Jon Soske and Sean Jacobs
For this special forum, we invited eleven scholars of Africa and its diaspora to reflect on the analogy between apartheid South Africa and contemporary Israel. The American Studies Association’s decision in February 2014 to endorse the academic boycott of Israel, followed by the state violence directed against the inhabitants of Gaza this past July, has intensified the debate over Israel/Palestine in universities across North America. The international, nonviolent campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is gaining momentum by the day.
Most of the contributions to this forum underline the obvious similarities between apartheid South Africa and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. As Robin D.G. Kelley writes: “That Israel and its colonial occupation meet the UN’s definition of an apartheid state is beyond dispute." Both apartheid South Africa and the Israeli state originated through a process of conquest and settlement largely justified on the grounds of religion and ethnic nationalism. Both pursued a legalized, large-scale program of displacing the earlier inhabitants from their land. Both instituted a variety of discriminatory laws based on racial or ethnic grounds. Outside of a tiny group of pro-Zionist organizations, the analogy is so widely accepted in South Africa that it draws little controversy. Indeed, leading members of the anti-apartheid struggle, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jewish struggle veterans like Ronnie Kasrils, have repeatedly stated that the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are “worse than apartheid.”
At the same time, no historical analogy is ever exact. Comparisons necessarily reveal differences even as they underline similarities. Defenders of Israel’s record sometimes use this fact to chip away at the allegation of apartheid by underlining, for example, the civil rights enjoyed by Palestinian citizens of Israel. (Although many observers argue that these rights have always been limited and are being eroded at an alarming pace.) Such differences are important and unarguable. But generally, this mode of debate strives to deflect attention away from the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the ongoing construction of settlements on Palestinian land, the indiscriminate bombing and shelling directed at Palestinian civilians, and the mass detention and torture of Palestinian activists. Far from exonerating the policies and practices of the Israeli state, the divergences between the two cases—as Melissa Levin so powerfully shows—more often than not speak to the incredible desperation of the Palestinian situation.
As these essays demonstrate, the work of comparison requires an attentiveness to the ethical and political singularity of each space even as it attempts to generate dialogues across multiple histories of oppression and struggle. Rather than “adding up” similarities and differences, the authors explore various aspects of the apartheid/Israel analogy, ranging from the parallels between post-apartheid neoliberalism and the post-Oslo occupied territories to the role of Israel in southern Africa more broadly. As Salim Vally emphasizes, there are a number of lessons that today’s activists can draw from the global anti-apartheid movement regarding the importance of patience, the practical work of building international solidarity, and the dangers of sectarianism. Yet as other contributors argue, most notably Bill Freund in a rather sober commentary, it is far from clear that the South African transition—itself imperfect and highly contested—can provide clear guidance for a peaceful resolution in Israel/Palestine beyond generalities. In pursuing the comparison, there may be as much to learn from the questions of liberation that the South African struggle failed to answer fully.
These essays should help refute, once and for all, the assertion that the apartheid/Israel comparison is “anti-Semitic” because it seeks to “de-legitimize” the state of Israel. If anything, this analogy reflects the principled rejection of anti-Semitism by the vast majority of pro-Palestinian activists. At the ideological heart of apartheid was the program of building an (ultimately impossible) “white South Africa” based on an ethno-nationalist appeal to self-determination. Apartheid’s forced removals, the creation of the Bantustans, and the stripping of Africans’ citizenship rights were all directed to this end. It is therefore telling that so many defenders of Israel’s practices assert the right to a “Jewish state” at the expense of Palestinian claims for justice. Whatever its considerable limitations, the defeat of apartheid represented the historic triumph of an inclusive vision of South Africa over a racially exclusive conception of nation. By drawing a parallel to the South Africa freedom struggle, the analogy targets Israel’s colonial practices, not any one group or people.
We have published this forum to coincide with the African Studies Association meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. In South Africa, many of our colleagues have been at the forefront of mobilizing civil society against Israeli apartheid. Until recently, however, North American Africanists have largely been absent from a public debate that hinges, in part, on the historical significance of colonialism, apartheid, and the southern African liberation struggles. The African Literature Association’s endorsement of the BDS Movement was a major turning point in this regard. Among some of our colleagues, this reticence reflects a sincere unease over the way that discussions about Israel/Palestine often mobilize South African history in a highly instrumentalist and reductive fashion. We hope that these essays show that one can think comparatively while remaining attentive to the complexity of (still ongoing) South African struggles.
Other colleagues have invoked an area studies vocabulary to argue that we have enough to worry about in “our own” backyard. South Africa has long boasted an oversized position in African studies. With everything that the continent faces, why return to debates about apartheid once again? When protestors in Ferguson faced militarized police agencies that had received training from Israeli security forces, they were quick to draw the connection between state racism in the United States and Israel. Moreover, the firing of academic Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois illuminated the way that the orchestrated campaign of intimidation against pro-Palestinian academics has become linked to a broader erosion of shared university governance and academic freedom. As scholars based in North America, it is only possible to see Israel/Palestine as “outside our field of expertise” if we divorce the concerns of African studies from the forms of militarism, racism, and censorship that operate in our own society.
The global anti-apartheid movement was one of the largest international civil society mobilizations of the late 20th century. For all of its mistakes and internal divisions, it succeeded because it managed to connect diverse, localized struggles to a campaign against international support for the South African regime. The BDS movement is today developing a similar dynamic. We hope that this forum will encourage collaborations with colleagues in Middle East Studies (and other fields), the organization of conferences and special journal issues, and the difficult work of teaching about contemporary forms of apartheid in our courses. The editors believe that the African Studies Association should move toward endorsing the academic boycott of Israeli universities. We offer these essays as a launching point and invite our colleagues to join us in this discussion.
Contributors: Achille Mbembe, Salim Vally, Andy Clarno, Arianna Lissoni, T.J. Tallie, Bill Freund, Marissa Moorman, Shireen Hassim, Robin D.G. Kelley, Heidi Grunebaum, and Melissa Levin.
Concept: Elliot Ross
There is no need to say much any longer. We have heard it all by now and from all parties.
We all know what is going on—it can’t be “occupied territory” if the land is your own.
As a result, everyone else is either an enemy, a “self hater” or both. If we have to mask annexation, so be it. In any case, there is no need to take responsibility for the suffering inflicted to the other party because we have convinced ourselves that the other party does not exist.
Thus thuggishness, jingoism, racist rhetoric, and sectarianism.
Thus every two or three years, an all-out, asymmetrical assault against a population entrapped in an open air prison.
We each know why they do what they do—the army, the police, the settlers, the pilots of bombing raids, the zealots, and the cohort of international Pharisees and their mandatory righteousness, starting with the United States of America.
We all know what is going on: by any means necessary, they must be purged from the land.
I am willing to bet:
- In Palestine, it would be hard to find one single person who has not lost someone, a member of the family, a friend, a close relative, a neighbor.
- It would be hard to find one single person who is unaware of what “collateral damages” are all about.
It is all a gigantic mess. Rage, resentment and despair. The melding of strength, victimhood, and a supremacist complex.
I am willing to bet it is worse than the South African Bantustans.
To be sure, it is not Apartheid South African style.
It is far more lethal.
It looks like high-tech Jim Crow cum Apartheid.
The refusal of citizenship to those who are not like us. Encirclement. Never enough land taken. And once again, the melding of strength, victimhood, and a supremacist complex. No wonder even the Europeans are now threatening Israel with sanctions.
Israel is entitled to live in peace. But Israel will be safeguarded only by peace in a confederal arrangement that recognizes reciprocal residency, if not citizenship.
The occupation of Palestine is the biggest moral scandal of our times, one of the most dehumanizing ordeals of the century we have just entered, and the biggest act of cowardice of the last half-century.
And since all they are willing to offer is a fight to the finish, since what they are willing to do is to go all the way—carnage, destruction, incremental extermination—the time has come for global isolation.
The Palestinian struggle does not only exert a visceral tug on many around the world. A reading of imperialism shows that apartheid Israel is needed as a fundamentalist and militarised warrior state not only to quell the undefeated and unbowed Palestinians, but also as a rapid response fount of reaction in concert with despotic Arab regimes to do the Empire’s bidding in the Middle East and beyond.
Over the years this has included support for the mass terror waged against the people of Central and South America and facilitating the evasion of international sanctions against South Africa. Throughout the Apartheid years in South Africa there were individuals and groups who identified and stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became a symbol of resistance for most South Africans. South Africans struggling against apartheid policies and realities agreed with apartheid prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd already in 1961 when he approvingly stated that “Israel like South Africa is an apartheid state.” Unlike Verwoerd, they considered this a violent abuse of human rights and not a reason to praise Israel. In 1976, a watershed year in the resistance against Apartheid, John Vorster was invited to Israel and received with open arms by the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Perez.
In addition to identifying with the struggle of Palestinians, South Africans also recognized that Israel was playing a role in their own oppression. For instance, Israel was an important arms supplier to Apartheid South Africa despite the international arms embargo, and as late as 1980, 35% of Israel's arms exports were destined for South Africa. Israel was loyal to the racist state and clung onto the friendship when almost all other relationships had dissolved. During the 1970s, this affiliation extended into the field of nuclear weaponry when Israeli experts helped South Africa to develop at least six nuclear warheads and in the 1980s, when the global anti-apartheid movement had forced many states to impose sanctions on the Apartheid regime, Israel imported South African goods and re-exported them to the world as a form of inter-racist solidarity. Israeli companies, subsidized by the South African regime despite the pittance they paid workers, were established in a number of Bantustans.
Besides providing a ready supply of mercenaries to terrorise a populace - whether in Guatemala, Iraq, or New Orleans - Israel also trains police forces and military personnel around the world, lending its expertise of collective punishment and mass terror. For instance, at least two of the four law enforcement agencies that were deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown— the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Police Department — received training from Israeli security forces in recent years.
We have to recognise that the Israeli economy was founded on the special political and military role which Zionism then and today fulfills for Western imperialism. While playing its role to ensure that the region is safe for oil companies, it has also carved out today a niche market producing high-tech security essential for the day-to-day functioning of New Imperialism. The weaponry and technology the Israeli military-industrial complex exports around the world are field tested on the bodies of Palestinian men, women, and children.
The ‘Whataboutery’ Argument Revisited
In attempting to isolate the erstwhile South African apartheid regime, we were confronted with responses by apartheid apologists that often ended with the diversionary “what about Pol Pot?” or “what about Idi Amin?” Once again supporters of Israel and unfortunately even well-meaning liberals voice similar evasive sentiments including the indignant cousin of "whataboutery," the complaint, “Why single out Israel?”.
Over the years the countries and groups referred to by the "whatabout" critics included Sudan, Iran, Syria, Boko Haram and now ISIS or the "Islamic State" group. Sudan was bombed and stiff sanctions implemented, Iran has been under sanctions since 1979, Syria since 2003, atavistic groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS are actively hunted by the US and other Western powers. Ilan Pappe put it succinctly: “… there are horrific cases where dehumanization has reaped unimaginable horrors. But there is a crucial difference between these cases and Israel's brutality: the former are condemned as barbarous and inhuman worldwide, while those committed by Israel are still publicly licensed and approved by Western governments.”
So the supporters of Israel miss the point. The Israeli regime is of course not the only one worthy of opprobrium and censure but in the past it would’ve been absurd and foolhardy to have a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) strategy against the genocidal and isolationist Pol Pot regime or today against the horrific Boko Haram or ISIS. BDS is not a universally appropriate strategy—it is a particular tactic chosen because of its potential effectiveness in a particular situation. As the writer and journalist Mike Marqusee explains:
Arguing that one should ignore this specific call for BDS [against Israel] because it is not simultaneously aimed at all oppressive regimes is like arguing you should cross a picket line because the union in dispute is not simultaneously picketing all other bad employers.
The demand of the BDS campaign is not that Israel should be better than other countries, but that it should adhere to the very modest minimum standards of human rights and international law. It is an attempt to end the impunity given to Israel. In fact, Israel is singled out by Western powers for special treatment. The US provides Israel with massive aid, including military support as well as diplomatic and political cover. The EU provides preferential trade agreements and even the football body FIFA treats Israel as if it were a European country. The pampering and material support the Israeli state has received has not tempered its vile crimes, but instead made it more vicious. It should be seen in all its nakedness as a pariah state like Israel’s dear and unlamented former friend, apartheid South Africa.
Lessons from the Campaign to Isolate Apartheid South Africa
It will be helpful to draw activists’ attention to some of the lessons from the campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa.
First, it took a few decades of hard work before the boycott and sanctions campaign made an impact. Despite the impression given by many venal government leaders that they supported the isolation of the apartheid state from the outset, this is just not true. Besides the infamous words of Dick Cheney, when as a US senator he called for the continued incarceration of Nelson Mandela because he was a “terrorist,” and the support given by US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Thatcher, together with Pinochet’s Chile, Israel and others, most multilateral organizations and even unions were hesitant for many years to fully support the campaign. The Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) was formed in 1959 and the first significant breakthrough came in 1963 when Danish dock workers refused to off-load South African goods.
The rise of the AAM must be seen in the general effervescence of liberation struggles and social movements in the turbulent 1960s/early 1970s and in the context of, whatever our opinion was of the USSR and its motivations, a counterweight to the US hegemon. The post-9/11 climate of fear, silencing dissent, and Islamophobia (together with the viciousness of the pro-Israeli lobby and its opportunistic reference to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism) makes the task of isolating apartheid Israel more difficult. Despite these seemingly daunting obstacles, the movement for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is gaining momentum and already some significant gains have been made, gains which would have been difficult to imagine just a few years ago.
Second, arguments opposed to the boycott related to the harm it would cause black South African themselves and the need for dialogue and “constructive engagement” was easily rebuffed by lucid and knowledgeable arguments. The disingenuous argument that black workers in South Africa would be harmed by sanctions was given short-shrift by the democratic movement who argued that if sanctions hastened the end of apartheid then any short term difficulties would be welcomed. The Israeli economy depends even less on Palestinian labor than the South African economy depended on black South Africans so the argument that “Palestinians will also suffer” from a BDS campaign is just not true. The South African regime, like the Israeli regime today, used Bantustan leaders and an assortment of collaborators to argue the case for them. Careful research played an important role in exposing the economic, cultural, and armaments trade links with South Africa to make our actions more effective as well as to “name and shame” those who benefited from the apartheid regime.
Third, sectarianism is a danger that we must be vigilant about and principled unity must be our lodestar. Some in the AAM favored supporting only one liberation movement as the authentic voice of the oppressed in South Africa. They also aspired to work largely with “respectable” organizations, governments, and multilateral organizations and shunned the much harder and patient linking of struggles with grassroots organizations. During the South African anti-apartheid struggle, sectarian attitudes resulted in debilitating splits. In England, for instance, the biggest chapter of the AAM in London, which supported the anti-imperialist struggle in Ireland and was part of the "Troops Out Movement," was ostracized by the official AAM. The latter was also keen not to annoy the British government by taking a stronger stance against racism in Britain.
At a huge Palestinian solidarity rally in South Africa, members of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign were asked by officials from the Palestinian ambassador’s office to pull down the flag of the Western Sahara Republic because they feared this would alienate the ambassador of Morocco. We refused this request. Similarly, Palestinian solidarity must take a stand against oppression in all its forms and as far as possible be active in solidarity with other struggles locally and globally.
