Defend Truth


Put the squeeze on Apartheid Israel – do not succumb to Zionist pressure like the Vienna Museum


Ronnie Kasrils was Minister of the Intelligence Services of South Africa from 2004 to 2008.

As a South African anti-apartheid activist, of Jewish descent I look with horror on the forthcoming Israeli elections and their likely impact on Israel, and the wider Middle East, whatever the outcome.

I have just had the dubious honour of having a meeting in Vienna I was invited to speak at banned. The event was part of Israel Apartheid Week and my hosts, the Austrian BDS group (Boycott Divestment Sanctions), had booked the city Museum. After intervention by the City Council, the Museum Director cancelled the event. The reason given is that BDS is equivalent to anti-Semitism. That reason is equivalent to the anti-communist red herring used in days past by apartheid South Africa in an attempt to smear and intimidate opponents. (I will return to this in due course).

The Vienna ban comes 59 years since the Sharpeville Massacre, an event which prompted me to join the liberation struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Raising my voice then for freedom and justice for my fellow countrymen and women saw my own rights being deprived such as freedom of expression, attendance at public meetings and right of protest.

It’s disappointing then to find those rights now curtailed in Austria for wanting to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and sharing the South African experience and lessons with the Austrian people. Austria, and the city of Vienna, in particular, has a past history of anti-fascist struggle and the experience of Hitlerite military occupation. Today the country is facing the challenge of a racist, neo-fascist upsurge. This is in fact not unlike Israel’s increasing extremism in dealing with Palestinian protests, their just demands for human rights, the move to establish an exclusive Jewish state.

Freedom and justice are indivisible. The City of Vienna and Austria should be in the forefront of supporting the United Nations resolutions on Palestinian rights instead of cow-towing to Israel and the Zionist lobby campaign to silence legitimate, peaceful protest. They should hang their heads in shame. What they are doing is encouraging intolerance, pandering to hypocrisy and encouraging repressive techniques. Such behaviour aids and abets a toxic atmosphere of injustice and reaction which has the most harmful consequences for democratic rights. Austria has seen this in its tragic past.

This brings me to the current situation in Israel.

As a South African anti-apartheid activist, of Jewish descent I look with horror on the forthcoming Israeli elections and their likely impact on Israel, and the wider Middle East, whatever the outcome.

In the South African struggle for peace and justice, we argued that whites would find security in a unitary, non-racist, democratic society on the basis of ending the oppression of black South Africans and providing freedom and equality for all. Whatever defects there are in South Africa today the constitutional basis for such a reality has been created and conflict resolved.

In the April Israeli elections, a Prime Minister with a corruption indictment hanging over his head is desperately courting even more extremist parties and abandoning any pretext of negotiating with the Palestinians. His most serious opposition campaign on the boast of responsibility for mass killings in Gaza in recent offensives. The politics of the settlers and ascendant ultra-racist parties are dominant. They will determine the future of Israel for generations. For as long as a repressive apartheid-style government is in place, things can only go from bad to worse in Israel, not only for Palestinians but for Israeli society.

Seventy years ago the most distinguished of Jews, towering figures of intellectual and moral authority, like Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, were concerned about the propensity towards racist extremism in Israel. They warned that although Menachem Begin’s newly formed party (forerunner of Likud ) sought to project itself as standing for freedom and democracy, “until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state”. (New York Times, 4 December. 1948).

They pulled no punches describing:

Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party”…a political party closely akin in its organisation, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organisation in Palestine.” 

They pointed to a terrorist record which betrayed Begin’s group’s real character and stated with foresight: “from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.”

Those last words have been prescient. Repression of Palestinian citizens of Israel, of refugees from Africa, of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza has become ever more brutal as the years have passed. Young Israeli soldiers who enforce current policy emerge from army years with their humanity cruelly damaged. They will never build the society Einstein and Arendt and their generation dreamed of.

The outcome for Palestinians of these years of creeping apartheid laws and brutality has been catastrophic. The ethnic cleansing, the seizure of land, destruction of homes and orchards, military occupation, bombing and strangulation of Gaza, brutal measures of repression against civilians, violations of international law has made notable visitors such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu declare that what they saw in Palestine reminds them of apartheid, but only far worse.

Many Jews such as Einstein had hopes that Ben Gurion’s Labour-aligned Mapam would live up to liberal ideals. Had he lived he would have been appalled by the militarism and brutality of the Zionist state his generation had imagined as one which would be built on their own Jewish values. Over the years the Zionist Labour bloc in Israel has revealed itself as equally racist and belligerent as Likud – just less obvious in their rhetoric. Positions were almost identical on the Palestinians, such as the right of return for Jews but stripping Palestinian refugees of all rights; status of occupied Palestine and the illegal Settlements; a proclivity to wage war and much more.

