BY VIC ALHADEFF
March 1, 2012
I WENT to boarding school in apartheid Rhodesia and edited newspapers and wrote books under the constraints of South Africa’s apartheid system. This week is the so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” on university campuses in Australia, so it bears reflecting on what apartheid really meant and why it is obscene that the apartheid descriptor has become the default position for the global delegitimisation campaign against Israel.
From the age of nine, I had swastikas scrawled on my boarding-school locker. The message was as much about my refusal to join a collective denigration of blacks as it was a reflection of my Jewish identity.
As a result of disagreements about the way blacks were treated, I copped the phrase “kaffir lover”, kaffir being the most pejorative term one could invoke to refer to blacks.
It translates as unbeliever, but the connotation is infinitely uglier. Then there was South Africa’s apartheid system, which had three cornerstones:
• The Race Classification Act, which divided the population according to colour — whites and so-called non-whites, the latter comprising blacks, Indians and people of mixed race;
• The Mixed Marriages Act, which forbade marriage across the colour line between those classifications and;
• The Group Areas Act, which stipulated where people could and could not live, the objective being to keep them separate.
People classified as black were indiscriminately stopped in the street by police and ordered to produce an identity card; if they could not do so immediately, they were invariably thrown into a police wagon and incarcerated.
People classified as non-white had no right to vote, run for political office or use “whites only” park benches, post-office doors, toilets, public swimming pools, cinemas or even beaches. If critically injured in an accident, they were left to die if no non-white ambulances were available to transport them to a non-white hospital. White hospitals were prohibited from treating non-white patients.
In Soweto, a sprawling black city on the edge of Johannesburg, hundreds of thousands of men were prohibited from bringing their families to live with them under a clause known as Influx Control. If caught doing so, the charge under which they were hauled before the courts was “Harbouring their wife and children”.
As chief sub-editor of The Cape Times, I was directly involved with the system, which decreed it illegal to promote the aims of a “banned organisation”. As most organisations seeking to bring an end to apartheid were banned, it meant that newspapers could not quote or publish photographs of Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress colleagues.
If a rally were held calling for the dismantling of apartheid, media could not report it because it would be construed as promoting the aims of a banned organisation. It meant Mandela and his colleagues were effectively rendered invisible and that the only times they were referred to publicly were invariably with the words “terrorist” or “communist” appended — unless a progressive politician referred to them within the precincts of the parliament and the speech was reported.
This week campuses in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and elsewhere will engage in activities under the banner of “Israel Apartheid Week”, which will include erecting simulated checkpoints at which role-playing students will be “shot” by “Israeli soldiers”.
These scenarios will be buttressed by speakers, posters, displays and movies depicting Israel as an apartheid state, with organisations such as Socialist Alternative, Students for Palestine and Action for Palestine actively involved.
It is axiomatic that Israeli society is a work in progress and that Arab Israelis suffer disadvantage in various spheres.
This issue is not only acknowledged by Israel’s government, but has been embraced by it through the appointment of a minister of minority affairs. The ministry existed in the first years of the fledgling state and was re-established in 1999 with the express purpose of tackling these inequities.
It is also a given that the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is a serious issue, albeit inextricably bound up with the root cause of the conflict, which is the fundamental refusal to accept Israel’s existence.
It bears restating that every Israeli citizen, of whatever faith and ethnic background, enjoys the right to vote and to speak out — even against Israel’s existence.
The country has a free press, an independent judiciary — an Arab judge recently passed sentence on a former president of the country on sexual misconduct charges — and Arabs have served as government ministers, ambassadors and heads of homeland security and the border police.
There have been Arab members of the Knesset in every Israeli parliament since the first one sat in 1949, holding as many as 12 out of 120 seats in some sessions, while every Israeli university has Arab students and lecturers, with 20 per cent of Haifa University’s students and 10 per cent of its faculty Israeli Arabs, and Arab and Jewish surgeons operate side by side on Arab and Jewish patients in Israel’s hospitals. The list is virtually endless.
This while women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive or hold bank accounts; gays are imprisoned and executed; Christians are forbidden to practise their religion — 100,000 have reportedly fled in the past few years, many to Israel; Jews are not permitted to live in or even, with rare exception, enter Saudi Arabia; Sikhs in Iran are executed for refusing to convert to Islam and Iranian women are executed in grotesquely misnamed honour killings. This list, too, is virtually endless.
To brand Israel an apartheid state is not only baseless, it insults all who suffered under the apartheid regime. It falsifies history for expedient political gain. Yet so many fall for the lie.
Vic Alhadeff is chief executive officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
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