Fourth, we should actively oppose any sign of anti-Semitism, whether overt or covert, and its manifestations should be challenged immediately. Utmost vigilance around this is necessary. There have been attempts by agent provocateurs to encourage and bait people so that the charge of anti-Semitism could be used to discredit our movement. These instances should be studied and the culprits exposed. Fully cognizant, of course, that the canard of "anti-Semitism" is used opportunistically by the supporters of Israel against anyone opposed to Israel’s policies.
Fifth, the campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions must be in concert with supporting grassroots organizations in Palestine as a whole and in the Palestinian diaspora. This can take many forms and shapes including "twinning" arrangements, speaking tours, targeted actions in support of specific struggles, and concrete support.
Finally, the sanctions campaign in South Africa did produce gatekeepers, sectarians, and commissars but, as Shireen Hassim observes in her contribution to this forum, they were also challenged.
Palestinian Solidarity in South Africa Today
On August the 9th of this year, between 150,000 to 200,000 South Africans marched in Cape Town against the recent atrocities in Gaza and for full sanctions against Israel. It was the biggest march in South Africa’s history and continues solidarity activity since 1994. The highlights of these activities include: a ten thousand strong march in Durban during the World Conference Against Racism in 2001 where the “Second Anti-Apartheid Movement” was declared and a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against ‘Apartheid Israel’ adopted; an equally strong march at the World Summit on Sustainable Development Summit in 2002 in support of the Palestinian struggle and against the presence of an Israeli delegation including former Israeli president Shimon Peres; the refusal of dock workers in Durban to offload an Israeli ship in 2009 in the wake of Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ assault on Gaza and in 2011 the decision by the Senate of the University of Johannesburg to sever ties with Ben Gurion University.
Despite the ANC’s support for a sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa during our liberation struggle, the postapartheid South African government has facilitated increasing trade with Israel since 1994 (as this dossier shows). The dossier also reflects Palestinians’ dashed hopes about the new and “progressive” ANC government. In a response to the overwhelming sentiment of South Africans to expel the Israeli ambassador during the latest outrage in Gaza, our deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said “It’s often best when you want to solve problems to remain engaged so that you can have some leverage and this gave our president leverage to be able to send the two special envoys.” For many this was a variation of the ‘constructive engagement’ espoused by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. Many activists are simply fed-up with the empty posturing and what they correctly perceive as lucre trumping principle. Trade has increased since then. Bilateral trade between the two countries now stands at R12 billion up from R4 billion in 2003.
Palestinians despite their tremendous respect for South Africans are increasingly expressing the view that statements and symbolic gestures of solidarity, as have been coming from the South African government are no longer enough in the face of Israel’s acts of terror in Gaza. Despite attempts to promote collective amnesia, some of us remember the tremendous practical support and succor the Israeli state provided to our erstwhile oppressors, while many Palestinians shared trenches with South African freedom fighters.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) consciously makes connections to the South African struggle. Other writings have justified the need for this strategy, so it will suffice here to quote Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who lives in South Africa, who in the aftermath of the cluster bombing by Israel of Lebanon in 2006, wrote:
It is finally time. After years of internal arguments, confusion, and dithering, the time has come for a full-fledged international boycott of Israel. Good cause for a boycott has, of course, been in place for decades, as a raft of initiatives already attests. But Israel’s war crimes are now so shocking, its extremism so clear, the suffering so great, the UN so helpless, and the international community’s need to contain Israel’s behavior so urgent and compelling, that the time for global action has matured. A coordinated movement of divestment, sanctions, and boycotts against Israel must convene to contain not only Israel’s aggressive acts and crimes against humanitarian law but also, as in South Africa, its founding racist logics that inspired and still drive the entire Palestinian problem.
In early September 2001, the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, placed the Palestinian struggle at the heart of the global movement against racism, neoliberalism, and empire. The NGO Forum issued a powerful declaration that marked Israel as an “apartheid state.” Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Durban wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “APARTHEID IS/REAL.” By no means the first time Israel was likened to South Africa, the WCAR was instrumental in globalizing the discourse of Israeli apartheid.
Since 2001, activists and scholars have increasingly turned to South Africa to make sense of current conditions in Palestine/Israel, to explore strategies of resistance, and to conceptualize possible futures. For many observers, South Africa represents a principled rejection of settler colonialism, a model of a one-state solution, and a vision of reconciliation and multiracial democracy based on a common humanity. In addition, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has made tremendous gains building on the tactics of the South African anti-apartheid movement. In short, studying the success of the South African struggle has been highly productive for the Palestinian freedom movement.
Building on this work, I want to suggest that understanding the limitations of liberation in post-apartheid South Africa could also prove productive. Overthrowing the apartheid state freed black South Africans from the confines of the white supremacist regime. This extraordinary victory has been rightfully celebrated and South Africa has become a beacon of hope for millions. Yet South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. A small black elite and a growing black middle class have emerged alongside the old white elite, which still controls the vast majority of land and wealth in the country. Poor black South Africans have been relegated to a life of permanent unemployment, informal housing, and high rates of HIV/AIDS in the townships and shack settlements of the urban periphery. While rooted in the history of colonialism and apartheid, these conditions cannot be dismissed as simply the lingering effects of the old regime. Waves of strikes, social movements, and popular uprisings have made clear that the struggle in South Africa continues.
Until now, nearly every comparative study has focused on apartheid-era South Africa and contemporary Palestine/Israel. Yet the continuing crises and ongoing struggles in South Africa have important implications for the Palestinian struggle. The crises serve as a reminder that democratizing a settler state does not entirely eliminate inequality, segregation, or even racism. And the struggles make it possible to deepen the connections between social justice movements in Palestine/Israel and South Africa today. My own work draws out these implications through a comparative analysis of contemporary South Africa and contemporary Palestine/Israel, focusing on the simultaneous transitions that have taken place in both countries since the early 1990s.
The end of formal apartheid in South Africa and the Oslo “peace process” in Palestine/Israel were fundamentally neoliberal projects connected to the restructuring of global political/economic relations at the end of the Cold War. While the South African state was democratized and deracialized, the formation of the Palestinian Authority allowed Israel to introduce a form of indirect rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to expand its colonial domination over the entire territory. Each of these transitions, however, was closely connected to the rising global hegemony of neoliberal capitalism. Promoting market-based policies such as privatization, de-regulation, entrepreneurialism, and free trade, neoliberal restructuring has enabled the rise of multi-national corporations, the growth of finance capital, the concentration of wealth among the elite, the deepening marginalization of the poor, and the expansion of security forces to manage these surplus populations. In both Palestine/Israel and South Africa, neoliberal restructuring has intensified race and class inequality and generated new struggles and social movements.
The transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa was accompanied by the consolidation of neoliberal capitalism. Building on economic reforms initiated by the apartheid regime, the African National Congress (ANC) adopted a series of market friendly policies to win the support of the South African and global business elites. Most importantly, the ANC accepted constitutional protections for the existing distribution of private property, despite the fact that it was ultimately acquired through conquest and violent dispossession. Within two years of coming to power, the ANC government adopted an explicitly neoliberal economic strategy. In addition, it took on the debt accumulated by the apartheid regime and gave up on proposals to nationalize the banks and the mines. As a result, black South Africans gained equal rights, the black middle class became more secure, and a few black families with close ties to the new regime amassed great fortunes. But the old white elite and their corporations have largely retained control over the country’s vast wealth.
For millions of black South Africans, the neoliberal liberation has meant the elimination of jobs and the commodification of basic services. Economic restructuring has led to the collapse of industrial employment, the increasing precariousness of waged labor, and growing levels of permanent structural unemployment. The privatization of water, electricity, education, health care, and housing has made these services increasingly difficult to afford. And the official “land redistribution” program – guided by market-based “willing seller, willing buyer” principles – has led to the redistribution of only 8% of South African land. Hardest hit by these changes, of course, are the poor, black communities that led the struggle against apartheid and are now being devastated by poverty and HIV/AIDS. The gulf between the wealthiest and poorest South Africans has grown so wide that post-apartheid South Africa is now ranked as one of the three most unequal countries in the world.
Unlike black South Africans, Palestinians have not achieved political freedom or legal equality. The Oslo negotiations established the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a limited self-governing body for Palestinians in a series of isolated enclosures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PA was granted partial autonomy over civil affairs – such as education and health care – in exchange for working with Israel to police the Palestinian people and suppress resistance. The State of Israel retains full sovereign control over the entire territory and has continued to colonize Palestinian land while concentrating the Palestinian population into isolated and enclosed zones of abandonment and death.
From the start, Oslo has been a deeply neoliberal process. The Oslo negotiations were promoted by Israeli business elites concerned that political instability would impede their ability to attract foreign investors and multi-national corporations. They were shaped by former President Shimon Peres’s vision of a “New Middle East” – a regional free-trade zone that would open the markets of the Arab world to US and Israeli capital. Trade accords with neighboring countries allowed Israeli businesses to outsource production to low-wage industrial zones in Egypt and Jordan. And the economic policies of the PA, closely linked to those of Israel through the 1994 Paris Protocol, were shaped from the start by the World Bank and IMF. The PA is also highly susceptible to donor pressure because its budget depends heavily on grants and loans from donor states. From 2000-2013, Salam Fayyad, a former IMF employee, was installed as PA Minister of Finance and later Prime Minister and tasked with implementing neoliberal projects. With support from the Palestinian elite, these projects have amplified the class divisions within Palestinian society.
Neoliberal restructuring has enabled Israel’s policy of separation and enclosure by greatly reducing Israeli reliance on Palestinian labor. Israel has undergone a major transition from a labor-intensive economy centered on production for the domestic market to a high-tech economy integrated into the circuits of global capitalism. This shift has undermined the basis of agricultural and industrial labor, eliminating the need for Palestinian workers and crippling both Palestinian and Israeli labor unions. Since the early 1990s, Israel has largely replaced Palestinian workers with hundreds of thousands of low paid migrant workers. And Palestinian industries in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been devastated by Israeli restrictions (and airstrikes), cheap imports, and outsourcing to Jordan and Egypt. As a result of these changes, Israeli – and some Palestinian – business elites have garnered tremendous wealth while the Palestinian enclaves have become sites of concentrated inequality. A small Palestinian elite with close ties to the PA has grown rich while the majority of Palestinians confront deepening poverty, land confiscation, and constant repression. Two of the main sources of income for Palestinian workers in the West Bank today are building Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land or joining the PA security forces – trained by the United States and charged with ensuring Israeli security.
Post-apartheid South Africa demonstrates the limitations of a liberation strategy that does not extend beyond the de-racialization of the state apparatus. The South African left used to describe apartheid as a system of “racial capitalism” built to maintain not only white supremacy, but also access to cheap black labor for white owned businesses. Unless racism and capitalism were confronted together, they insisted, post-apartheid South Africa would remain deeply divided and unequal. This analysis emerged out of decades of scholarship and struggle and is widely shared among South African scholars today. The ANC preferred a two-stage revolutionary strategy that prioritized the struggle against racism and promised that the struggle against capitalism would come later. By the 1990s, this strategy brought about a transition to democracy, but at the cost of institutionalizing neoliberal capitalism and protecting the wealth of the old white elite. In the words of the late Neville Alexander, “what we used to call the apartheid-capitalist system has simply given way to the post-apartheid-capitalist system.”
Like most critical work on Palestine/Israel, the analysis of Israeli apartheid has largely overlooked the relationship between colonial domination and racial capitalism. Drawing on the UN definition of apartheid as a regime of racial discrimination and segregation, scholars and activists have focused on the forms of legal discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the dual legal system in the Occupied Territories, the colonization of Palestinian land, and the system of identity documents and permits used to classify and control Palestinian movement. In recent years, scholars have increasingly adopted political-economic approaches for the study of Palestine/Israel – highlighting the relationship between neoliberal restructuring and the Oslo process. Yet these perspectives have not yet been fully incorporated into the analysis of Israeli apartheid.
During an age of industrial expansion, South African factories, farms, and mines were absolutely dependent on black workers. The Israeli strategy of separation and enclosure, on the other hand, has emerged during an age of neoliberal hegemony and involves the steady eradication of work for Palestinians. Some observers recognize the divergent relationship between capitalism and racism in apartheid-era South Africa and contemporary Palestine/Israel as simply a manifestation of contextual specificity in the operation of apartheid. But this is more than just an academic question of similarities and differences. It goes to the heart of the crisis confronting Palestinians and South Africans today.
A familiar story throughout the world, the globalization of production made possible by neoliberal restructuring has generated surplus populations in both South Africa and Palestine/Israel: permanently unemployed, too poor to consume, and abandoned by the neoliberal state. In Palestine/Israel, neoliberalism has intensified a colonial dynamic already operating to turn Palestinians into a surplus population that can be enclosed, expelled, encouraged to kill one another, or simply slaughtered—as Israel has made clear in Gaza over the last two months. This raises important questions about the possibilities for forging movements to challenge a capitalist system that is increasingly producing surplus populations across the planet.
Over the last 10 years, the Palestinian solidarity movement has made extraordinary gains, especially through BDS campaigns. Yet Palestinian movements on the ground face intense repression and fragmentation. At the same time, South Africa has witnessed widespread struggles against neoliberal capitalism – from service delivery protests to community based social movements to independent labor unions. And throughout the world, people have risen up against neoliberal capitalism, corporate power, war, and racism. Global convergences of these social justice movements – from the World Conference Against Racism to the World Social Forum – have provided opportunities for Palestinians to forge connections with organizations and activists from South Africa and around the world. Understanding the ways that Palestine/Israel, like South Africa, is implicated in global processes of political-economic restructuring could contribute to the constitution of broader movements against global, neoliberal apartheid.
It would be hard for present-day visitors of Mafikeng, the administrative capital of South Africa’s North West Province, to miss the sight of its massive stadium on the otherwise flat landscape. The Olympic-standard football stadium, which can accommodate up to 60,000 spectators, is inactive and was not deemed suitable to host any 2010 FIFA World Cup games. What would not be immediately evident to the eye, however, is that Mahikeng’s white elephant – known in its heyday as the Independence Stadium - was planned by Israeli architects and built by an Israeli construction firm during the bantustan era in apartheid South Africa.
Kept under cover for a long time, the full extent of Israeli-South African collaboration on nuclear and military matters has recently been exposed in Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s The Unspoken Alliance (2010). Yet there is another relationship between these two countries (which started as an offshoot of the Pretoria-Jerusalem axis and of which Mahikeng’s stadium is one of the material remains) that was very public in its days, but appears to have been largely forgotten: the one between Israel and South Africa’s bantustans.
That this relationship has been forgotten is surprising, given the parallels between South Africa’s apartheid policy and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (where the bantustans are often compared to the Palestinian territories as politically and economically unviable ‘dumping grounds’ for black South Africans and Palestinians respectively). The ties between the former bantustans and Israel complicate this analogy and twist it into new directions that are explored below. Moreover, Israel’s extensive relations with the bantustans reveal the country’s historical involvement (beyond the level of military and nuclear cooperation) in supporting one of the cornerstones of apartheid ideology.
