by: Cheryl Hauer, International Vice President
For many South Africans, every discussion of apartheid is akin to tearing open an old wound. It was a time in their history when a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination was implemented, creating a societal divide that to this day has not been overcome. Based on a strict legislative framework, the government at that time imposed laws—governing virtually every area of life—that were meant to separate whites from other ethnic populations. Even though apartheid officially came to an end in the early 1990s in a series of steps that led to the formation of a democratic government in 1994, South Africa today still bears the scars of this tragic time in the nation’s history.
Unfortunately, the topic still makes headlines, requiring frequent rehashing of the painful details of what many wish could just remain in the past. Only this time, the finger is pointed at Israel as the offending government with an accusation that its treatment of Palestinians is equivalent to that of South Africa’s non-white population under apartheid.
Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the South African Parliament and himself a victim of apartheid, says such claims are false and an impediment to peace that betray the memory of those who had to endure real apartheid in South Africa. Melissa Landa, founder of Alliance for Israel, stated in a recent article that people who promote the apartheid lie rely heavily on the ignorance of most westerners concerning South Africa while knowing even less about Israel. “It is time we start changing that,” Landa said, “by presenting the truth about both countries.”
On January 12, 2021, an organization called B’Tselem issued a report in which it declared that Israel is a “regime of occupation guilty of apartheid.” On its website, B’Tselem identifies itself as an “Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.” Its sole purpose is supposedly to “expose the injustice, violence and dispossession inherent to the regime of occupation, to deconstruct the apparatuses that enable it, and challenge its legitimacy in Israel and internationally.” B’Tselem now unequivocally demands an end to the “occupation.”
On January 13, Eugene Kontorovich, professor at Northwestern University and an expert in constitutional and international law, published a response to the B’Tselem report. At bedrock, Kontorovich says, B’Tselem is guilty of anti-Semitism. Its report accuses Jews—uniquely among the peoples of the world—of one of the most heinous crimes while also judging the Jewish state by a metric not applied to any other country. South Africa is the only country to have ever been labeled an “apartheid state,” despite the systematic oppression of racial and ethnic minorities in countries from China to Sri Lanka to Sudan. And B’Tselem’s clear agenda is to entirely delegitimize Israel. Its remedy for “apartheid” is not reform, it is the abolition of the regime itself and total reshaping of the government.
Benjamin Pogrund was born in Cape Town, South Africa in the 1930s. He spent 26 years as a journalist in South Africa investigating and reporting on the evil that was apartheid. He met Nelson Mandela when he was underground and was the first non-family member to visit him in prison.
“I pioneered comprehensive coverage of black life in the mainstream press: the arrest every year of more than 350,000 black people who transgressed the ‘pass laws’ that controlled where they were allowed to live and work; starvation in the rural areas; babies dying from severe malnutrition; unlivable housing, no transportation or health care; torture by the security police and detention without trial,” Pogrund says. “Today, I live in Israel, so I know both societies close up. And simply put, there is no comparison between Israel and apartheid.”
Pogrund remembers apartheid under which every detail of life was subject to discrimination by law. Those laws determined where you were born and lived; your job; your school; which bus, train taxi or ambulance you used; which park bench, lavatory or beach was open to you; whom you could marry and in which cemetery you were buried. “Israel,” he says, “is not remotely like that. Twenty percent of Israel’s population are Arabs with full citizenship and the right to vote.” That was not the case under apartheid in South Africa. Pogrund is proud that an Arab judge sits on the country’s highest court; an Arab is chief surgeon at a leading hospital; an Arab commands a brigade of the Israeli army; others are heads of universities while 17 Israeli Arabs serve as members of Knesset (Parliament).
That’s just the beginning of a very long list. As of 2015, 8% of all judges in the Israeli court system were Arabs, and at one point, an Israeli Arab justice was deputy president of the Supreme Court. In recent years, the Israeli ambassador to Finland and Greece was an Arab, and a Christian Israeli Arab currently serves as ambassador to Azerbaijan. Today, 20% of medical students in Israeli universities are Arabs, and Arab and Jewish doctors work side by side in hospitals across the nation, serving both Jewish and Arab patients together. Actors, singers, teachers, athletes, nurses, bank presidents…nearly every profession in Israel is home to Arab participants. Statistically, 23% of Israeli doctors, 46% of Israeli pharmacists, 28% of high tech students at the Israel Institute of Technology and 16% of higher education students in general are Israeli Arabs. In an April 2020 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, 77% of Israeli Arabs felt they were part of Israel and 84% identified themselves as Israeli.
Perhaps Yoseph Haddad, who describes himself as a Christian Arab Israeli, sums it up best. He says he was shocked to read B’Tselem’s report. “How dare they say that I, an Arab Israeli who served along with Jewish soldiers in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and managed hundreds of Jewish employees, live under an apartheid regime?”
Haddad continues: “B’Tselem has broken the record for hypocrisy!” He said he hopes for the day when people from around the world will again be coming to Israel to see for themselves, hear Hebrew and Arabic spoken in the marketplace, see mosques, churches and synagogues alongside one another. “Let them see the coexistence of the Israeli mosaic across the country. And maybe, just maybe, they will fall in love with this ‘apartheid regime.’ Maybe they would want to live here themselves!”
Photo Credit: ColorMaker/shutterstock.com
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