pushback because there had begun to be these really very serious protests and the anti-draft movement. There were people who rejected the draft and wouldn’t fight. And after the OAS [the rightwing pro-settler movement called the Organization of the Secret Army] emerged at the end of the war, it was impossible to maintain order in Algeria because the OAS began killing Algerians, French settlers, and the French military/police alike. The OAS were murderers and thugs, and they destroyed the last chances for the Europeans to remain in Algeria.

The rapid rise of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish elements in Israel and violent and militant settler organizations in the Occupied Territories that are challenging the Israeli government seem similar to the OAS. It remains to be seen if an Israeli equivalent of de Gaulle emerges, someone who recognizes that continuing current policies means heading for disaster.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    As per usual in the one sided diatribes against Israel that our distinguished host prefers to engage in, he ignores the contributions of the other side to the problem.

    http://goo.gl/qa4aaH

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I’d say Israel is nothing like either of those two for many obvious reasons.

    Not least the fact that Israeli Arabs are allowed to vote and indeed they have Israeli Arab members in the Knesset.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Arab_members_of_the_Knesset

    Since when did apartheid South Afrcia give the Blacks there the vote and allow them to be MPs? Ditto Algeria.

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Oh and how many times did Apartheid South Africa and Colonial ruled Algeria offer their enemies on other side extraordinary peace deals even ones giving their foes 95% of what they demanded – only for that other enemy side to spit in their faces and start more wars in response. Then have their side (Israel’s) go back and offer more peace talks for the same result in a cycle that still going on even today?

  4. John Horstman says

    @colnago80: Yes, yes, the poor, poor oppressors, why won’t anyone stand up for them? Both sides do it! It’s not like the vast power differential between the groups actually matters, becasue there is no such thing as context.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … in the French mind, when soldiers fought for the continuation of the French control in Algeria, they fought on French soil for France itself…

    An extraordinary delusion, considering the long and entirely separate histories of the two nations and the lame excuse (a diplomat was disrespected!!1!) that Charles XII and amis used for their takeover in the 1830s.

    Even the Zionists have a better rationale than that. Grossly racist and dishonest, but with a couple of actual cherries to pick.

    Maybe the US dispossession of Native American nations would serve as a better comparison. Or Poland in 1940.

  6. readysf says

    The real problem is in the US where open discussion of Israel as a foreign country is disallowed. Israel is a foreign country and can make its own choices. If it wishes to distance itself from American values then it must suffer the consequences. Just another radical nuclear religious state?

    The real irony is that it can be easily argued that it is “pro Israel” to support BDS if you believe Israel is engaged in self-destructive behavior. This is why people are so scared to discuss it.

  7. nrdo says

    I’ve always had the impression that the desire to put some label on the occupation is mostly a PR maneuver. All historical and current occupations, Algeria, Cyprus, South Africa, Tibet etc. have both similarities and important differences. There are even some parallels to be drawn between Israel’s actions and Russia’s practice of swallowing neighboring republics, but there are also clear differences.

    One can be strongly and constructively opposed to the Israeli occupation while recognizing that it is not really apartheid.

  8. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I’ve just responded to what Tiko said on another thread here :

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2014/05/06/us-hypocrisy-on-open-display-in-ukraine/#comment-2033746

    But really it applies most on this thread too given the usual Israel-bashing from the usual FTB suspects so I’m going to repost it here where it makes perhaps the most important points :

    @7. tiko : “.. Israeli aggression ..”

    Would that Israeli “aggression” be when they responded to Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately into their cities or are you going further back to all those wars the Arab side started when they decided just after the Shoah – and constantly since – that they were going to exterminate a tiny Jewish state in what has always been Jewish Land including land the Jewish people paid a high price in money,sweat and lives for?

    Or do you mean the “aggression” Israel showed by withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza and parts of Judea and Samaria (sometimes incorrectly called the West Bank) on a number of occasions and withdrawing after signing a peace treaty with Sadat – just before his murder by Islamic extremists – from the Sinai peninsula?