‘Home, Sweet Homeland’
In 1973, the Organization of African Unity passed a resolution urging its member states to sever diplomatic ties with Israel in condemnation of its continued occupation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after the Yom Kippur War. Apartheid South Africa, along with a small group of reactionary African countries headed by Zaire, had no qualms about establishing relations with Israel—at a time when Israel was beginning to lose international credibility and the majority of African states were breaking theirs off. South African Prime Minister John Vorster’s famous visit to Israel in 1976 not only placed the diplomatic seal on a ‘much bigger deal’ between the two countries (by 1977 South Africa had become Israel’s largest arms customer), but also paved the way for a whole other series of diplomatic and economic relations which had as partners South Africa’s so-called ‘homelands’. From 1980 onwards one after another ‘homeland’ ruler, including Bophuthatswana’s “president” Lucas Mangope, travelled to Israel on official visits.
Heavily reliant on Pretoria’s handouts for their economic survival and denied international recognition, the bantustans granted attractive tax concessions and other financial reliefs (integral to South Africa’s policy of industrial decentralization) in order to attract foreign investment into their territories. The absence of black trade unions, wage subsidies, and guaranteed supplies of cheap black labor provided further incentives for foreign companies to do business with the bantustans. According to a newspaper title, it was ‘Home Sweet Homeland for Israeli Businessmen’.
Although the bantustans’ economic dependence on Pretoria has been well documented, the role which foreign (often limited to Israeli and Taiwanese) investment played in developing the bantustans’ infrastructure, helping in turn to prop up their illegitimate governments, has not been investigated. Likewise, the extent to which such investment injected new blood into a suffering Israeli economy – thus contributing to the survival of the Israeli state–remains an open question. Even if it is unlikely that the profits derived from these ‘legitimate’ business operations ever matched those involved in the secret arms trade between Israel and South Africa, they were by no means insignificant. Moreover they had important political ramifications.
The only state with an official flag of Bophuthatswana
Bophuthatswana was neither the first nor the last ‘homeland’ to establish ties with Israel, but the relationship between the two appears to have been the most lucrative and pervasive of the lot. By 1983 Israeli investment in Bophuthatswana totalled US$250 million. Around this time, Shabtai Kalmanovich, a Russian-born Israeli businessman with dubious credentials introduced to Mangope by Sol Kerzner (the uncrowned king of the casinos and hotels empire in Bophuthatswana who later established himself in the US), was appointed Bophuthatswana’s trade representative in Israel. Kalmanowitch became responsible for arranging and coordinating business deals as well as diplomatic contacts for Bophuthatswana – while amassing a huge fortune for himself.
Through Kalmanowitch, Bophuthatswana purchased a four storey building at 194 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv to house its Trade Mission. The building stood ‘in one of the most beautiful spots in Tel Aviv opposite the Hilton Hotel and the Independence Park – with a fascinating view of the sea’. An Israeli firm of architects, Barchana, was contracted in 1984 to undertake the renovation works, which cost one million USD. Bophuthatswana House, as the building (featuring marble floors and decorative ceilings, imported Italian furniture, and a Presidential suite) was renamed, functioned in practice like an embassy and became the only place in the world outside South Africa to fly Bophuthatswana’s flag.
By the mid-1980s, Israel received approximately official 100 visitors from Bophuthatswana every year and vice versa – involving government representatives from a vast spectrum of departments on both sides, as well as numerous private Israeli citizens. In the period 1984-85, 79 business projects were submitted to the Bophuthatswana government – ranging from housing, the construction of the stadium, a tennis center, irrigations projects, security systems, television programming, the purchase of tractors, aviation, diamonds manufacturing, a shoe factory, a meat processing plant, and a crocodile farm. Israel also became a valuable source of expertise, with professionals in various fields recruited to work in Bophuthatswana by the Tel Aviv Trade Mission.
Before corruption charges could be brought against him in relation to the 18 million USD stadium deal, Kalmanowitch exited the Bophuthatswana scene to seek new profits in Sierra Leone’s diamond trade. His former secretary Tova P. Maori, was appointed to head a new office in Tel Aviv (it is unclear what happened to Bophuthatswana House, which disappeared with Kalmanovich). The period that followed was largely one of consolidation of the initiatives that had been started by Kalmanowitch and saw their penetration into the cultural and social fabric of the bantustan. The political implications of this process - especially for Bophuthatswana’s survival into the 1990s - were far reaching.
Under Tova’s direction, the new Trade Mission office started cultivating not only business exchanges but also what were then called ‘humanitarian’ exchanges in fields such as tourism, education, sports and culture. In 1989 the Israel/Bophuthatswana Friendship Society was set up in Israel (with an active membership of approximately 150 people) ‘as a forum for cultural exchanges and networking between the people of Israel and Bophuthatswana’. Mangope’s daughter-in-law Rosemary, who had studied in Jerusalem, drew inspiration from the Women’s International Zionist Organisation’s (Wizo) programs in Israel to set up a cultural center (of which she became Executive Director) called Mmabana (‘mother of the children’). Israeli tennis and football coaches were contracted to contribute to the development of these sports in Bophuthatswana, whose teams were invited to play in Israeli tournaments.
“Africa’s Little Israel”
The negotiations over South Africa’s political future in the early 1990s brought the future of the TVBC (Transkei-Bophuthatswana-Venda-Ciskei) states and their reincorporation into South Africa under the spotlight. In 1990, after Mandela’s release and the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties, Mangope announced that Bophuthatswana would ‘remain an independent state one hundred years from now’, refusing to take part in the negotiations at CODESA.
In a desperate bid to retain ‘independence’ and with Pretoria’s support withdrawing, Bophuthatswana increasingly looked to the outside world for friends. The early 1990s saw a vigorous expansion of Bophuthatswana’s diplomatic efforts (with the satellites of the former Soviet Union proving especially receptive) as the bantustan tried to project internationally the image of a stable, moderate, multi-racial, Christian country firmly set in the capitalist economy.
Israel’s friendship to South Africa’s bantustans remained steadfast in this critical period, as Bantustan leaders continued to be envisaged as allies in the future geo-political reconfiguration of the region (against the prospect of the coming to power of the ‘pro-Soviet’ and ‘pro-Palestinian’ ANC). Relations with the bantustans were used by Israel as evidence of its abhorrence of apartheid. Bophuthatswana, on the other hand, looked to Israel’s ethno-nationalism as ‘an example, similar to their own, of a young country that has achieved independence as a result of their cultural and historical ties to the land’. It also began to display signs of Israel’s (and South Africa’s) ‘siege mentality,’ with senior officials speaking of their ‘beleaguered’ homeland as ‘the litte Israel of Africa’.
The final collapse of Bophuthatswana and the coming to power of the new ANC government in 1994 at last put a halt to this hive of activities – commercial, sports, educational, cultural, ideological and ultimately political – between the former bantustan and Israel. Mangope fought to the bitter end for Bophuthatswana to retain its ‘independence’ and Israeli support – which always remained short of official but came to encompass a vast range of relations – played a critical role in helping Bophuthatswana to survive for as long as it did. It can be argued that this relationship was essentially an opportunistic one: to be sure, Israelis made huge profits by doing business with Bophuthatswana (and other bantustans). Economic ties paved the way for other types of links which together contributed to upholding a political project, that of the bantustans. Israel’s engagement with apartheid practices is thus much deeper than its present policy-making context. On the other side of the relationship, Bophuthatswana desperately needed allies such as Israel for the development of its infrastructure. This in turn provided the foundation on which Bophuthatswana’s claim to a separate identity in the new South Africa could be based. Israel also became a cultural and ideological model from which the bantustan could draw on to shape its own ethno-nationalist project and in articulating its right to exist.
 S. Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana, 2010).
 Ibid.,pp. 95, 105.
 Quoted in Ibid., note 10, p. 278.
 ‘Heavy investments in Bophuthatswana’, Hadashot, 20 June 1984.
 North West Provincial Archives (NWPA), Bophuthatswana Papers (BP), CN 13/2, ‘Letter from Barchana Architects translated from Hebrew into English’, 28 October 1984.
 NWPA, BP, Trade Mission Office, Tel Aviv, ‘Annual Report: 1984’ and ‘Annual Report: 1985’.
 Bophuthatswana Pioneer, 14, 1 (992), p. 21.
 Bophuthatswana Pioneer, 14 (1), 1992, p. 20.
 Ibid., p. 24. This first appeared in the title of an editorial in the Jerusalem Post.
The Israeli apartheid analogy is a complex one, particularly for me as an African-American historian whose work focuses on histories of race, gender, and conflict in South Africa. In many ways, the structure of apartheid as a governmental system and overlapping series of exclusionary laws and policies does indeed resemble that of contemporary of Israel, as figures like Desmond Tutu have made clear time and again. Historically, the partnership between Israel and the apartheid government in South Africa was a contested but close one, made stronger by both governments’ view that they were bastions of Western, anti-communist order in a region surrounded by hostile native peoples. Die Burger, a newspaper in the Cape Province (now Western Cape) that frequently served as a mouthpiece for apartheid’s National Party, intoned this connection most starkly in May of 1968:
Israel and South Africa have a common lot. Both are engaged in a struggle for existence, and both are in constant clash with the decisive majorities in the United Nations. Both are reliable foci of strength within the region, which would, without them, fall into anti-Western anarchy. It is in South Africa's interest that Israel is successful in containing her enemies, who are among our own most vicious enemies ... The anti-Western powers have driven Israel and South Africa into a community of interests which had better be utilized than denied.
Indeed, the structural parallels of apartheid and Zionism in Israel are strikingly visible in multiple forms from ruthless expulsions of peoples, to the claims of newly arrivant peoples to authentic indigeneity, to religious justifications, to hypermilitization.
The similarities between the two state systems led South African exile Alfred Tokollo Moleah, then a professor in Pan African Studies at Temple University in Pennsylvania, to write a scathing indictment of both Israel and South Africa in 1979, where he called both countries:
the manifestation of a shared ideology, a common worldview. Both Israel and South Africa feel that they have a religious calling; both see themselves as Western outposts in a sea of barbarism. They both see their states and the political programs as the unfolding of a divine drama ...When a divine injunction rests on privilege, floats on oil, is gilted as well as festooned with diamonds, and is girded by uranium, chrome and platinum group metals, you then have a most explosive mixture.
Yet as a historian, I do feel compelled to point out that the comparison is not without its flaws. The word apartheid itself and its origins have much to do with a specific regional, temporal, and cultural context within southern Africa. Using the word apartheid as an analogy is a decisive mobilization of the term in order to link Israel’s policies with a now entirely discredited regime of exclusion and oppression in South Africa. To make the analogy provides rhetorical power but it also can flatten considerable historic differences between both regions.
While Israeli exclusion of ‘legitimate’ Palestinian recognized political spaces to the West Bank and Gaza is in some ways reminiscent of the infamous ‘bantustans’ of South Africa in the 1970s, they are not identical. Although the Israeli state and the National Party’s assumption of government in South Africa share the same year of origin (1948), their preceding histories are not the same. Apartheid’s origins are rooted substantially in the particularities of settler colonialism in southern Africa, in the mutual antagonisms between English and Afrikaans speaking white minority populations, and the histories of oppressive rule these two populations tried to establish over numerically superior African populations between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. Apartheid as a political and cultural project sought to create a modern, industrial nation-state that specifically served only the white minority population.
The creation of the state of Israel and its relationship to the Palestinian population is different historically, albeit no less problematic. The initial creation of a Jewish state in a region where Jewish people were not the majority population also contains within it the inherent problems of minority rule and the use of oppression to maintain this order. Significant claims of historic origin notwithstanding, the majority of Israel’s Jewish population has arrived in the region within the last century. These are but a few of the immediate material differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa. Yet, the analogy between the two countries remains significant as both of their governmental systems, from the point of view of the colonized, are oppressive minority regimes. Both regimes use recourses to broader nationalism or disingenuous claims to universal democracy to only allow full citizenship and access to power for a significant minority of the population. The majority of the population in both countries, then, has been locked outside of institutional access to power and resources even as the minority regime justifies itself through claims of democracy. It is therefore understandable why critics of Israel’s continued oppressive regime wish to use the label apartheid in order to link it to the universally discredited South African government.
In thinking through these comparisons, I am reminded of the extra-judicial killing of Black Consciousness Movement leader and anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977 by South African police forces. When Jimmy Kruger, the Minister for Justice and the Police under Prime Minister John Vorster, first spoke of the death at a National Party meeting in the Transvaal, he commented abruptly, “Dit laat my koud” (It leaves me cold). Kruger’s comment feels an apt exemplar of the institutionalized brutality and quotidian indifference in the face of suffering that marked life under the apartheid regime. It is a form of calculus that decides which lives are grievable, and which are not to be lamented in the name of a regime’s survival.
The Kruger quote inevitably came to mind as I sat riveted to online news coverage of the continued Israeli assault on Gaza this past summer, particularly after the deaths of four children on a beach in Gaza (itself an echo of an earlier killing of a Palestinian family on the beach in 2006). While the Israeli military declared that it was a ‘tragic outcome,’ there is a certain measure of coldness to the killing of civilians in what now seems an indiscriminate choice of targets. It remains very apparent that while Palestinian deaths are lamentable, they are deemed necessary, collateral damage for an operation aimed at securing a ‘protective edge’ for an oppressive settler regime.
But again, I am reminded that this rhetoric is neither new nor unique to the South African or Israeli contexts. As Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd has addressed, my own country, the United States, is built upon a history of the ungrievable Indian, a necropolitics that decides that while unfortunate, the death and clearing of indigenous peoples is a regrettable necessity for securing the settler state. Settler societies, one in which colonists come to stay, occupying the land and in a dark irony claiming that land as their own to the exclusion of the earlier inhabitants, share many similarities.
As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe has argued, settler colonialism is a structure rather than an event. It constantly shapes the daily, lived realities of the people within the settler state (be it the United States, Israel, South Africa, Australia, Canada, or other similar countries). Those in the population of settlers come to view their expansion as ‘inevitable,’ ‘natural,’ and ‘right.’ The constant, oppressive violence that structured the lived reality of earlier inhabitants is regrettable yet ‘necessary.’ As an American I must reflect on how often our history is taught as the regrettable violences of occupying indigenous lands and the unfortunate destruction of earlier occupants in order to expand an empire of liberty, one that increasingly brings new groups of people into an ever widening circle of freedom. (This freedom becomes a terrible, powerful, and un-refusable gift for subjected peoples, as theorist Mimi Thi Nguyen has argued so well).
This intersection is where I find myself as an African-American scholar of South African history, viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am intellectually struck by the similarities of settler logics in Israeli repressive measures against Palestinians, the simultaneous fear and resentment of peoples who are themselves locked in cycles of repression and violent occupation, to those I have spent much of my career reading about in colonial South Africa and more aptly in its apartheid iteration. Yet I remain profoundly aware of the privilege provided by both distance from both South Africa and Israel and by the naturalization of our own settler violences here in the United States. As a non-native person of color, I understand very well the constant and disproportionate violence meted out to nonwhite peoples within the United States. Although these moments of repression are still shaped by complicated relationship to a settler nation-state; the very claims I make to belong to a body politic, to push against oppression, are often done through recourse to an American identity that exists only through the oppression and marginalization of indigenous North Americans.
