Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Just don’t talk about the war… Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin feting South Africa’s unrepentant Nazi Prime Minister B.J. Vorster at the Knesset in 1976
A Great Piece
By Tony Karon
"Nothing makes liberal American supporters of Israel more uncomfortable than the comparison between the circumstances it has imposed on the Palestinians and those that the apartheid regime imposed on black South Africans. That’s precisely why it is so important and commendable that Jimmy Carter has tempted the wrath of the Israel lobby and many Jewish-American liberals-in-denial by making that comparison — as he says, it’s time Americans took a look at Palestinian life and history, and as any good person of faith or basic humanity would, treat it as of equal value. The point being that Jimmy Carter had to write this book precisely because Palestinian life and history is not accorded equal value in American discourse, far from it. And his use of the word apartheid is not only morally valid; it is essential, because it shakes the moral stupor that allows many liberals to rationalize away the daily, grinding horror being inflicted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.......
....Jimmy Carter wants American liberals, who’re passionate about Kosovo or Darfur, to consider the plight of the colonized Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, and discuss their own and America’s moral responsibility to those people. Kinsley and countless other commentators want to avoid doing that, which is why they need to convince themselves that the reason the Palestinians don’t have a state is that they don’t have a Mandela; that instead they had an Arafat — in short, that the Palestinians are to blame for their plight.
I’ve written at length elsewhere about the bizarre habit of Americans of inventing their own Mandelas that have no relationship to the real one — suffice to point out for our purposes here that Mandela was a guerrilla commander who continued the armed struggle until the apartheid regime was ready to concede peacefully to the principle of black majority rule, so one wonders what, in fact, Michael Kinsley imagines a Palestinian Mandela would do. Parsing this question a few years ago in a TIME.com column, I concluded thus: “Of course, the Israelis would be wrong to think a Palestinian leader who was more like Mandela would be more pliant. Quite the contrary. They’d find it a lot harder to conclude a deal with a Mandela, or any leader of more democratic bent than Arafat. But in the end, they’d be able to rest a lot more assured that such a deal would hold.”
Curiously enough, when Nelson Mandela visited Gaza in 1999, he warned that in order for Israel to achieve peace and security, it would have to withdraw from all occupied territories, including the Golan Heights. “It is a realization of a dream for me to be here to come and pledge my solidarity with my friend Yasser Arafat,” Mandela said, and told the Palestinian legislature that “the histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots.”
And you’d think that more than two years after Arafat’s death, people would start to feel a little silly blaming him for the fact that there’s no peace — especially at a moment when the Bush Administration is doing its best to get Mahmoud Abbas to govern in exactly the ways it denounced Arafat for doing, taking personal control of finances and security forces, ignoring elected institutions etc........
A digression: I’ll admit that growing up as a Jewish liberal in South Africa, I somehow managed to convince myself that apartheid had nothing to do with us, that Jews were somehow automatically in the anti-apartheid column — it was a lot easier to do this in light of the rabid anti-Semitism of the ruling National Party, whose leaders had actively sympathized with the Nazis. Even then, it wasn’t true; evidence to the contrary was everywhere: Israel was, together with Pinochet’s Chile, the closest foreign ally of the regime, and in 1976, it welcomed the unrepentant Nazi, Prime Minister John Vorster (who had spent time in an internment camp during the war after being captured running sabotage operations under the direction of the Nazi intelligence service) on a state visit, and even took him to Yad Vashem! Activists of my wing of the Zionist youth movement, the socialist-inclined Habonim, protested, and were told to shut up by the senior leadership of the SA Zionist Federation. The following year, one of the leading lights of the Likud-aligned Revisionist bloc that dominated the SAZF, Abe Hoppenstein, stood for parliament on the National Party ticket.......
Indeed, Jimmy Carter wasn’t the first person to raise the idea in my head that what Israel had created in the West Bank and Gaza is an apartheid situation. Back in January of 1979, when he was still in the White House, I was in Israel, living and working on Kibbutz Yizreel for about six weeks, fervently committed to making aliyah myself. Yizreel, in the Jezreel Valley, was home to a number of graduates of South African Habonim. And I vividly remember a discussion they started with us one afternoon, about the policy of building Israeli settlements in the West Bank that the new Likud government was encouraging. The South African-Israelis saw the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as a disaster for Israel and for their own progressive version of Zionism. And they recognized that the settlements were a calculated strategy by Begin and Sharon to create “facts on the ground” that would make handing it back impossible. “And so,” one summarized, “you have a situation where Israel now has control over more than 3 million Palestinians. If it annexes the West Bank, they become citizens of Israel, and Israel quickly loses its Jewish majority. So that’s not an option. But the settlement policy makes it more and more difficult for Israel to envisage letting go of the territories. So what are you left with? An apartheid situation.” Of course. To anyone who had lived in South Africa, it was blindingly obvious. "