Netanyahu colludes with Trump, pushes for war against Iran, bombs Syria, courts ultra-right anti-Semites from Brazil to Hungary and throughout Europe.

His liaison with the extremist settler party (Habayit Heyehudi) and Kahanist Jewish Power party (Otzam Yehudit) to bring them into his planned governing coalition is even by his standards obscene.

I write this in Israel Apartheid Week which together with the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) campaign is a peaceful form of mobilisation akin to the anti-apartheid movement that helped bring about the end to Apartheid South Africa.

That movement had small beginnings but built up over 30 years to help make a decisive difference in toppling the apartheid regime in concert with the liberation struggle of South Africa’s people. Small beginnings such as housewives refusing to purchase apartheid fruit in European stores merged with the boycott of sports teams with a huge knock-on effect. Dockworkers from Liverpool to Melbourne refused to handle South African cargo; trade unions and Christian associations disinvested pension fund investments; firms like Kodak withdrew their business from South Africa; the academic boycott turned universities into apartheid free zones; arms sanctions helped swing the balance of forces against the South African military in Angola. As the anti-apartheid movement developed across five continents and United Nations resolutions isolated the Pretoria regime and began to take effect, pressure mounted on its trading partners and supportive governments.

The historic adoption of the Three A’s act by the US Congress – the Anti-Apartheid Act – authored by the so-called Black Lobby forced Reagan’s hand and was a major turning point. In the final phase when banks like Chase Manhattan in the United States and Barclays in Britain closed their South African offices and accounts and withdrew credits the battle was well-nigh over.

All of this took huge organisational effort and the creation of awareness through consistent grassroots mobilisation and education campaigns. Step-by-step the objectives were achieved. Elements of such efforts are visible in today’s BDS movement to isolate apartheid Israel which has achieved more in a dozen years than the South African campaign did in a comparable initial period. Israel Apartheid Week is one of the many means to build such a dynamic movement and is growing from strength to strength. Make no mistake every little step makes an important difference, hurting apartheid Israel economically in its pocket, psychologically draining the will of its constituency at home and abroad, and in particular inspiring the Palestinian people in their just struggle.

In the days of struggle against South African Apartheid, we were accused of following a communist agenda. We were not deflected by smears and stood our ground for the obvious truth. Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) follows a similar route conflating opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism. This is devious in the extreme and must be resisted. There are many Jews worldwide who adopt the same principled positions as Einstein and Hannah Arendt.

This is not about destroying Israel and its people. This is not anti-Semitic in the least. This is about working for a just solution, as we did in the struggle for South Africa’s liberation.

I stand, as do so many Jews like me, in defence of the likes of Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn and American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, politicians whose lives have shown a commitment to antiracism and to social justice, and who are being viciously smeared as anti-Semitic in a crude attempt to end careers which now bring hope of change in their societies to many millions.

Actions like those in Vienna this week, in banning a BDS meeting on the false grounds of anti-Semitism, are part of this slanderous campaign and must be defeated. By their standards, they would no doubt be accusing Albert Einstein and Hanna Arendt of anti-Semitism. Genuine anti-Semitism and the growth of white supremacy in Trump’s America and Europe are growing concerns as are such hideous acts of terrorism against those of the Muslim religion as in New Zealand last week.

The Vienna City Council should seek to combat the ugly growth of such racism and Islamophobia in their own back yard and become part of a movement which confronts it at home and abroad. Alas by their intolerant actions they are serving and promoting the cancer spreading in their midst. All because of misplaced guilt regarding the Holocaust which Israel and the Zionist lobby cynically manipulates.

To assuage the shameful role Austrian fascism played in the Holocaust would be to take a principled stand against Israeli Zionism’s neo-fascist repression against the Palestinian people which is a betrayal of the true values of Judaism and exactly what Einstein and Hanna Arendt warned against. To honour victims of the Holocaust is to apply the indivisible principle of the sanctity of life to all not the murder of countless Palestinian men, women and children over the decades beneath the rubble of bombed homes, hospitals and schools, and at the Gaza prison fence in the peaceful March of Return.

Israel was established to be “as a light unto the nations” and not as the light of burning phosphorous bombs over a city such as Gaza or the searchlight of a concentration camp or the nuclear threat to neighbouring states. I stand with many like-minded Jews around the world as well as within Israel who stand for justice, equality and peace. Those within Israel might constitute a small minority but as was the case with the minority of whites within apartheid South Africa who stood up to be counted their moral force is the “light unto the nations” once spoken about.

The Austrian BDS committee is by no means retreating and has other arrangements for IAW and a meeting which I will be proud to participate in.

What we learnt from the South African struggle is that the more desperate the measures used by the regime is illustrative of their moral bankruptcy and inability to stem the tide of change. DM

Ronnie Kasrils, is a former South African government minister and author


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