I do think that I have an obligation to continue to articulate the similarities between institutional Israeli settler repression and that codified in twentieth-century South Africa. While apartheid is a historic and culturally specific political system with a specific frame of reference, many of its political, social, and psychological impacts seem very similar in the Israeli context. Yet I feel that as an American historian I am equally called to a systematic and searching reflection on my own political and social contexts as an academic and as a researcher. My observation of these phenomena is not neutral, and it too is shaped by my own experiences of settler violence.
I believe that a critical assessment of Israeli apartheid that does not also involve self-reflection upon American anti-indigenous genocide and historic anti-black segregation runs the risk of being myopic and self-serving. It all too easily reinscribes the unfortunate American trait of advocating for political justice in other locations while obfuscating historical oppressions in which we are imbricated. This is not simply a call for navel-gazing, self-flagellating scholarship in the place of incisive and productive comparative work. But I do think that as a historian I am required to remember my own contexts in writing as much as the place I seek to write about. That is why even as I critically engage with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by reflecting upon my work in a colonial South African context, I seek to think through how settler colonialism operates more broadly, naturalizing oppression, othering and marginalization as essential parts of a national story. I hope to never take my own location within a contemporary settler state for granted as I critique the histories and daily realities of others like Israel and South Africa.
Indeed, the connections between settler regimes and oppressive violence run very deep between Israel and the United States. The brutal killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the streets of Missouri shocked many with the revelations of systemic state brutality against people of color. Yet the St. Louis Police Department, like many departments across the country, have been marked by a profound militarization in tactics, one that treats civilians as ever-constant threats, as expendable lives to be removed. It is not surprising, then, to learn that Joseph Mokwa, the former chief of the St. Louis Police Department, traveled to Israel in 2008 as part of a law-enforcement exchanged program designed to teach police advanced counter-terrorism methods.
While the United States, Israel, and apartheid-era South Africa all have significantly different historical origins, the rhetoric of settler rule and hypermilitarized repression is shared between them. Indeed, as the case in St. Louis demonstrates, these regimes share information, building their logics of oppression and violence in relation to each other. Due to this shared logic of oppression, analogy is a useful tool of critique and response; it allows us to see how certain systems are oppressive, and how they relate to and inform others. Nowhere is this more apparent than the response of besieged Palestinians in the immediate wake of Michael Brown’s death and the chilling militarized occupation of Ferguson, Missouri. From Gaza and beyond, Palestinians released a statement of solidarity with protestors in Missouri, proclaiming
We recognize the disregard and disrespect for black bodies and black life endemic to the supremacist system that rules the land with wanton brutality. Your struggles through the ages have been an inspiration to us as we fight our own battles for basic human dignities. We continue to find inspiration and strength from your struggles through the ages and your revolutionary leaders, like Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale and others.
Analogies can cut both ways. Just as the Israel/apartheid analogy exposes similar structural disadvantages for populations, so too can the struggles of African-Americans within white supremacist institutions in the United States inspire and shape Palestinians fighting what they view as an ever-constant Israeli occupation. So too, can these analogies reverberate in ostensibly post-apartheid South Africa, itself reflecting on the two year anniversary of brutal police violence against striking miners at Marikana. The prevailing logic of these state actions presumes that civilians exist as ever constant threats to be eliminated, lives to be cheaply disposed for state power. As the South African political scientist Richard Pithouse observed in August 2014, “The impunity of the Israeli state, like the impunity of the American state, like the impunity with which our own state increasingly uses murder, and legitimates the use of murder as a tool of social control, must be smashed. The militarization of social questions must be smashed everywhere.” While profoundly imperfect, analogies offer a point of reference, of common understanding, to challenge extant oppressive systems from South Africa to Israel to the United States.
In comparing Israel and South Africa, I would like to make a few preliminary comments which might preempt off some otherwise justified criticisms. The first is “apartheid,” a word that is bandied about to stop discussion. Apartheid becomes some kind of horror vaguely used to cover many things happening during a fairly long period in South African history. Its foreign sound for English speakers is deliberately intended to give it a particularly sinister ring unlike its popular predecessor segregation, used for a long time in South Africa even by those who called themselves liberals, and deliberately copied from its usage in the American South. As Mahmood Mamdani pointed out, and I note that Mamdani is a figure with a deep sympathy for African nationalism, South African racial policies emanated out of the history of European colonialism in Africa and were very typical of policies in which all the European powers, including those with conventionally democratic governments, once engaged. These policies are no longer acceptable in recent decades but they certainly once were. Carrying this edifice through in tandem with the emergence in mid-twentieth century of a consumer society built on a significant industrialisation project was the unique path that made late twentieth century South Africa anomalous. Once an anti-apartheid struggle existed in earnest, the defence against it took the form at times of a dirty war but that hardly explains a whole deeply rooted social, cultural and economic system.
Consequently exactly what one is comparing in Israel with what aspect of South African politics or society becomes important if one is searching for more than movement hyperbole. Israel did much to assist South African militarization in the final decade and a half of apartheid but this mostly reflected a convenient alliance between two countries with polecat status for some rather than any deep inner logic; the Israelis were essentially strategic opportunists who had put themselves forth earlier as model anti-colonial nationalists.
Some years ago I read what I thought was a remarkably comprehensive and intelligent comparison of the two systems made by the British journalist Robert Fisk, one of the most trustworthy sources on what really goes on in and about Israel, syndicated in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian. I could add little to his magisterial and detailed treatment. The essence of what Fisk had to say was a bifurcation. Policies towards Palestinians and indeed towards the non-Jewish world of Israel as it exists within the 1948-67 frontiers are inconsistent. On the one hand, Israel has a liberal “virtual” constitution with civil rights elements quite unlike the old South Africa. On the other, security fears and chauvinistic attachment to an old-fashioned nation-state concept are equally striking and enshrined in some key legislation. The current prime minister Netanyahu’s openly stated position that an independent Palestine must never be allowed to have an independent military force and that no negotiations can take place without the Palestinians first recognizing that Israel is a ‘Jewish state,’ would be a good illustration of the values that percolate through Zionism. So would the outpouring of Israeli Jewish sentiment at the recent death of his unlovable and corrupt hardline predecessor Ariel Sharon, an event which for good reasons attracted few foreigners, not even President Barack Obama.
Non-Jews vote and sit in the Knesset. The Labour Party when in power placed a few Arabs in cabinet positions but rarely do they serve on the judiciary or in the diplomatic corps. Apart from certain groups who fought alongside the Zionists in the war for Israeli independence, they are not trusted enough to be eligible for conscription. Yet I am told that in areas such as cultural performance, sport, access to higher education, the secular and pro-citizen aspect has tended to strengthen in Israel over time, albeit unevenly, often with the support of the courts. A fair account has to point out moreover that many predominantly Muslim and other states behave no better, indeed often far worse, to their minorities. I am struck at the absence of Muslims in South Africa and elsewhere being very excited about the fate of Kashmir, the Copts in Egypt, or of Muslims in Burma or Thailand, to take some obvious examples compared to the great cause of Palestine. Israel is very far from the worst example of minority treatment or discrimination in our world although it is also far from a model of fairness.
In Israel within these pre-1967 borders, the war for Israeli independence was marked by deliberate ethnic cleansing that drove most of the resident Arab population out of the territory won by the Jews, a territory that exceeded what they had been awarded by the new UN and that in turn exceeded what they might be thought entitled to through a population count. Even the UN territory allocated on the map to Jews had a population where Arabs were close to half the population; this problem for Zionism was solved by the war. Very few Arab refugees were allowed to return to their homes as many would have liked. The essence of the Zionist project was to extrude Arabs and create a Jewish majority, not to exploit Arabs. In this way Israel was more like a typical settler colony such as Canada, Australia or the thirteen colonies that came to make up the future USA.
There is consequently, as Fisk of course pointed out, a second terrain that needs to be discussed: the remaining territory that had belonged to the Palestinian mandate of the British previously and which had then been occupied by Egyptian and Jordanian troops and ruled as though it belonged to those two countries. Here were crowded together from 1948 the largest number of refugees; in the Gaza strip especially, militancy is particularly fuelled by their poverty and they are the majority population. In the 1967 war, this remnant of Mandate Palestine was occupied in a mere few days by Israel, almost all of it still being the so-called Occupied Territories, and few of the inhabitants were expelled or fled. Yet here too with the collusion of the authorities much land has been alienated to Jewish settlers. Golda Meir was particularly striking as an Israeli leader in her rhetoric about the importance of ‘facts on the ground’. It seems fair comment that the Israeli establishment initially hoped to use these territories as a bargaining chip to get what it wanted from Arabs in a one-sided treaty. However, since this has never happened, these territories, as Fisk pointed out, have become something like Bantustans with no clear future and visitors of many stripes find the situation of their population pretty distressing, perhaps especially in the Gaza strip, which houses more than 1 million people in an impoverished city-state surrounded by Israel except for a usually closed border with Egypt. Israel is not in a position to expel this population; its political elite has come to the view over time—reluctant for some—that therefore some kind of Arab sovereignty will have to be granted if it can be done in a way that represents no threat to Israeli security. Here, as Fisk wrote, there are real similarities to the Bantustan policy that really represented the one striking original policy feature of the 1948-94 Afrikaner nationalist government compared to its predecessors, which in my view defines apartheid.
From two perspectives, I wish it were possible to find what is usually called a one-stage solution to this conundrum. The first is my background in economic history and political economy. The whole of the old Palestine is a small territory and the division into these two parts artificial and impractical. The only excuse for it is that Jews and Arabs largely fail to embrace the idea of a union. The official Israeli position in this regard is very clear—the maximum territory with the fewest Arabs is the desideratum—even though no more than three-fourths of the Israeli population within the pre-1967 boundaries is Jewish, while the official Arab position is more ambiguous.
The second is that I do believe in the idea that South Africa crossed a huge historical threshold in getting rid of the Bantustans and taking a step towards becoming one nation for all its people, a task at which much work remains necessary but which was the right thing to do in terms of building a stable developed country in southern Africa. It is not exactly a question of democracy. For whites the old apartheid South Africa was by no means a dictatorship and for Jews in Israel, democracy seems manifest. It is the national question - which is quite separate as an issue; it means overcoming the older definition of who constitutes the nation. Working towards a common South African society has however become so associated with democracy, with fairness, with a good national future, that the contrast could not be stronger. Visionaries and intellectuals on both sides in the Middle East conflict share these values but while they deserve a lot of credit, they don’t win elections. Tony Leon and FW de Klerk are among the not especially radical visiting South Africans I can recall making these points in the press.
Nation-states of the old stripe are not the future. Zionism has its roots in the kind of nationalism usually initially associated with the Germans, that emphasized ancestry, origins and cultural identity as opposed to the nationalism that became dominant in the political discourse of revolutionary France and then Italy, of the British Empire and of the USA where there was a much stronger sense of common ideals, of an ability to absorb immigrants and people of varying origins, however this thrust was countered at times (and of course its roots are also European). Zionism had a religious element insofar as the early Zionists insisted after early internal conflicts that the territory, where Jews could develop as a modern people and form in time a nation-state, should be the land which was the site of the Old Testament. Otherwise though, it was in general militantly secular and internally shot through with ideas we associate with the Left. In the right circumstances, nationalism, even with a strongly racist charge, can co-exist with progressive ideas about social organization and the politics of the in-group. After all, the white Voortrekkers in the Orange Free State adopted a constitution modeled not on old Holland or Britain but the new US Republic.
Behind this lay and continues to lie a deep commitment on the part of most Israeli Jews to keep Israel a country where no Gentile run government could ever block Jewish immigration, could ever say there are too many clever Jews in the universities, the media or the government or could insist that jobs must be based, as South Africans like to put it, on the ‘demographics.’ This feeling was certainly intensified by the Holocaust, enshrined and cultivated as national motif in Israel and still a governing one. Of course, this vision would be undermined by a one-state solution.
One should add that Israel, once egalitarian and relatively poor, has become affluent and very successful, one of the contemporary world’s most successful development stories, respected in the business world everywhere. Its left wing past is remembered and honored by few. It is estimated to have the highest Research & Development spending as a percentage of the economy of any country in the world and so far the business community seems united in support of the government. This could not be less like the late apartheid South Africa whose impressive but languishing big businesses turned against the regime and did much to engineer the 1990 truce and 1994 settlement.
Sources friendly to the Palestinian cause maximize the number of Palestinians with the assumption that a free Palestine or a free one-state territory would attract all emigrants and refugees back and restore an Arab majority to the whole land, a questionable supposition.
Whether the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza would favor a one-state solution in which they would not be a majority, in which a large Jewish population would likely be on average far wealthier and more successful, is hard to say although, just as with the Jews, there are certainly men and women of good will who could settle for a Palestine eccentric to the Middle East. I cannot see an easy answer to the question of what to do with the aspirations of Palestinians who fled in 1948 to return to what they see as their old legitimate homes. In South Africa, land taken by the state, usually for reasons of racial compaction after 1948, has been returned to Africans although with very poor economic results. However, this is just a small proportion of the national territory. The number of whites forced to vacate such land must be close to zero.
But in Israel there are hundreds of thousands of Jews, the descendants of the Holocaust survivors and the immigrants from the Middle East, who took over equivalent properties and these are now their homes or the sites of various activities. The Jewish immigrants often had a strong sense of their own entitlement and saw this as historic justice. Some of the former Jewish residents of Arab countries certainly missed aspects of their old lives and retained some of their own distinctive customs but they are very rarely even minimally sympathetic to any kind of display of Arab nationalism and anxious to be accepted simply as Israelis.
Despite generous compensation, the howls of the few thousand Jewish settlers who were obliged to vacate the land around Gaza by Ariel Sharon were publicized as a great human rights challenge. Indeed this evacuation without negotiation or recognition of Palestinian rights, probably seen as an undesirable but inevitable alternative by Sharon, was no roaring success. The people of Gaza, and certainly the Hamas militants, hoped it spelt the beginning of Israeli defeat, not the start of a logical and acceptable partition and have used their enclave despite the odds to launch missile attacks on their foes or did so until massive retribution from the Israelis made a terrifying impact with the recent massacres as a second act.
As a result, it is important for us to recognize that the two-state solution, propounded by many who are very anxious about the wrongs of Palestinians, is the opposite of an anti-apartheid solution. It is about establishing, whatever the boundaries, two totally separate countries with different national identities. As Yitzhak Rabin (the prime minister who signed the Oslo accords and began talks with Yasir Arafat about a ‘peace of the brave’ before a nationalist Jew assassinated him) said approvingly, what is wanted is not a marriage but a divorce. This too of course is what international players, barring a few very enthusiastic supporters of the Palestinians, have expected at best.
Such a solution would enshrine the two nationalisms, neither of them more than grudgingly inclusive, at best on a fairer basis. A clear statement along these lines, going along with the UN demand for Israel to withdraw back to the 1967 border, was judiciously put forward some years ago by the government of Saudi Arabia, a proposal rejected with contempt by the Israeli government. It could never give Israel what it wants in terms of security and territory. Nor could it create an Arab Palestine of much substance. The negotiations which get revived from time to time and which the media inform us are somewhat ‘hopeful’ seem largely a farce, a stage act performed for a foreign audience that sustains Israel but officially claims to sympathize with aspirations for Palestinian statehood.
