Revolution #83, March 25, 2007
A Few Further Thoughts on Israel and Apartheid
by Alan Goodman
I appreciated the article in Revolution #82 dissecting the controversy around Jimmy Carter's new book. In particular, I was glad to see the analysis of why Carter is being attacked by a wide range of mainstream politicians, especially Democrats, for making a limited analogy to apartheid, and for exposing—from the perspective of someone looking out for the strategic interests of U.S. imperialism—even a little bit of the scope of Israel's persecution of the Palestinian people.
Reading this evoked an exchange that took place when I was preparing for my bar mitzvah, attending Hebrew School in the 1960s. My Hebrew teacher was a young guy who had abandoned trying to teach us the Torah and the Talmud, and instead spent our class time discussing current affairs. This teacher supported the civil rights movement and had some enlightened ideas about women. But mixed in with that, he taught us that Israel was a Jewish component of the civil rights movement—a place where persecuted Jews were turning supposedly abandoned desert into farms. One day, someone in class asked why Israel would support South Africa, a country where the (original) apartheid system condemned the African people to the most vicious and racist oppression, locking them down in so-called bantustans (essentially massive concentration camps for African people) and depriving them of any rights.
Learning that Israel was supporting South Africa was very disturbing to some of us. At one point, a rabbi who was sitting in on the class “explained” to us that if Israel didn’t have this relationship with the apartheid regime, then South Africa’s Jewish community would be classified as “colored,” a category of oppressed people, as opposed to the "white” status they held in the racist apartheid caste system. This upset some of us all the more—I actually remember blurting out, “Who wants to be 'white' in a country like that?”
After the rabbi left, our Hebrew teacher told us that he understood how uncomfortable this made us feel, and that this was an awful moral dilemma, but that the rabbi hadn't fully explained the stakes. He told us that while we shouldn't repeat this, it was an open secret that the South African rulers were a bunch of Nazis, and that the Jews there were in a precarious position, protected only by Israel’s military and diplomatic support for the apartheid regime.
I guess this had the benefit of posing very starkly the logic that is supposed to bind Jewish people to Israel. I didn't fully sort all this out at the time, but I remember being very angry at this “justification.” I was being told that the Jewish people should align with the most oppressive, racist, even quasi-Nazi regimes in their persecution of people in exchange for “protection” from being persecuted themselves.And even at the time, I felt, who wanted that kind of “protection”?
I think this is still, in some ways, the “bottom line” when people like Bush and Pelosi invoke the survival of Israel to (unfortunately all too successfully) rally people in this country, who on other issues don't like Bush, to support or at least be immobilized and confused about the endless war on “terror.” The argument that has such people disoriented is that “Israel's security is at stake.” I think the moral issue I had to confront at that time still needs to be confronted by people who have been manipulated into acting against their interests by the invocation of the supposed sacred nature of—yes, apartheid Israel. They need to ask themselves, what does persecuting and displacing the Palestinians, and supplying arms to every isolated despot—not just the apartheid regime, but the Shah of Iran when he was shooting down thousands of people in the streets, the Christan fascist Ríos Montt when he was butchering indigenous people in Guatemala, and on and on—what does this have to do with the survival of the Jewish people? And what is the logic, or the morality, of selling your soul to the worst oppressors and mass murderers on the planet in exchange for your own supposed safety?
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