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John Passant

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September 2009



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

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Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

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I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
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Why Israel is an apartheid state

In mid-September, a visiting Palestinian-American academic told a Melbourne lecture that Israel is an apartheid state, more extreme in its policy against Palestinians than South Africa had been against its Black population.

Professor Saree Makdisi is one of a growing number who make such a comparison – usually provoking an outraged response from pro-Israel commentators.

Israel’s apologists point to the 1.2 million Palestinians living inside the 1948 borders of Israel, who are allowed to vote – unlike Black South Africans under the apartheid regime.

There is no equivalent in Israeli law, they say, to the hated Group Areas Act and the Pass Laws that regulated where Black South Africans lived and worked.

And you can travel the length and breadth of Israel without seeing any of the “whites only” signs on buses, beaches and public amenities that helped make South Africa’s apartheid system one of the most notorious examples of organised, institutional racism in the 20th century.

It is true that Palestinians living inside Israel have the right to vote – but their parties are always on the edge of illegality, required to pledge allegiance to a purely Jewish state of Israel.

The 2.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank have not even this right; nor do the 1.5 million living under Israel’s punishing military blockade of Gaza.

And the Palestinians expelled from Israel by murder and terror in 1948, together with their descendents – some five million people altogether – also have no right to vote.

Israel refuses to allow these people to vote in order to engineer a Jewish, pro-Zionist majority. In a similar way, Blacks in apartheid South Africa were not counted as citizens of South Africa, but could vote for powerless Black-only “bantustans”.

It is true that you will look in vain through Israeli law books for the sort of sweeping laws that limited the life opportunities of Blacks – from where they could live to the segregation of public amenities – during the apartheid years.

Nevertheless, there are more than 20 laws that discriminate against the Palestinian minority inside Israel, and a range of systematic practices that reinforce this.

Discrimination in property laws, for instance, contributes to a situation where although 20 per cent of the population of Israel is Palestinian, they own or control only 3 per cent of the land.

On the other hand there is no law specifying that the average Jewish student inside Israel receives nine times as much funding as the average Palestinian student but, according to journalist Jonathon Cook, this is the case.

In employment there is systematic discrimination.

Of the 10,000 who work for the Israeli phone company Bezeq, Jonathon Cook believes that no more than 12 are Palestinian. In 2004 Nachman Tal, a former deputy head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, stated that of the 13,000 workers employed by the Israeli Electricity Corporation, only six were Palestinian.

This systematic discrimination extends to civic services. In October 1990 the long-serving Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, gave a candid interview to the Tel Aviv newspaper Ma’ariv. According to Kollek:

“We said over and over that we would equalise the rights of the Arabs to the rights of the Jews in the city – empty talk. Never have we given them a feeling of being equal before the law. They were and remain second- and third-class citizens.”

[Question:] “And this is said by a mayor of Jerusalem who did so much for the city’s Arabs, who built and paved roads and developed their quarters?”

[Kollek:] “Nonsense! Fairy tales! … For Jewish Jerusalem I did something in the past twenty-five years. For East Jerusalem? Nothing! … Sidewalks? Nothing. Cultural institutions? Not one. Yes, we installed a sewerage system for them and improved the water supply. … Do you think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were some cases of cholera there, and the Jews were afraid that they would catch it…”

Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to a range of restrictions familiar to anyone with experience of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Indeed, many who have visited Palestine from South Africa have been struck by the comparison. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a prominent activist against apartheid in South Africa, commented in 2002:

“Yesterday’s township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the occupied Palestinian territories. To travel only a few blocks in his own homeland, an elderly grandfather waits to beg for the whim of a teenage soldier. More than an emergency is required to get to a hospital; less than a crime earns a trip to jail.

“The lucky ones have a permit to leave their squalor to work in the cities, but luck runs out when security closes all checkpoints, paralysing an entire people. The indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar.”

And in 2006 Willie Madisha, the Secretary of COSATU (the main union federation in South Africa) commented: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine, I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.”

The ruling elite of both Israel and apartheid South Africa have themselves been struck by the similarity of their repressive political systems.

In 1978 the South African government yearbook commented: “Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples.”

More lately, the rulers of Israel have been haunted by the fate of apartheid in South Africa. Under siege from within (from an increasingly militant and well-organised Black working class) and from without (thanks to an escalating campaign of boycott and sanctions around the world), the South African ruling class was forced to end the apartheid system in the early 1990s.

In 2003 the then Israeli deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, commented: “More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation’, in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately, a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.”

Last November, as Prime Minister, Olmert repeated that if Israel was unable to implement a “two-state solution”, it would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”

Olmert is exaggerating.

South African apartheid was backed by the British and US ruling classes for many years as a bulwark against nationalist and left-wing movements in southern Africa.

But Israel, with its proximity to the vast reserves of Middle Eastern oil, is a much more valuable strategic asset for the West – they will not let it go easily.

While apartheid was crippled by the Black working class in the 1980s, in Israel the Palestinian people have been pushed to the margins of the labour force.

It is up to the working class in the neighbouring Arab countries such as Egypt, and the rest of us around the world, to make support for Israel a no-win game for the imperialist powers.

But Olmert knows that, just because apartheid Israel is powerful, this does not make it all-powerful.

The Palestinian people show no sign of ending their resistance to Israeli apartheid – just check out for one of many examples of their ongoing struggle.

And for a new generation of activists in countries like the UK, the US and Australia, support for Palestine can play a role similar to the struggle against South African apartheid in decades past.

When I first became involved in left-wing activism in the mid-1980s, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was a touchstone.

The racism and brutality of the regime, and the craven support given to it by Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the US, summed up everything that was wrong with the system.

Over decades, many thousands of us sat on picket lines, marched, boycotted and spoke up in a huge array of forums against apartheid South Africa.

We were often told we were wasting our time. But we succeeded then. And we can succeed again.

This article, by Jerome Small, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.



Comment from peter piper
Time September 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm

how many blacks in Rhodesia and S. Afrrica would give their right arm to return to apartheid. yes, they had to enter a building through a separate door, but at least they had food in their bellies, jobs, and an inflation rate of below 5 million.

Comment from John
Time September 24, 2009 at 7:13 pm


Comment from Justin
Time September 25, 2009 at 11:36 am

I take issue with your statement…
“More lately, the rulers of Israel have been haunted by the fate of apartheid in South Africa. Under siege from within (from an increasingly militant and well-organised Black working class) and from without (thanks to an escalating campaign of boycott and sanctions around the world), the South African ruling class was forced to end the apartheid system in the early 1990s.”

If you knew more about South Africa you would know that the government offered white South Africans a choice in the 1992 referendum. That choice was effectively whether or not to continue with apartheid or to chuck it out the window and begin the transition to one person one vote.

The ‘ruling class’ as you put it were not forced to do anything – a massive police and military presence pretty much kept the lid on militant resistance to the government and overseas friends such as the US and the UK helped the country to avoid the worst effects of sanctions (name a situation anyway where sanctions have been effective).

What people seem to forget or ignore is that white South Africans CHOSE to end apartheid, they voted it out. They were not forced, they were not scared, they simply came to the realisation, in enough numbers to matter, that apartheid was an unjust, inhumane system which had to go.

I know you’d love to think it was the ‘struggle’ which ended apartheid, but in fact it wasn’t, it was the democratic choice of a majority of white South Africans.

As an aside, do you think a majority of anglo-saxon Australians would vote yes in a referendum to hand the country back to it’s original owners? I doubt it.

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