When I started to study South Africa in the 1960s, a well-known title by Prof. Newell Stultz wrote about the Transkei as South Africa’s proffered half-loaf to blacks. Of course the loaf was much less than half. It is not clear that any significant group of Israeli or Palestinian participants really want a Transkei type solution, even with international benevolence and recognition of Palestinian independence and it is hard to be optimistic about a solution that is also one of separation, of half-loaves or less. Can we get the combatants to settle down to a fairer sort of apartheid? Would a Palestinian government act as an Israeli gendarme force suppressing ultras who wanted to continue the struggle by whatever means?
This is the reason why I think the apartheid analogy, however morally satisfying, does not really come to grips with this complex problem. Much as I would be very happy to hear of any kind of peaceful solution in the Middle Eastern conflict, we are very far from a dismantling of the Middle Eastern equivalent of apartheid even as an ideal by participants in the conflict. From the point of view of a solution, rather than a weapon of struggle, the analogy is not so easy to sustain.
 I am very grateful to Prof. Daryl Glaser for reading this paper and suggesting revisions.
Raphael Singer, Israel’s Ambassador to Angola, in an editorial in the August 8, 2014 issue of the Angolan newsweekly Novo Jornal, warned that a new form of anti-semitism was on the rise. Violating (or even discrediting the principle of) the Israeli state’s right to exist is anti-semitism’s latest avatar. Eduardo Galiano’s “Of Palestine, there is almost nothing left,” from 2012 in Sin Permiso (Without Permission), reprinted in Novo Jornal’s August 1st cultural section, was one such example, Singer said. The African continent, Ambassador Singer hoped, would not accept such nonsense. It hadn’t done so, historically. Cast in the most general terms, this appeal to Africa disguises a specific Israeli/Angola bind. The relationship had two distinct phases: hostile at first, it began with Angola’s independence and emplotment in the global Cold War. After the Cold War, it shifted to a friendly and lucrative partnership.
Israeli/Angola relations surface publicly now and then. But they have a distinctly subterranean sensibility. Rafael Marques de Morais’s book Diamantes de Sangue: Corrupção e Tortura em Angola (Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola) exposes the precise nature of the relationship in some detail. Official accounts emphasize a different hue. The Israeli embassy in Angola’s website highlights ‘Green Earth’ (Terra Verde), which amounts to bilateral cooperation in agriculture: Israeli expertise promises to make Angola’s fields glitter again.
At the UN, Angola votes in favor of the Palestinian cause, over and over again. What explains this contradiction?
What is this little “cafecolo” (Angolan name for the thumb pocket in blue jeans) of geopolitics? How has it been sewn into the larger global order? We cannot make sense of this by drawing a straight line from one place, person, empire, or geopolitical juggernaut to the present. This jagged line of cozy economic relationships between Israel and Angola and finger-wagging political rhetoric are 21st century tender. Polished to a high gloss in the last decade, such relations originate in the muck of the late 20th century: Angola’s civil war, the Cold War, and the morass apartheid wrought in the Southern African region. It involves the U.S. and South Africa. At the beginning is an alliance of white settler states (the U.S., South Africa, and Israel) that pursue shared interest in the region, supporting Southern African rebel groups (like UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique) in the socialist republics of Portugal’s former colonies. After the Cold War and the official end of apartheid, the connections linking South Africa, Israel, and Angola become less state-driven, more convoluted, but no less destructive. The takeaway: the ends of epochs (Cold War, apartheid, colonialism) provide reorganization more than rupture, different messiness, not a clean slate, results.
A little more history to understand the current tangle of Angola/Israel relations is in order.
At Angola’s independence, declared on November 11, 1975 by the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) with the help of Cuban troops armed with Soviet military hardware and holding off Zairean (now Congo) and FNLA (Front for the National Liberation of Angola) forces (buoyed with CIA funding) to the North, and having fought back South African and UNITA (Union for the Total Independence of Angola) troops to the South, the new flag and civil war unfurled together. Israeli and South African complots hovered at the border.
Sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse reminds us that Israeli military brass helped plan the 1975 South African invasion of Angola. Pieterse notes that this strategy had a parallel in the Israeli strategy of driving the PLO out of Lebanon and in the U.S. strategy against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, blamed for the insurgency in El Salvador (Israeli military supplies proved critical in skirting Congressional bans on the sale of arms in Central America just as South African military hardware avoided the constraints on US arms imposed by the Clark Amendment in Angola). Perhaps more significant, it drew on counter-terrorism strategy developed in the West Bank and Gaza. Cooperation in the form of counter-insurgency and rebel support in the Southern African region activated transnational tentacles that spanned the Middle East, Southern Africa, and Central America.
Those tentacles opened in the interest of three white settler states in the name of the Cold War. Israel, like South Africa, did not act as a simple proxy for U.S. interests any more than Cuba acted at the behest of the Soviet Union (as Piero Gleijeses, and others, amply demonstrate). When Angola’s civil war lost its Cold War allies after 1988 (yes, 1988 not 1989), we should not be surprised that Israel and the Angolan MPLA ruled state, once on opposite sides of the Cold War, would eventually find each other. Interest superseded ideology.
But first, Angola’s civil war had to incarnate another continental stereotype: resource war (this was key to the shift in relationship between Israel-South Africa-UNITA to Israel-MPLA). In this stage of the war, UNITA controlled the diamond producing regions in northeastern Angola, allowing it to purchase weapons on the international market. In 1993, former South African Defense Force officer Fred Rindel helped Savimbi establish selling mechanisms to a DeBeers subsidiary with offices in Antwerp and Tel Aviv. The Angolan state fattened the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) on a rising tide of oil production. Between 1994 and 1998, a period Angolans referred to as “neither peace, nor war”, FAA and UNITA generals exchanged fuel for diamonds in a strange state of peaceable co-exploitation of the diamond rich Lundas region.
By 1999, the FAA managed to drive UNITA troops from the region and the Angolan state began to take over the diamond trade. It authorized Ascorp (Angola Selling Corporation) in 2000 to a legal monopoly on Angola diamond marketing. Ascorp stakeholders include: the Angolan state subsidiary SODIAM (51%), Welox of Israel (of the Leviev Group) (24.5%), and TAIS of Belgium (24.5%). TAIS was originally held by Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, but she transferred her shares to her mother Tatiana Kukanova (now Tatiana Regan) in 2004. She is her mother’s sole heir.
Lev Leviev is an Israeli businessman of Uzbeki origin who resides in London. He is the world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds. He is Vladimir Putin’s friend. He owns key New York City properties. Among his holdings is Africa-Israel, a company with an investment profile in other mining ventures on the continent and in settlements on the West Bank. Yes, that’s right: settlements on the West Bank. Electronicintifada and Adalah-NY reported success by divestment movement protestors against this company in 2009 and 2010. Deep ironies and human rights abuses aside, these investments violate Angolan law. Angolan public officials, like the generals who are major stakeholders in the diamond mining companies, cannot, by law, do business with state-run companies.
More official, less problematic relations also pertain. In late 2001 and early 2002, Israeli intelligence lent assistance to the FAA, then in hot pursuit of Jonas Savimbi. While official and public relations focused on greenhouse veggies and agricultural expertise, an Israeli drone cruised the skies of eastern Angola tracking UNITA troops and attempting to pinpoint Savimbi’s whereabouts. After a few months of careful recon and skirmishes driving him into open terrain, Savimbi made a rare call from his satellite phone. The gig was up. The FAA attacked and killed him in February 2002 bringing twenty-seven years of civil war to a close by April of that same year.
Meanwhile, in the Lundas provinces, a new kind of war zone developed. Ascorp, intended to create a single buyer and seller for Angolan diamonds, to abolish “blood diamonds,” has done the contrary. Residents of the Lundas, rich in resources beyond diamonds, can only mine. According to de Morais, law 17/94 turned their region into a Reservation Zone. The state can confiscate anything from any person or enterprise, in the name of the public good, for the mining companies. Large swaths of land have been expropriated from local owners. The population is forced into mining and denied the possibility of producing a livelihood from agriculture. In Lunda North, where alluvial mining predominates, the security firm, Teleservice, owned by top-level FAA generals, rules with impunity. They recruit forced labor to mow the company lawn and wash their uniforms. In 2010-2011 a spate of murders and ritual organ removals of the victims hit the area. Female genital organs if removed and sold, some believe, guarantee mining prosperity. One murderer was caught on his way to sell female genitals to a diamond salesman for $6000.  The terror in the area Morais recounts evokes scenes reminiscent of Leopold’s red rubber regime in the Congo. Diamonds apparently support a local regime in the Lundas worse than Gaza, in an area larger than Portugal. Angolan generals profit. Israeli businessman Lev Leviev profits. And with profits from the alluvial miners in Lunda Norte and the industrialized mine at Catoca in Lunda Sul, together with companies like Alrosa, they’ve broken the DeBeers monopoly.
Israel will countenance Angolan support for Palestine at the UN because Israeli businesses prosper in Angola. But what work does that do for Angola? Angola recognized Palestine as a state and Arafat visited Angola regularly. In the 1980s Angola’s radio call: “From Luanda, Angola: the firm trench of the revolution in Africa!” keened a clarion call to fight imperialism around the globe. Those connections weren’t just official. Angolans strategically employ socialist rhetoric on their uber-capitalist rulers who still have a cog and machete on the nation’s flag, in a party (the MPLA) where protocol still finds cadres referring to each other as “comrade.”
Global links inflect in other ways too. Reginaldo Silva, an Angolan journalist, blogger, and Facebooker of reknown, recently opined that he was pretty sure that “gazar” (to decimate like the July attacks on Gaza) might become slang on Luanda’s streets, where world news events often work their way into local language. But such moves aren’t just integrative of whatever is out there. Dilapidated buildings named “Sarajevo” and “Baghdad” make local a global topology of war that both repels and attracts Angolans.
The connections between Israel and Angola operate in ambiguous historical terrain no matter how glaring the profit of their current bond and its bind with justice. Subtending this new, friendly, lucrative relation is Angola’s socialist international and anti-imperial past. Today the MPLA ruled state, cultivates symbols from that past to produce a sense of continuity and historical legacy. Some powerfully placed old school cadres still believe in the right to self-determination and sovereignty. Political rhetoric (e.g., electoral advertising, Kilamba housing project promotions, and urban renewal campaigns) mobilizes this tension between old and new values. In international relations it is no different, it just gets played out across a border of profit for Israel/Angola and righteousness for Palestine/Angola. But Angolans may yet “gazar” state discourses. While liberation solidarities burnished 20th century ideals in the work of anti- and postcolonial scholars and activists, we might also see some possibility here in the fallout of the late 20th and early 21th centuries. Even as states and elites share their terror tactics and hone their investments strategies through exchange at the cost of their own populations, so too do young activists and new flights of consciousness take-off from older lines of thinking and practice.
1] Rafael Marques de Morais, Diamantes de Sangue (Lisbon: Tinta da China, 2011).
 Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Israel’s Role in the Third World, (Amsterdam: Emancipation Research, 1984).
 For more on this see Tony Hodges, Angola: Anatomy of an Oil State (Indiana, 2004): 181-182 and the U.N. Angola Sanctions Monitoring Mechanism Report, 2000.
 To learn about Isabel dos Santos fortune see the Forbes article on her by Kerry A. Dolan and Rafael Marques de Morais: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryadolan/2013/08/14/how-isabel-dos-santos-took-the-short-route-to-become-africas-richest-woman/
 See de Morais (2011): 14-18.
Academic freedom is an important right and one worth struggling for. The degree to which it exists in any society is often a barometer of the extent to which other freedoms are allowed to thrive. Universities have a particular role to play in defending academic freedom, and not only because of the importance of this principle in supporting teaching and research: advancing the space for free thought within universities can widen the space for free expression can be widened in society as a whole. And as we are making comparisons in this debate between Israel and South Africa, it is worth recalling that under apartheid, white liberal university administrations (themselves pressured by students and faculty) sought university autonomy from the state. In the process, these universities became spaces in which antiapartheid activists were relatively more able to organize and mobilize. Ultimately, however, the dependence of these universities on state funding limited the extent to which even the liberal universities were able to allow open access to all; for most of the twentieth century black students entered those universities as little more than tokens of liberalism.
Context matters. In societies deeply divided by conflict, such as South Africa during the era of apartheid, the abstract idea of universities as open and autonomous constantly comes up against the very present constraints of unfreedom. When access to education in fundamentally limited by restrictions on movement, by conditions of public violence against some categories of persons, and by proscriptions on free association whether in private relationships or political affiliation, academic freedom on its own is a difficult value to sustain. Moreover, in such conditions, elevating it above other rights and freedoms could be seen as an elitist luxury. Those of us committed to justice need to consider what ends we are serving in defending this ideal at all costs under conditions of repression. To be sure, more academic freedom is always better than less. But placing this goal above all others may have unintended consequences. In South Africa, the apartheid state insisted that there was academic freedom for black people in the “black” universities. It pointed to “separate but equal” facilities for black students and argued that the state operated within the framework of the law. This was patently false, of course, and academic boycotts (and, to a much greater extent, sports boycotts) were very important weapons in exposing the falsehood of these claims.
Many arguments against academic boycotts have, in my view, both overstated the impact of academic boycotts on academic freedom (particularly on the flow of ideas in an age of social media) and simply failed to address the conditions in which Palestinian scholars work. In effect, they end up focusing on the adverse effects for some Israeli academics while ignoring the daily realities of conditions of work (and life) for Palestinians students and faculty. They avoid the challenge of building a stronger, justice oriented discourse on the Israel-Palestine issue—one that would indeed benefit from the engagement of intellectuals concerned with freedom. The unqualified defense of academic freedom, and the rejection of any tactic that might be understood as curtailing the full – highest standards, but for some rather than all - expression of this freedom, constrains the possibility of collective action by the academic profession in contexts where other freedoms are violated on a daily basis.
If we were to put aside, for the moment, debates on the perfect conditions for adopting principles, reading the academic boycott as a political tactic introduces a set of considerations: what does this tactic seek to achieve, within what array of tactics is it based, and how effective is it likely to be? In making these judgments, careful attention needs to be paid to the debates and voices from within the society in which change is being sought. This is not because the voices “from below” or “from within” are necessarily always correct but because they may have the best strategic understanding of the costs and benefits of different tactics. There are indeed strong voices within Israel calling for an academic boycott, and they are supported by a large cohort of Palestinian academics in the region and in exile. That is not so different from the situation under apartheid, when the call for a boycott was strongly supported by major academic staff associations. Although many liberals did oppose the academic boycott, by the late 1980s, they were very much in the minority, in large part because the notion of academic autonomy could not be sustained as state repression intensified.
As I understand it, the call for a selective academic boycott seeks to isolate the Israeli state as part of a strategy of sanctions and divestment. It calls on Israeli academics to take a public stand against the occupation and against the violation of the human rights of Palestinians. It is a nonviolent strategy and, on these grounds, has considerable merit in a situation in which violence on both sides has escalated to frightening proportions. Any strategy that offers alternatives to suicide bombings and targeted assassinations, to daily abuse and bombings, needs at the very least to be taken very seriously. How effective would it be? This would depend on a number of factors, including whether or not Israeli academics as individuals and especially as members of their professional associations are moved to examine the nature of their relationship to the state and its policies.
Also important is whether there is sufficient international solidarity for a boycott to effectively pressure Israeli academic institutions. It is noteworthy that, in the absence of an academic boycott, no Israeli university administration or professional association has to date protested against the treatment of Palestinian academics and students. Ultimately, the effectiveness of a boycott depends on whether the Israeli state itself feels pressure and thus engages more actively in advancing a political solution. Whether or not this is likely to happen requires a deeper knowledge of the Israeli situation than I have. These are issues to be engaged, not to be pushed off the table by a principled, liberal-absolutist opposition to academic boycotts.
The references to South Africa in many arguments for and against the boycott invite some comment from the South African academics participating in the debate. Was the boycott successful in South Africa? Of course, there were some costs. Gatekeepers did emerge (but as frequently as not were challenged); some academics who actively opposed apartheid had invitations to international conferences withdrawn; it was not always possible to target the supporters of the apartheid regime; and South African academics’ understanding of global issues was certainly weakened. It is in the nature of such weapons that they are double-edged. But, as part of a battery of sanctions, the academic boycott undoubtedly had an impact on both the apartheid state and on white academics and university administrations. The boycott, together with the more successful sports boycott and economic divestment campaigns, helped to strengthen the struggle of black people for justice.
The Afrikaner elite, very proud of its European roots and of the legacy of Jan Smuts as a global representative in the postwar system, and convinced that there would be support for its policies abroad, was rudely shaken. University administrations could no longer hide behind an excuse of neutrality but had to issue statements on their opposition to apartheid and introduce programs of redress. Academic associations (some more than others) examined the nature and conditions of research in their disciplines, and faculty unions became part of broader struggles for justice rather than bodies protecting narrow professional interests. Universities became sites of intense debate, and, indeed, intellectuals became critically involved in debates about the nature of current and future South African societies.
Would the BDS strategy succeed in advancing justice in Israel-Palestine? That is not a question that is easily settled. As an academic and a social justice activist, however, it is a ethical choice that appears to me increasingly urgent.
This piece was originally written for a 2006 conference organized by the American Association of University Professors that was cancelled due to pro-Israel action by influential donors. The full discussion can be found at http://www.aaup.org/file/
In 2011, the Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG)—a self-proclaimed “student group” made up of graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities—published an advertisement accusing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) of spreading “misinformation” that Israel practiced apartheid. Calling the comparison with South Africa an “illegitimate analogy,” the ad dismissed the analogy as “patently false” because unlike black South Africans, the “Arab minority in Israel enjoys full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.”
I learned of the VLG ad just days before traveling to the West Bank in January of 2012. Its vigorous defense of Israel as an ideal nonracial democracy radically differed from what I observed simply standing on the rooftop inside Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp. The illegal “apartheid wall” dominates the landscape, alongside the notorious Bethlehem checkpoint, where Palestinians entering Jerusalem are subject to interrogation and abuse. Throughout the West Bank, our delegation saw piles of rubble where Palestinian homes had been demolished and their olive trees uprooted by the IDF. We negotiated the narrow pathways separating overcrowded multi-storied shacks in the refugee camps, built in the shadows of pristine segregated Israeli settlements. We heard their stories of dispossession, different generations pushed out of their homes, their bank accounts, personal effects, even libraries seized without compensation—actions rendered legal by Israel’s (1950). We learned that Palestinian “citizens” of Israel, like those in the Occupied Territories or living in exile around the globe, have no rights to lands, houses, bank accounts, and other property they had owned prior to 1948. Most are obliged to live in exclusively “Arab” villages that have been prohibited from expanding, attend severely underfunded schools, are denied government employment, and are prohibited from living with their spouse if she or he is a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories.
That Israel and its colonial occupation meet the UN’s definition of an apartheid state is beyond dispute. Therefore, given the history of African American opposition to apartheid and all forms of racial oppression—here and abroad—how do we understand the rise of groups like VLG or the AIPAC-backed organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), founded by the controversial Rev
. John Hagee? VLG and CUFI recruit black students, elected officials, and religious leaders to serve as moral shields for Israel’s policies of subjugation, settlement, segregation and dispossession. CUFI’s coordinator of African American outreach, Michael Stevens, even invoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the cause, declaring in an interview, “King was a strong African-American Zionist.” How are Black lobbyists for Israel able to invoke the memory of Dr. King in the service of settler colonialism and genocidal war in the West Bank and Gaza?
Of course, in the Black imaginary, Jerusalem is not Johannesburg. Black Christians have been making their own pilgrimage to the Holy Land for decades, revering Israel as a living example of God’s Chosen People. Black identification with Zionism predates the formation of Israel as a modern state. For over two centuries, the biblical book of “Exodus,” the story of the flight of the Jews out of Egypt and the establishment of Israel, emerged as the principal political and moral compass for African Americans. “Exodus” provided Black people not only with a narrative of emancipation and renewal, but with a language to critique America’s racist state since the biblical Israel represented a new beginning.
When Israel was founded in 1948, Black leaders and the Black press, for the most part, were jubilant. There was virtually no mention of Arab dispossession, of al-Nakba or the terror tactics of the Haganah. Instead, they identified with the founding of Israel because they recognized European Jewry as an oppressed and homeless people determined to build a nation. In a speech backing the partition plan, A. Philip Randolph said that he could not conceive of a more “heroic and challenging struggle for human rights, justice, and freedom” than the creation of a Jewish homeland. “Because Negroes are themselves a victim of hate and persecution, oppression and outrage,” he argued, “they should be the first to be willing to stand up and be counted on . . . in this fight for the right of the Jews to set up a commonwealth in Palestine.” The NAACP passed a resolution in 1948 stating that,
"the valiant struggle of the people of Israel for independence serves as an inspiration to all persecuted people throughout the world. "
During the 1947-48 war, the Black press overwhelmingly portrayed Arabs as the brutal, bloodthirsty aggressors and the Jews as the heroic defenders of the nation and purveyors of civilization. In an article praising the creation of Jewish vocational schools in the new state of Israel, Charles A. Davis points out that military training may become the priority with “Arab armies menacing their foothold in the Holy Land.” In March of 1948, the Atlanta Daily World carried the following image of Arab “snipers” juxtaposed against Jewish men standing guard under the caption, “Violence in the Holy Land.”
Of course, a few Black writers expressed concern over the displacement of the Arab population in Palestine. The iconoclastic George Schulyer used his column in the Pittsburgh Courier to criticize the expulsion of the Arabs.
The same people who properly condemned and fought against German, Italian and Japanese imperialism . . . now rise to the vociferous defense of Zionist imperialism which makes the same excuse of the need for ‘living space’ and tries to secure it at the expense of the Arabs with military force financed and recruited from abroad.
Schuyler dismissed characterizations of Arabs as “’backward,’ ignorant, illiterate and incapable of properly developing the land” as thinly-veiled justifications for a Jewish state, reminding his readers that this was the same argument used by the Nazis to invade Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia, and to justify European colonialism. Schuyler was not only deluged with letters accusing him of anti-Semitism and downright lunacy, but his own paper published an unsigned editorial rebuking his claims.
Black intellectuals, activists, and political leaders who had defended Zionism and the creation of Israel were not dupes, nor were they acting out of some obligatory commitment to a Black-Jewish alliance. Rather, with the exception of figures such as George S. Schulyer, it was virtually impossible for them to see Israel as a colonial project founded on the subjugation of indigenous people. Why? Part of the answer lay in the unique historical context for Israel’s founding, as well as the power of its founding myths. There is the convergence between Israel’s Zionist roots – a nationalist ideology generated partly in opposition to racist/ethnic/religious oppression, but also motivated by an imperative to bring modernization to a so-called backward Arab world—and the post-Ottoman colonial domination of the region by Britain and France. Ultimately, this convergence put Jewish settlers in conflict with British imperialism. The nationalist and anticolonial character of Israel’s war of independence camouflaged its own colonial project.
Second, the Holocaust was critical, not just for the obvious reasons that the genocide generated global indignation and sympathy for the plight of Jews and justified Zionist arguments for a homeland, but because, as Aime Cesaire argued in Discourse on Colonialism (1950), the Holocaust itself was a manifestation of colonial violence. Israel comes into being as a nation identified as victims of colonial/racist violence, through armed insurrection against British imperialism. It is a narrative that renders invisible the core violence of ethnic cleansing. The myth of Israel’s heroic war of liberation against the British convinced even the most anti-colonial intellectuals to link Israel’s independence with African independence and Third World liberation. Israel’s ruling Labor Party pursued alliances with African nations under the guise that they, too, were part of the Non-Aligned movement, and Israeli leaders publicly condemned racism and presented itself as a model democracy. In 1961, when South Africa’s Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd tried to deflect international criticism of his country by describing Israel as “an apartheid state” ("The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years.”), Israeli leaders were quick to distance themselves from Verwoerd. Indeed, in 1963, then Foreign Minister Golda Meir told the UN General Assembly that Israelis “naturally oppose policies of apartheid, colonialism and racial or religious discrimination wherever they exist.”
The Non-Aligned movement never embraced Israel. Moreover, a series of events between 1956 and 1967 further exposed Israel’s colonial character. First, in 1956 Israel joined Britain and France in a joint military invasion of Egypt after president Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser’s decided to nationalize the Suez Canal Company after Britain and the U.S. withdrew financial assistance to build the Aswan High Dam. Israel and its allies were ultimately pressured by the U.S. and the Soviet Union to withdraw. As part of the war on Egypt, Israel occupied southern Gaza and slaughtered Palestinian refugees and other civilians in Khan Yunis, Rafa, and near the village of Kafr Kasim. Eight years later, Malcolm X visited the refugee camp at Khan Yunis during his two-month stay in Egypt and learned of the massacres. Although he often swung back and forth between exhorting Black people to emulate the Jews and criticizing Israel, his experience in Gaza inspired his now oft-quoted essay, “Zionist Logic” which appeared in the Egyptian Gazette, September 17, 1964. Malcolm concluded that Zionism represented a “new form of colonialism,” disguised behind biblical claims and philanthropic rhetoric, but still based on the subjugation and dispossession of indigenous people and backed by U.S. “dollarism.”
Before 1967, Malcolm’s critique would have won few adherents among African Americans. But that changed with 1967 Arab-Israeli War resulting in the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The Black Caucus of Chicago’s New Politics Convention of 1967 unsuccessfully proposed a resolution condemning the “imperialist Zionist war,” and then Black Panther Party followed suit, not only denouncing Israel’s land grab, but pledging its support for the PLO. The event that drew the most ire from liberal Zionists, many of whom had been veteran supporters of the Civil Rights movement, was the publication of “Third World Round-up: The Palestine Problem: Test Your Knowledge,” in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) newsletter. It described Israel as a colonial state backed by U.S. imperialism and Palestinians as victims of racial subjugation. In short, Black identification with Zionism as a striving for land and self-determination gave way to a radical critique of Zionism as a form of settler colonialism akin to American racism and South African apartheid.
The fallout generated by SNCC’s article was significant. Black leaders were called upon to denounce SNCC leaders H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael as anti-Semitic and to pledge their fealty to Israel. It was in this atmosphere that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made is oft-quoted statement: “[W]e must stand with all of our might to protect [Israel’s] right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.” Pick up most literature from AIPAC or Stand With Us or CUFI and you will likely see this quote emblazoned on bold letters but bereft of any context. King’s words come from a long, public interview conducted by Rabbi Everett Gendler at the 68
th annual convention of the Rabbinical Society on March 25, 1968—ten days before his assassination and ten months after the War. It is worth returning to in full because it exposes some fissures between King and the Rabbinical Society and reveals a more nuanced reading of King’s position vis-à-vis Israel.
First, Israel was a minor topic; about 80 percent of the dialogue concentrated on King’s critics, the “extremist element” in the Black community, allegations of Black anti-Semitism, the question of Black Power, and the future of the Civil Rights movement. Second, Gendler peppered King with what can only be described as leading questions meant to cajole him into denouncing “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Negroes.” Yet, King pushed back, rejecting the claim that anti-Semitism was rampant in the Black movement. Echoing James Baldwin, King argued that what appears to be anti-Semitic attitudes among Northern urban African Americans are really conflicts stemming from economic inequality and exploitation. Attributing the business practices of individual Jews to religion or culture is classic anti-Semitism, King acknowledge, but he also challenged the audience “to condemn injustice wherever it exists. We found injustices in the black community. . . . And we condemn them. I think when we find examples of exploitation, it must be admitted. That must be done in the Jewish community too.” In other words, King not only insisted on condemning all forms of injustice but refused to allow the charge of anti-Semitism to silence legitimate criticism—of Jews or of Israel.
His remarks about Israel and the Middle East are even more striking. Short of condemning war altogether, he called for “peace” above all else. For Israel “peace . . . means security,” though he never specified what security meant in this context. He also addressed what he thought peace meant for the Arabs/Palestinians. “Peace for the Arabs means the kind of economic security that they so desperately need. These nations, as you know, are part of that third world of hunger, of disease, of illiteracy. I think that as long as these conditions exist there will be tensions, there will be the endless quest to find scapegoats.” The statement belies a surprising ignorance of the history as well as the consequences of the 1967 war. He repeats the mantra that Palestinians suffer from hunger, disease, and illiteracy because they are poor and assigned to a Third World existence, not because they were dispossessed of their land and property and subjected to a security state that limits their mobility, employment, housing and general welfare. King’s solution?: “a Marshall Plan for the Middle East.”
We can only speculate on how King’s position may have changed had he lived, but given the opportunity to study the situation in the same way he had studied Vietnam, he would have been less sanguine about Israel’s democratic promise or the prospect of international aid as a strategy to dislodge a colonial relationship. To be sure, his unequivocal opposition to violence, colonialism, racism, and militarism would have made him an incisive critic of Israel’s current policies. He certainly would have stood in opposition to the VLG, CUFI and the litany of lobbyist who invoke King as they do Israel’s bidding.
While groups like the VLG follow a long tradition of Black Zionism, they also represent a fundamental break from an era when Israel’s future was seen as bound up with the future of Black America and a global struggle for racial justice. The VLG is an arm of AIPAC created to deflect criticism of Israel as an apartheid state. Its members have participated in AIPAC-sponsored tours of Israel and developed their talking points through its Saban Leadership Training seminars. AIPAC not only honored VLG founders Darius Jones and Jarrod Jordan with its Jonathan Barkan Israel Advocacy Award in 2009, but put them on their payroll. Darius Jones continued to speak for the VLG, even after AIPAC hired him as its Southeast Regional Outreach Director.
Ironically, while the VLG, CUFI, and their allies all appropriate Dr. King’s legacy, I witnessed King’s vision of non-violent resistance, creative tension, and love in practice in the Aida Refugee Camp. Aida is home to the Alrowwad Cultural and Theater Society, a genuine community center and youth theater founded by director, poet, playwright, and educator Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour who gave up a promising career in science to devote his life to creating a “beautiful theater of resistance” aimed at releasing the creative capacity of young people to turn their stories into transformative experiences. The children at the Aida Camp remind us that what is most apt about the South African analogy is not apartheid’s litany of laws and abuses but the struggle, the prefiguring of a post-apartheid/post-Zionist society. As one song from “Children of the Camp” put it: “Occupation never lasts . . . The government of injustice, vanishes with revolution.”