    Or the “aggression” shown by Israel in offering the Palestinians and Syrians and other Arabs numerous staggeringly generous peace treaties time after time and following endless wars and intifadas and homicide-suicide bomber and Quassam rocket terrorist campaigns all of which the Arabs started each time with Israel’s genocide intended and openly crowed about in bloodthirsty anticipation on the Arab side?

    Or maybe, just maybe, in light of historical reality vs Israel bashing rhetoric we should conclude that you – like almost all of Israel’s critics – don’t actually know what the word “aggression “means?

    Hint :It isn’t defending yourself or others from being attacked. It isn’t taking out terrorist leaders whilst trying to minimise collateral damage and it isn’t building a security fence to again, protect your innocent civilians from being blown up on their buses or marketplaces or restaurants.

    Fact – Israel are not the aggressors here. They’re the defenders. Israel are the good guys not the bad and anyone with an actual understanding of their history and the facts knows it.

  9. doublereed says

    @9 readysf

    It’s not really a religious state. It’s not like Rabbis and such have appointed political power or something. Even Netanyahu is a secularist which is why he’s well liked. It’s like a quasi-ethnic state or something.

    Fact – Israel are not the aggressors here. They’re the defenders. Israel are the good guys not the bad and anyone with an actual understanding of their history and the facts knows it.

    Have you ever been to Gaza? Because frankly I don’t think you can argue something so simplistic as “Israel are the good guys” if you’ve ever been to Gaza.

  10. says

    A better comparison is how the US treated (and still treats) First Nations people. Invaders killed the population en masse, stole the land people were living on, then rounded up the remaining population into tiny pieces of poor quality land where it was barely possible to survive, far from their traditional lands. There’s also the government’s attempts to eradicate traces of people’s former settlements and towns, to deny they were ever there. Let’s not forger the organized eradication of the First Nations people who refused to capitulate and participate in their own exile and ghettoization. Small wonder the US is the Israeli government’s biggest cheerleader and vetoes all UN resolutions, despite their validity.

    Another equally apt comparison to Gaza is the Lodz Ghetto, enforced overpopulation in a walled area, the prevention of any food, water or medical supplies from going in, and summary punishment or even execution without any recourse for those who resist. And there’s also the issue of collective punishment….

  11. nrdo says

    @ left0ver1under

    A better comparison is how the US treated (and still treats) First Nations people. Invaders killed the population en masse, stole the land people were living on, then rounded up the remaining population into tiny pieces of poor quality land where it was barely possible to survive, far from their traditional lands.

    Israel did not kill the Palestinians en masse, an evidenced by the fact that more than 20% of their citizenry is Arab (as opposed to the Native population of the US, which is barely 0.02%). There were several claims of massacres of civilians by individual Israeli units during the 1948 war, some of which were confirmed. These were terrible crimes and the perpetrators were usually punished, although not severely enough. However, they were nowhere near organized genocide. The Palestinians’ current locations are largely the result of historical happenstance, since the west bank was arbitrarily defined by various cease-fire lines.

    Israel is certainly not entirely the “good guy”. Their refusal to allow for Palestinian independence harms almost everyone’s interests. However, people on both sides continue to insist on lying to themselves and everyone around them to avoid the reality that both sides are at fault and have to compromise to solve the problem.

  12. nrdo says

    Correction: I was using an outdated source. The percentage of Native Americans in the US is 0.9-2% depending on whether you include Hispanic immigrants and mixed-ethnicity populations.

  13. colnago80 says

    I really get a laugh when the Government of Israel is accused of ethnic cleansing. There are more then 1 million non-Jews living in Israel, which includes Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Druze, etc. If the Government of Israel has been engaged in ethnic cleansing, they are totally inept. Arab governments like Iraq were much better at it as there are virtually no Jews left there, compared with some quarter million prior to 1948.

  14. nrdo says

    There’s no question that certain populations were forcibly displaced, just as there’s no question that the majority of Jews living in Arab countries were forcibly expelled. This is one of the many ways in which the situation is different from colonialism; both populations have real historical claims to the area.