 See Yaman Salahi, “Truth Matters: The Vanguard Leadership Group is Wrong,” http://mondoweiss.net/2011/04/truth-matters-the-vanguard-leadership-group-is-wrong.html; Gary Rosenblatt, “Black Group Defends Israel against Charge of Apartheid,” The Jewish Week (October 10, 2011), http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/black_group_defends_israel_against_charge_apartheid; Seth Freed Wessler, “The Israel Lobby Finds a New Face: Black College Students,” Colorlines (January 18, 2012), http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/01/why_the_israel_lobby_looks_to_black_students_for_support.html;
 Katie Hesketh, et. al., The Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel (ADALAH: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Yaffa, March 2011).
 I nternational Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, G.A. res. 3068 (XXVIII)), 28 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 30) at 75, U.N. Doc. A/9030 (1974), 1015 U.N.T.S. 243, entered into force July 18, 1976, http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/apartheid-supp.html For an elaboration on Israeli apartheid see Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within (London and New York: Zed Books, 2003). See also, Nima Shirazi, “Defending Apartheid: Then in South Africa, Now in Palestine,” Mondoweiss (September 5, 2014), http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/defending-apartheid-palestine.html; Musa Keilani, “Apartheid in Israel,” Jordan Times (January 14, 2012), http://jordantimes.com/apartheid-in-israel; Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide (London: Pluto Press, 2014, 2nd Edition); Saree Makdisi, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (New York: W.W. Norton, rev. 2010); Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007); Nur Masalha, The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory (London: Zed Books, January 2012); Palestine Solidarity Committee, Declaration by South Africans on Apartheid Israel and the Struggle for Palestine (Durban, South Africa, August 31, 2001).
 Nathan Guttman, “Christian Backers of Israel Reach Out to Blacks,” http://forward.com/articles/144558/christian-backers-of-israel-reach-out-to-blacks/; Ira Glunts, “The Pro-Israel Lobby Courts African Americans,” http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/4583:the-proisrael-lobby-courts-africanamericans;
 Eddie Glaude, Exodus!: Religion, Race and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Keith P. Feldman, “Representing Permanent War: Black Power’s Palestine and the End(s) of Civil Rights,” New Centennial Review 8, no. 2 (Fall 2008), 199. There is a very long history of Black Zionism beyond the scope of this short essay. Just on Marcus Garvey’s Zionist leanings and influences, see for example, Robert A. Hill and Barbara Bair, eds., Marcus Garvey: Life and Lessons (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987 ), lv-lvi; and see also Jacob S. Dorfman, Black Israelites: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 113-134; Shana L. Redmond, Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 32-34.
 “Randolph Urges Negro Support Palestine Jews,” Amsterdam News, March 6, 1948. W. E. B. Du Bois had long championed a Jewish state and took no heed in Ralph Bunche’s failed efforts to promote a binational alternative to partition. Several years before Israel’s founding, Du Bois lamented, “The only thing that has stopped the extraordinary expansion of the Jews in Palestine has been the Arab population and the attempt on the part of English and Arabs to keep Palestine from becoming a complete Jewish state.” Quoted in Alex Lubin, Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 105. See also, W. E. B. DuBois, “The Winds of Time,” Chicago Defender, May 15, 1948; see also, Du Bois, “The Case for the Jews,” Chicago Star, May 8, 1948.
 Quoted in Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005), 89.
 Charles A. Davis, “Palestine Educator Seeks Model for Jewish Schools,” Chicago Defender, May 15, 1948.
 Atlanta Daily World, March 3, 1948.
 George S. Schuyler, “Views and Reviews,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 19, 1948. This was not Schuyler’s only column on Palestine. See “Views and Reviews,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 27, 1948. Courier columnist P. L. Prattis held a diametrically opposing view. He compared the Israel’s fight for independence with African colonies under British rule, and excoriated the Truman administration for balking on its support for partition. Prattis, “The Horizon,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 3, 1948. Another Black critic of Israel’s treatment of the Arabs was Robert Durr, “Speaking Out,” Chicago Defender, July 10, 1948.
 “What You Buy with Blood,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 17, 1948.
 Amy Kaplan’s excellent essay, “Zionism as Anticolonialism: The Case of Exodus,” American Literary History 25, no. 4 (Winter 2013), 870-895, makes a similar point about how Leon Uris’s novel, Exodus, and the subsequent Hollywood interpretation of the book, produced a narrative is Israel’s founding as an anticolonial struggle against British domination.
 Keith P. Feldman adds yet another layer to this argument by revealing how postwar racial liberalism and the promise of an integrated democracy undermined a radical critique of Israel’s emerging racial/colonial order. Israel was represented as a modern, integrated democracy along U.S. lines, and the ideology of racial liberalism erased historical and contemporary racial violence. Feldman, “Representing Permanent War,” 200 – 201. Also see Feldman’s brilliant forthcoming book, A Shadow over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
 Quoted in Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within (London and New York: Zed Books, 2003), 87.
 Quoted in Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa (New York: Random House, 2010), 5.
 Melani McAlister, “One Black Allah: The Middle East in the Cultural Politics of African American Liberation, 1955-1970,” American Quarterly, 51 no. 3 (September 1999), pp. 622-656; Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2009), 51-52, 99-100.
 Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998 (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 275.
 “Zionist Logic,” Egyptian Gazette (September 17, 1964), http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/gen_zion.htm. See also, Sohail Daulatzai, Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 40-45;
 See Lubin, Geographies of Liberation, 119-130.
 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, “Third World Round-up: The Palestine Problem: Test Your Knowledge,” SNCC Newsletter 1.2 (July-August 1967), 5-6. Feldman, “Representing Permanent War,” 210-221 provides the best discussion of the SNCC essay. Also see Lubin’s excellent treatment in Geographies of Liberation, 117-119.
 The published interview appeared in “Conversation with Martin Luther King,” Conservative Judaism 22, no. 3 (Spring 1968), 1 – 19.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 “African American Vanguard Steps Forward for Israel,” http://www.bjf.org/daily-updates/134-african-american-vanguard-steps-forward-for-israel.html
When, some months ago, I was invited to write about my 2013 film with Mark Kaplan The Village Under The Forest, I was going to explore what it means to be implicated in state atrocity and historical catastrophe in apartheid South Africa and Israel/Palestine. I wanted to write about psychic landscapes of complicity and how these unfold in our film from a non-Israeli Jewish South African perspective. Now, in light of Israel’s most recent genocidal onslaught against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, writing about the politics of analogy in a way that places the subject of complicity, the complicit subject, at the center of discussion feels both obscene and all the more necessary; at once a double bind, a poisoned chalice, and a space of impossible thought. But perhaps these are also at the heart of the political effects of measurement, judgment and the weighing of experiences of suffering that must be encountered when speaking of analogies of historical catastrophes more generally.
The Village Under the Forest sought to explore the question, what does it mean to be implicated in obliterating the traces of life, of people, of history, of place? The film excavates how forests planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to “make the wilderness bloom” in Israel were cultivated over the ruins of many Palestinian villages that were depopulated and destroyed during the 1948 “War for Palestine” (known as the Nakba, or catastrophe, by Palestinians).. The ruins of one of these villages, Lubya, lie beneath a JNF forest named “South Africa Forest.”
Prompted by a questioning of what it means to have been complicit with apartheid in South Africa, the film explores the historically intertwined processes by which the village and the forest have been made and unmade from a non-Israeli Jewish perspective. Using a personal narrative voice it grapples with the question of moral responsibility in light of the erasure of the village.
The question unfurls across the span of three decades marked on either side of time’s passage between two different visits to and encounters with the JNF’s South Africa Forest. Crossing from South Africa to Palestine/Israel and back again, the film opens a space in which to ask what debt of history might an ethical reckoning encounter. I act as narrator in the film. Between my first visit to the JNF Forest and my return to the forest after learning about the ruins of Lubya, the Palestinian village beneath its trees, the film excavates the unmaking and making of the two counter-posed spaces: Lubya and the JNF forest, and the conscription of non-Israeli Jews in this process.
South Africa Forest was planted over the ruins of Lubya in the mid 1960s, erasing the village remains and most traces of the people who recently lived there. In the years following the depopulation and destruction of the Palestinian villages, the JNF planted 86 pine forests and leisure parks on top of the remains of destroyed villages.
Until 1948, Lubya had been home, life and livelihood to 2,730 people. A robust culture of memory has ensured that destroyed Palestinian villages live on in village books, oral histories, commemorations, photographs, personal archives, digital and community archives, as well as in the arts and intellectual production of Palestinians and their descendants. Mahmoud Issa, a social historian and son of parents from Lubya and historical consultant for the film, has published a social history of the village. In it, he enumerates how Lubya had been one of the largest villages in the Tiberias district with an area of almost 40 km2’. Lubya’s “place-ness” was contained in the life of its houses (about one thousand), its lively cultural clubs, mosque, coffee house, travellers’ inn, school, nine shrines, almost forty wells, cemetery, and structures for grain, livestock and agriculture. A place bustling with the accumulated stuff of centuries of life in the Galilee: love and politics, debate and scholarship, pilgrimage and hospitality, trade and agriculture, gossip and grievance, and a lively anti-colonial sensibility. Situated close to Tiberias and Nazereth, Lubya was home and homeland for the few thousand who counted the village as their place in the world.
Lubya was conquered, forcibly depopulated and physically destroyed in 1948 by military units of the future Israeli army, along with about 500 other Palestinian villages, towns and urban areas, during the Nakba. Civilians from Lubya joined the estimated 750,000 Palestinians who were forced out of the boundaries of the new state, as refugees scattered across the West Bank, Gaza, and in dozens of countries in the region and over the world and forced into the ongoing existential twilight of exile and otherness. Others became internally displaced within the 1949 armistice line. After the establishment of the Israeli state, an administrative matrix of laws and military orders prohibited displaced “internal” refugees from returning to their lands or homes. Unlike Jewish Israeli citizens, internally displaced Palestinians were subject to military rule until 1966. In 1950, the Knesset passed the “Absentee Property Law” inventing the term that would come to describe displaced Palestinians inside Israel; an act of legal naming whose irony is stunning. The law was also used by the state to appropriate depopulated lands and villages that were then nominally purchased by the JNF through the Custodian of Absentee Property.
In a drive to “judaize” the land and the landscape of the new state of Israel, official maps were redrawn and Arabic place names were Hebraicised. Lubya was renamed Lavie, based on a Talmudic reference to an ancient school of Jewish learning said to have been in the area. Two Jewish settlements were established there, the first in 1949. An Israeli military museum and memorial was also built on Lubya’s lands – and that was one of the places I visited first as a young Jewish South African in 1983 during my participation in a South African equivalent to the American “Birthright” program called, “Tochniet Akiva”.
When I began research for The Village Under The Forest, I recalled my visit to the forest in the 1980s. Palestinians had been erased, rendered “absent” from Israel’s dominant narratives of place, history, belonging and nationalism with which most non-Israeli Jews identified—we were baldly informed that “Palestinians do not exist”. At that time, I had not yet the capacity to imagine that “my” trees were erasing the presence of people who had lived there and been forcibly removed. In addition, in the 1980s, Israel offered itself to me as a way out of the moral dilemmas of being “white” in apartheid South Africa.
Looking in the mirror
Similarities with apartheid South Africa are multiple. When considered together with dates, laws, forced displacements, spatial erasures, pedagogies of violence and the making of histories that justify ethno-nationalist claims, the systemic resonances are uncanny. As are the psychic landscapes of knowing and not knowing in which silence, visceral fear and the cognitive disavowal of complicity have been conditioned and enlisted by an exclusionary state recruiting compliance as a kind of “active passivity”. Similarities extend to the militarisation of social discourse, civic identities and public spaces, and the existential fears this engenders. They stretch to the familiar rhyming of denial, justification, excuse, moral accommodation, wilful ignorance, “partitioned” thinking/feeling and the totalising apocalyptic logic of both state systems in their political rhetoric and social discourses. And they extend to the ways that complicity and consent are socially marshaled and institutionally policed through fear, censorship, shunning, exclusion and the branding of those who challenge the systems as “traitors” to “their people”.
In developing the film treatment and script, two major challenges were the shape of the unfolding narrative to present the making and the unmaking of the forest/village space within the same visual and narrative framework and the “place” of South Africa in the film.
Director Mark Kaplan and I sought a different way of telling such a politically and emotionally freighted story. We wanted to raise different questions than those framed by the reductive binaries of “two sides” which characterize representations of “the conflict”; different questions that might chart a way towards a different outcome. In this, we wanted the film to raise the moral dilemmas rather than to prescribe solutions. We sought to avoid dogmatism, didactics and finger-pointing to enable the complexity of a personal meditation on complicity to resonate widely with the experiences and emotional responses of many other non-Israeli Jews.
To do this, we needed to avoid an individualistic or biographical personal narrative, a danger that is inherent to first person narratives generally. Written as a personal rather than autobiographical narrative, the point of view draws on the experience of people like me who were silent during apartheid. The personal voice and visual presence of the narrative guide who appears almost as a shadow, half concealed and half revealed at the edge of the frame manages to avoid the danger of autobiography, evoking and opening rather a wider set of shared resonances. This enables identification with people who have held similar connections and affiliations to Israel.
In the film, the similarities between apartheid South Africa and Israel emerge obliquely, cross-referencing one another faintly as traces, echoes and reflections. The resonances may be discerned in the movement of the crossing from here to there and back again. They emerge where they are not, as a reflection in the mirror. The movement from South Africa to Israel/Palestine and across the time between the two visits to the SA Forest both contains and focuses the relation of complicity and response to the unfolding of moral conscience within an embodied and personal life narrative. The narrative voice also shifts and moves in the film from first person singular to the first person plural and back to the singular voice. This amplification and shrinking of voice suggest that complicity is both individual and collective. Though the frictions and overlapping of the singular and collective voices blur the distinctions, they require attention.
With the meditative and poetic register of the narration we tried to create a filmic space that enables thinking about complicity that envisions a future, about pathways of ethical response that may open, rather than be foreclosed by quantifying and measuring atrocity or prescribing solution. This is important if we are to attend to the embodied and psychic life of implication in historical catastrophe and its erasures from collective consciousness; particularly in a context in which a militant and militaristic ethno-nationalism dominates. It is also important if we are to find a common space for thought and to forge a shared language, especially since the fear of existential disintegration against which one’s cognitive mind shores the self from its terrified unconscious zones becomes sharpened and more visceral when confronted by moral accusation.
Opening space to think
For intellectuals and scholars of South Africa and of Palestine/Israel, the politics of the analogy of settler colonial apartheid in both contexts is a complex undertaking on a fraught terrain. On the one hand, analogy may be made and sustained without much difficulty. One only has to examine the fifty or so laws and legal amendments passed by Israel’s Knesset that apportion hierarchically and qualitatively differential civil rights, entitlements and privileges to Jewish Israelis as distinct from the restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel. Together with a military administration and fractured “discontiguity” of Israel’s spatial regime governing all aspects of Palestinian life on the occupied West Bank and Israel’s blockade of Gaza by land, sea and air, the state envisions and administers Palestinian life very differently to Jewish Israeli life.
Yet it also seems too easy. For at the same time a reckoning with South African settler colonial apartheid, the subjectivities it produced and those it constrained, is tentatively underway. With this, the interstices in which other worlds were imagined and other subjectivities inhabited are also being revisited. Yet, in a world in which trans-generational histories of black suffering, of violence against black and brown bodies are at once “normalized”, ongoing and systemic, the stakes of direct analogy are high indeed. Analogy may risk immuring what is known and knowable about apartheid contributing to reductionist accounts of apartheid as “event”, to the present conjuncture as its inevitable and pre-determined outcome, on the one hand. On the other, it may inadvertently contribute to a white redemption narrative - I am not certain if the film succeeds in avoiding the latter despite not making a direct analogy. This is sharpened by the general avoidance of whiteness in the postapartheid to address questions of systemic complicity and ethical accountability to the present.
Analogy can foreclose these challenges that are ethical and discursive as much as they are conceptual and analytical. There is an assumption of knowing in advance what is being quantified, measured and analytically adjudicated. When the stakes of analogy are implicated in the moral grounds of thought in times of war, at a time when the obliteration of human beings unfolds in real time, questions of narrative voice and authority, of the location of the speaking subject and ongoing struggles for the interpretative frame are more than theoretical issues. They are implicated in the stakes of a future in which the unconditional sanctity of all human life, rather than differentiated modes of state-assigned value to human life, can be thought and pursued. The film ends with the suggestion that in enumerating our debt to the obliterations committed in “our name”, the obligation to pursue such a future may be encountered in daring to “walk that path: through forest and in between the ruins.”
November 1980. The room could be forgiven for its distinctly seventies style. It was hardly yet into the following decade and design could still take a deep breath before moving on. It was also small town South Africa – not known for its capacity to move with the times. The sunken lounge with its chocolate brown carpets and heavy cream and brown drapes was the adult domain. It was a warm venue, if slightly off-limits for the children. I must have been 10; always precocious, always delighting in the positive attention of the adults.
“Is it,” I asked, “Is it good for us?” The adults paused the conversation to notice me for the first time. They smiled warmly. I smiled proudly back. I had cut to the chase and asked the question that was being skirted, but the pivotal question that I’d based on statements I had heard often in the past. “Yes,” my darling, “yes, it is good for us.” I breathed deeply, satisfied, that my people were ok in a world that was generally not.
The question was about the outcome of the election in the United States. Ronald Reagan had won against the derisively identified “peanut farmer.” Reagan’s victory ushered in a renaissance for the rightwing which would remain secure even, or especially, through the brief interlude of third-way politics in the 1990s, long after he was gone. At the time, Reagan’s victory was deemed ‘good for us’. “Us” were the survivors of the holocaust – the children and grandchildren of the slaughtered or near-slaughtered. “Us”. We were the tribe that internalized the message of the Nazis that we were once weak, that we had once walked like lambs to the slaughter; we believed that we had been lulled into a sense of complacency by the liberal emancipation laws of Germany. We were now the ‘new’ Jews who understood that we were despised (always had been, always would be) by the rest of humanity. But we would meet that hatred with a vigilance and determination of reborn Macabees. That’s who Ronald Reagan was good for – those muscular, anti-nebbish, Zionist new Jews in general. And he was very good for the South African new Jews in particular.
The chocolate brown sunken lounge didn’t survive the 20th century. But this acute sense of imminent danger was only bolstered by the collapse of Apartheid and the post-army 21st century mode of warfare unleashed against the west. Could we be forgiven for this acute sense of danger infecting every which way we see the world? It is this sense of imminent extinction that perpetuates the nationalist fervor of Israel today. Growing up I believed that Zionism was the articulation of our deepest longing to return to the land of our ancestors. I thought that this was our only opportunity for Jewish survival.
This idea was bound to the myth that Israel was an empty land, waiting for our return. The accompanied yet contradictory myth was that those who were there wanted our death. The portrait of an unpopulated populated landscape was a narrative I easily understood from the other colonial education I was exposed to in 1980s South African history books. But I was never as invested in the South African story as I was in the Israeli one. South Africa, like any other place outside of Israel, could never be trusted as a refuge for Jews. We grew up with a deep sense of unbelonging and longing for places that have been stolen and other places that had been promised. The nostalgia for the shtetl did not translate into demands for its return, but for the possibility of an eternal home for the Jews. And life was only possible elsewhere with the insurance policy that Israel represents.
These days, the idea that what is now Israel was unpopulated is held by only the most unread nationalists. But the notion that only Israel’s existence can secure Jewish life on earth remains steadfast. Indeed, this sense of existential crisis leads latter day Israeli nationalist historians to embrace Israel even at the expense of its indigenous population. Posing his own question, “Is it colonialism?” Ari Shavit responds, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.” But it is a duck that Shavit is willing to live with because, he argues, there would be no Jews if it weren’t for Israel. For him, the payment in Palestinians is worth it for Jewish survival.
The argument that the existence of Jews everywhere is so intimately tied to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, has paved a well-cemented support base the world over. This is what Zionism as a nationalist project cultivated which other settler colonialisms never had – a ‘diaspora’. The very idea of a diaspora as a given rather than a construct of political necessity has fuelled the ferocity with which Israel is shielded from criticism. It produces an “us” that extends far beyond the (unfixed) boundaries of the state. And while deep divisions mark the polity; while some? Ashkenazis stole Yemeni babies, and the seculars and Haredis fight each other, and while the right and left schism deepens, while Prime Ministers are assassinated and while everyday politics of venality and corruption threaten the unity of the state, exile’s purity sustains the narrative of the international obligation for a Jewish state to exist. The narrative is steadfast and no matter what happens, how it happens, why it happens, the default set of assumptions and arguments establishes itself quickly. Only a Pavlovian narrative would be able to answer in the affirmative that the current dispensation is Israel is good for “us,” that the colonization of others is the only way to resolve the historic denigration of the Jews. For that set of assumptions functions to dehumanize Palestinians, and, in turn, to dehumanize the “us”.
* * *
Edward Said has thought about the invidious position of Palestinians in the global imaginary. Palestinians struggle to find a place within a narrative of liberation in part due to the impossibility of being a victim to the ultimate victim. Auschwitz fixes the status of Jews as definitive of the wounded and in so doing vanishes the trauma of those who would claim to be injured by them. There are additional ways in which Palestinians’ victimization is discursively refashioned into the perpetual non-victim of the perpetual victim. Golda Meir’s refrain about how Israel can never forgive the Palestinians for making them kill their children is often rehearsed as justification for what would otherwise be regarded as the use of brute force. It’s a rather cynical move to steal their land, force them into exile and suggest that they bear responsibility for their pain. A recent incarnation of this is the ‘human shield’ defense for the massacre of civilians. And, even worse, the new line that calls on peaceful people the world over to “Stand with Israel. Mourn with Gaza”. No land, no freedom. And those who maintain the landlessness and incarceration even steal their dead. The only way for Palestinians to be viewed as victims is if they suffer at the hands of the fighters. The image of the victim here is the silenced, acquiescent, immobilized and harmless. The victim does not fight back. The victim does not lob katushas into Sderot. That person resides in the domain of co-conspirator in an existential battle of wits. But the ambiguity of victimhood remains the life-blood of the Israeli state – to be a Jew is to be the ultimate victim in perpetuity and only the non-victim (but also non-perpetrator) state can shield her from harm.
But there is also another way in which Palestinians are denied their victimhood. Religiosity has played a large part in the colonizing impulse. In South Africa, the Calivinists established a system of capitalist white supremacy that subscribed to the idea that black people were designed as the biblical ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’. Their own version of the promised land divinely endorsed special privileges for the settlers and destined all who were in their way to their ordained hell on earth. While the religious rightwing fundamentalists in Israel and the ‘diaspora’ may be unexceptional in regard to invoking subjugation justified by the heavens, they stand alone in their impulse to obliterating the subjugated. The battle for the so-called land of Israel is denied its politics, its history, its conjunctural determinants and read as a biblical battle. Palestinians in particular and Muslims in general are cast in this script as a contemporary manifestation of biblical foes – much like the crusaders or Nazis have been. In this sense too then, Palestinians can only ever be aggressors.
So every second summer, when Israel “mows the lawn” in Gaza, it can count on its diasporic army to impulsively support its aggression as defensive. That same army turns a blind eye to continuous expropriation of Palestinian land for settlement in the West Bank. Absent Pavlov, this perpetual colonization leaves open three options for Jewish life in that land:
- A unitary, binational state in Israel/Palestine (increasingly, a two-state solution is rendered impossible by the tactics of the Israeli state); or
- The expulsion of Palestinians from the land; or
- The genocide of Palestinians.
And beware the person who suggests that first option is in the interests of humanity in general and Jews in particular. For suggesting much less – that ‘we’ ought to consider what ‘we’ would do if we lived our entire lives under occupation – I was subjected to vitriol, shaming, name-calling anti-democratic bullying that descended even into the attempt to invoke the perspective of my beloved father who died not too long ago from a rapacious illness. The invocation of the dead is a tactic familiar to nationalism everywhere. It is obscene in its compulsive repetition of the harm done to them. We can mostly ignore the rantings of those who pit their lives above the lives of others. But what was compelling in numerous hate letters I have received (for the ‘self-hating’ imagining of Palestinians as human beings) is the argument that what Palestinians need is a Nelson Mandela.
I have thought hard about what is meant by that. The assumption must have been that I do understand since there is no explanation. But I don’t know for sure. I have worked for Mandela, I have been an activist in the organization that he led, and I was very present as a participant in the early transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. So it is incredibly compelling for me to understand what that transition has meant to the many adults I shared space with in the brown, sunken lounge.
The obvious response to such a stand-alone, non-contextualized call would be: “Well, there may be dozens of Mandela’s languishing in Israeli prisons. Because, recall, that Mandela too was regarded as a terrorist who was locked away for the whole of his mid-life.” But to deconstruct that further: what do previous apartheid citizens and current Zionists mean when they say we need a Mandela in the Middle East? I think they are not saying:
- We need a Mandela who will fight for freedom for the oppressed masses
- We need a Mandela who will fight for freedom against colonial settlers
- We need a Mandela who will radicalize the youth movement and build the ANC into a fighting force for change
- We need a Mandela who will build a people’s army
- We need a Mandela who will stand up in solidarity with the oppressed people of the globe (including the Palestinians)
- We need a Mandela who will be nurtured by, and in turn help build a revolutionary anti-colonial movement
- We need a Mandela who will negotiate a unitary, non-racial and democratic state relegating the Bantustan system to the scrap yard of history.
- We need a Mandela who is eventually released from prison along with his comrades and his organization (and others) unbanned through the combined pressures of internal mobilization (like, for instance, the intifada) and international mobilization (like, for instance, BDS)
I think maybe they do want the Mandela who tentatively birthed the post-colony. And in that cautiousness left so many of its institutions intact. They want the Mandela who stretched out his arms to embrace us all and helped us believe the fiction that apartheid was just about people not being nice to each other. That Mandela who expected nothing from the oppressors and everything from the oppressed, is the one my ‘interlocutors’ want in the Middle East. By insisting on the magnanimity of the oppressed for any kind of conciliation to occur suggests a singular refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of their claims or the illegitimacy of colonial counter-claims.
There were many other conversations from the chocolate brown sunken lounge that I recall – the demonization of the ANC fighters, the ‘why are we singled out when everyone is racist’ talk, the ‘blacks have so many other countries to go to’ talk, the conversation about how awful the rest of Africa is and how much better off blacks in South Africa are. Currently, the perspectives that reject the analogy of Israel-Apartheid misrecognize not only the colonial project in Palestine, but also the character of South African apartheid itself. Ethiopian Jews are often paraded as evidence that Israel is not an apartheid state. Or the outspoken collaborator will speak to the vicious character of Palestinian liberation organizations. These may rather be evidence of the significant reversal for the decolonization project in South Africa. Parading blacks who we hold hands with and who speak on our behalf says nothing about institutions of racism and settler colonialism that dispossess people of land, curtail their freedoms, actively endeavors to underdevelop them and seek to redefine and limit their cultural horizons.
So is it Apartheid? A little bit, but not quite. It is settler colonial. Of that, the historical record is clear. But it is characteristically settler colonial in a post-Cold War post-colonial world. It is the last direct colony—a 21st century aberration of a 20th century form of governmentality. It finds itself justified by a formidable global arms industry, it’s war economy holding it tightly together. It has cultivated a distinct hatred for the other that apartheid South Africa never needed to produce. It has made non-sectarian, non-racial organizing an impossibility, in a way that could only be a wet dream of the South African white supremacists, but unfeasible for its pragmatists. In that case, the colonized were disposable, but not in their entirety. This is where Israel departs from the apartheid South African experience and probably resembles more the colonization of places like Australia and the early colonization of the Cape.
Of course, settler colonies themselves have historically been produced for multiple reasons, an important one being how to dispense with Europe’s own disposable people without resorting to the unhappy extreme of extermination.
And Jews, we must acknowledge, have been rendered by Europe superfluous of a special type. The unfortunate response of Zionism to the trauma of the Shoah is that it replicates the very forms of being that sustain the modern European state’s incapacity to accommodate life for too long. The terms of the oppressors become re-articulated as our terms. Some place like Zion, after all, was the solution before the final one: before Wannsee there was expulsion. We use their solutions in an attempt to secure our own right to be in the world. It is a fool’s endeavor. Because as they produced us, so we will and must produce an Other. Someday, this conflict too will end.
And when it’s all over,
my dear, dear reader,
on which benches will we have to sit,
those of us who shouted “Death to the Arabs!”
and those who claimed they “didn’t know”? (Aharon Shabtai, “Nostalgia”)
Andy Clarno is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently completing a book manuscript analyzing the impact of neoliberal restructuring and securitization on race, class, and space in post-apartheid South Africa and post-Oslo Palestine/Israel.
Bill Freund is Professor Emeritus of Economic History at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a Visiting Professor in the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, both in South Africa. He is at the moment a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge. His books include The Making of Contemporary Africa.
Heidi Grunebaum is a scholar and writer. She works as a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape.
Shireen Hassim is an Professor of Politics at the University of the Witswatersrand. Women’s Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority (2006), won the 2007 American Political Science Association’s Victoria Shuck Award for best book on women and politics.
Sean Jacobs, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, is on the international affairs faculty of The New School in New York City. He founded Africa is a Country.
Robin D. G. Kelley is the Gary B. Nash Professor of U.S. History at UCLA. His latest book is Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Harvard University Press, 2012)
Melissa Levin is a political science student and teacher of development and African Studies. Prior to that, she worked as a strategy advisor for New Africa Investments Limited, a electoral strategist for the African National Congress where she also wrote speeches for, among others, Nelson Mandela, and a researcher and educator for the National Union of Mineworkers.
Arianna Lissoni is a researcher in the History Workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Achille Mbembe is a research professor in history and politics at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is also co-convenor of the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC) and a visiting professor at Duke University's Department of Romance Studies.
Marissa Moorman, Associate Professor at Indiana University, is an historian of Southern Africa
Jon Soske is assistant professor of modern African history at McGill University. His first book project, Boundaries of Diaspora: African Nationalism and the Indian Diaspora in 20th century South Africa, rewrites the history of the antiapartheid struggle by examining the interlacing histories of South Africa and India.
T.J. Tallie is an Assistant Professor of African History at Washington and Lee University. His work focuses on race, masculinity and sexuality in nineteenth-century colonial South Africa and other settler societies.
Salim Vally is the co-ordinator of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg.
The editors would like to thank Samantha Clements, Laila Parsons, Gabriel Piterberg, Jennifer Derr, Christopher Lee, and Jens Hanssen for advice and assistance.