    Rational people recognize that sometime historical claims need to be set aside to ensure a better future.

  15. nrdo says

    I also have to point out that the evidence you linked to conflates several different periods of violence from the 1930s before Israel was founded and when the Arab leaders in Palestine were attacking Jews on a fairly regular basis.

  16. readysf says

    Israel has so far taken cover behind the propaganda wall, the well funded “hasbara”. Memories of the holocaust and charges of antisemitism have kept critics scared. This propaganda wall is cracking, and there is the real risk of a fanatic masada mentality emerging in Israel. Like fanatic muslims, fanatic messianic jews think its ok to die in a blaze of glory when cornered.

    South Africa renounced nuclear weapons, and Israel has not. When cornered, Israel may nuke a neighbor. Like Pakistan they have been probably already using nuclear blackmail to get their way with the US. This would certainly pulverize debate and end the discussion.

    What is clear is that Israel is focused on its best interests (naturally) and not those of the US, and these interests are diverging. “Pro Israel” Americans are going to have to take sides.

  17. wereatheist says

    nrdo (#14):

    There were several claims of massacres of civilians by individual Israeli units during the 1948 war, some of which were confirmed. These were terrible crimes and the perpetrators were usually punished, although not severely enough. However, they were nowhere near organized genocide.

    I beg to differ: killing almost the entire population of a village is pretty much organized genocide in my book. But at least this was not organized by the government, but by the likes of Irgun Zvai Leumi.

  18. wereatheist says

    (#13):

    Another equally apt comparison to Gaza is the Lodz Ghetto, enforced overpopulation in a walled area, the prevention of any food, water or medical supplies from going in, and summary punishment or even execution without any recourse for those who resist. And there’s also the issue of collective punishment….

    Very apt indeed! The evil NazisJews deported 1+ million people into Gaza and now these are dying like flies from starvation, typhoid fever and other nasty diseases, while theSSIDF patrols their streets, shooting and clubbing to death and torturing people just for fun…
    Only next to nobody was ever deported to / forced into Gaza, they don’t starve, health service is available, and so on, and the fact that there are now so many people is the outcome of the free will of the Gazans. They liked large families. Perhaps they misunderstood one of their idols: Volk ohne Raum or some such.

  19. readysf says

    #22: Sorry, but the Israeli behavior in Gaza is reprehensible and evil. They calculate the minimum number of calories needed for people to survive. A minister joked that Gazans were “put on a diet”. This is collective punishment.

    It is increasingly anti- Israel to try and defend Israel’s bad behavior. By now everybody knows it, and it is utterly shameful to pretend otherwise.

    And then there is the silly “Israel has left Gaza” argument. Really? Can the people there come and go as they please? It is one giant prison! Pleeeez!

  20. wereatheist says

    And then there is the silly “Israel has left Gaza” argument. Really? Can the people there come and go as they please? It is one giant prison! Pleeeez!

    Israel has removed the settlements in the Gaza strip, against some resistance by the settler movement.
    Complaining about people not being able to come and go as they please is not related to that. If you want to see where people can cross internationally accepted borders ‘as they please’, go visit the European Union. There are still ‘sample’ controls, but not much.
    In the ‘prison’ Gaza the wardens and directors are islamistic fascists. This makes the prison so bad. Why don’t the inmates rebel against the wardens? Because they identify with them!

  21. nrdo says

    What strikes me about these types of discussions is people’s utter lack of interest in nuance and ability to recognize their own biases. My personal opinion is that if you are convinced that one side is entirely at fault in this mess, you are (a) living in a fantasy world and (b) not doing anything constructive to help.

  22. wereatheist says

    (#23):
    BTW, before The Great War, or WWI, It was possible to cross european borders by train without ever having to present a passport to a border guard.
    After WWI, this was very different.
    After decades of war, terrorism, and the like, what do you expect for a possible Israeli-Palestinian border?
    Don’t fool yourself

  23. readysf says

    #24: Israel tightly controls what comes in and out of Gaza, just like a prison warden. This includes food and ships, which is why there was that incident where Israel killed Turks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *