Example Guardian Article

Israel should learn from the Boers

It was no coincidence that Israel was one of apartheid South Africa's few friends. In both societies, fear fed racial bigotry.

Liz McGregor
Thursday May 17, 2001

In the old days in apartheid South Africa, one heard a British accent - or indeed a French or German one - with a sinking heart. It invariably meant that yet another racist loser had arrived to bolster the cause of white supremacy.1

By the 70s, the horrors of apartheid were so widely known one assumed that anyone who chose to settle in South Africa was comfortable with the idea that black people were thrown off their land and denied skilled jobs to give whites privileged access.2

Immigration to South Africa worked contrary to the normal rules whereby host states can cream off the brightest and best from other countries and immigrants struggle against intense competition - and, not infrequently, prejudice - to make a place for themselves in their adopted countries. If you couldn't cope with the competition at home, South Africa offered a warm welcome and sheltered employment - as long as you were white. This did no favours to the gene pool and skewed the society further against the forces of reform.

In Palestine today, the words of war uttered in strong South African and American accents by Jewish settlers during the past turbulent months speak of a similar scenario. The law of return requires Israel to accept any Jewish person, regardless of their ethics or ability. As well as immigrants of talent and principle this must include bigots and losers. The settlements in particular attract fanatics: the nobody from New Jersey who acquires an heroic new role in a narrative that puts him at the forefront of a biblical struggle. 3

Israel and the old South Africa illustrate the dangers of the state based on ethnicity, where there is the notion of a particular ethnic group which prospers at the expense of the perceived lesser races. 4 Apartheid South Africa was, like modern Israel, born of a strong sense of religious destiny and experience of persecution. Afrikaners believed they were God's chosen people and saw the success of the Great Trek away from British rule in the Cape as a sign of God's favour. Their displacement of other tribes in pursuit of their destiny was, they believed, sanctified by God. Their subsequent suffering in the Boer war concentration camps instilled a deep sense of victimhood. Their fundamentalism in the end rendered them fatally inflexible. 5

Some 20 years ago, fresh from my protest-torn campus in South Africa, I spent a couple of months on a kibbutz. Even then I found the similarities too close for comfort. The racial hierarchy - Ashkenazi Jews, then Sephardic Jews followed way, way down by Arabs - was disconcertingly familiar. As was the Israeli demonization of Arabs: lazy, unmotivated, lacking ambition, which was exactly what whites said of blacks to rationalise their discriminatory policies. 6

In both countries, subordinate races were dispossessed of their land and crowded into marginal, drought-stricken ghettoes; their movement was restricted; access to education and skilled jobs limited so that they inevitably sank into a pool of low-wage labour. In both societies, bans on inter-marriage and daily lives segregated by race did little to dispel the fear and ignorance that feeds racial bigotry. 7

Obviously the differences between the two countries are also huge: the persecution of Jews that led to the founding of modern Israel makes the Afrikaners' wounds look like a scratch. Unlike apartheid South Africa, Israel gets the good as well as the bad. They can draw on the best and brightest from the US - or South Africa or Britain - as well as the worst. South Africa's international isolation and repressive, Calvinist government resulted in an increasingly stagnant society - quite unlike vibrant, democratic Israel. But the similarities are too strong to go unremarked. In South Africa, white lives counted; blacks didn't. The odd white soldier who died putting down black rebellion was mourned as a hero. He was given a state funeral, his life celebrated, the media carried endless interviews with grieving relatives. The black victims - or "terrorists" - were recorded, if at all, in nameless lists. In mainstream Israel these past months, the Palestinian dead have scarcely registered beside the far smaller number of Israeli fatalities. Photographs and biographical details of the two Israeli boys stoned to death last week, for instance, were broadcast around the world. Most Palestinian fatalities remain nameless and faceless. 8

It is not coincidental that Israel was one of apartheid South Africa's few friends. The two cooperated extensively militarily, not least in the development of nuclear weapons. This comradeship was partly born of a shared sense of vulnerability: both saw themselves as minorities under threat of annihilation from hostile neighbours. In South Africa, it was the swart gevaar or black peril: the African hordes who would sweep all Christian whites into the sea if given half a chance. In Israel's case, many in the Arab world are thought to resent its very existence. 9 Both depended heavily on superpower indulgence. 10 It is no coincidence that FW de Klerk started talking to the ANC around the same time that the end of the cold war dispensed with the need for dodgy allies in strategically important parts of the world.

In South Africa everything has changed. Israelis might look at what has happened to whites there and take heart. They might have lost political power but they still control the economy and they live as well as ever, still largely remote from the black majority. They have lost their pariah status and no longer live under a state of siege. Despite the inevitable teething problems, the transition from a racially discrete group living off and in fear of another has been remarkably pain-free. 11

But, above all, they no longer live in fear of approaching Armageddon. They have a future.12

This article was selected as an example of 'UN Durban conference' propaganda techniques for demonizing Israel. The extremity of its language and the relentless false claims mentioned means it is illustrative to preserved it into a time when it is seen as such - hopefully to prevent a rerun. It is also showcase of recent Guardian reporting. The Guardian has a 'left of left of centre' political orientation.


The article employs a frequently used idea of attributing to Israel whatever discredited political ideas are current in the world at the time. In this case it is the 70's Apartheid regime of the old South Africa, mixed in with a bit of 90's ethnic cleansing and 60's colonialism. However, the comparison is incredible because:


This article bears close similarity to the "Zionism is Racism" resolution carried by the UN between 1975 and 1991, when it was rescinded. The airing of such unsavoury ideas is one of the raw ingredients of anti-Semitism, and for this reason must be vigorously condemned whenever encountered.

It is illustrative to look at McGregor's article from the perspective of reasons and excuses. Imagine a hypothetical situation where the stated objections for her views suddenly disappeared. If her views then changed, the objections would be reasons. If they did not, then they're excuses.

Of course, we are not in a laboratory, so cannot directly observe this "experiment". But let's say we look at a neighbouring country, which has similar policies in place. Then it follows that McGregor's views towards those countries should be the same. Is there any criticism of Arab regimes in the region? Do any of those countries open their doors to free immigration? These objections are excuses, not reasons.

1 The article begins with vilification of the Apartheid South African immigrant, and by extension their Israeli 'counterpart'. This racism in reverse permeates the article. A 'racist loser' my be acceptable language down at the pub after work, but its not acceptable in a sober, printed article. Whether it is justified or not (dealt with next), it incites hatred, and has no place in the Western democratic tradition.

2 McGregor is suggesting here that Arabs in today's Israel are thrown off their land, and denied skilled jobs.

The Oslo accords transferred large tracts of lands to the Palestinian Authority, has been conveniently overlooked. Similarly the peace treaty with Egypt, where the Sinai was returned for and end to hostilities after Egypt and Syria attacked (for the forth time) in 1973.

No actual evidence of restrictive hiring practices in Israel are mentioned. Arabs citizens of Israel have rights like any other. They have the right to buy a house where they like, to vote for members of the Knesset, to stand for election, to serve on the bench of the High Court. They have the right (but not the obligation) to serve in the armed services. There are high ranking Arab and Druze officers in the army and police. They have served as ministers in Sharon's Cabinet. Some dozen members of the Likud are Arab.

3 Notice the extensive rhetorical use of the word Palestine, the Roman name given to Judea and Samaria after they had subdued the province (they chose to name it after the Philistines, historical enemies of the Jews). The word Palestine in this context is used to delegitimise any Jewish claims to the land, and is brandished about in the expectation it promotes Palestinians as the true, 'native' inhabitants of the land. A little historical research shows the opposite.

Notice how the 'words of war' are spoken from Jewish mouths. Not a mention of "the violence will continue..." spoken on the public record hundreds of times by top Palestinian officials. Ms McGregor is in denial about where the violence has originated, despite words like this (when at the beginning of the Intifada Arafat freed the terrorists from PA prisons):

The head of the Preventive Security Apparatus in Gaza, Muhammad Dakhlan stated: "The release of some Hamas people is an ordinary, natural, and simple step, compared to the steps we are going to take in the future." a In an interview with the Qatari television, Al-Jazeera, after the murder of the IDF soldiers in Ramallah, Dakhlan said, "The Intifada will continue until victory." b

PA Minister for Prisoners' Affairs, Hisham 'Abd Al-Razeq: "We consider the liberation of our prisoners a duty incumbent upon us inasmuch as it is incumbent upon all the Arabs. We liberated Arab and Palestinian prisoners through acts of struggle. Therefore, the problem of our prisoners is not only Palestinian but Arab as well. We and the brothers in Lebanon are partners in blood. It is the right of the Arabs to use this achievement to serve their interests." c

a Al-Ayyam, October 12, 2000
b Al-Jazeera (Qatar), October 12, 2000
c Al-Risala (Hamas), October 12, 2000

You can find out more about what the Arab Papers report (and what the Guardian doesn't) by following the MEMRI media coverage. (Infact, so hostile is the Guardian's reporting on MEMRI's translations of the Arab media, they have described it as 'designed to make the Arab world look bad', hardly a valid criticism when it is a translation. At other times they have quibbled and sensationalised a small number of controversial translations in an attempt to discredit the accuracy of MEMRIs translations generally.)

Further, notice the vilification of Jews living in the Settlements. Notice the fact that the large settlement blocks predate the state (although not all settlements), and that the secular consideration for their existence is missing (increased strategic depth makes Israel more defensible, and important consideration when a glance at the history books shows in 48, 56, 67, 73 full scale invasions launched by Arab armies). Notice the double standard of not mentioning Arab municipalities in Haifa, in essentially the same position. Of significance too is the anti-American sentiment.

4 McGregor's comments are in contrast to the following section from Israel's declaration of the independence:

The State of Israel... will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants... will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions...

These are not the ideas of a people with a superiority complex. 'Jews are the new Nazis' is Anti-Semitism - promoting The Big Lie - repeating a lie over and over again until it becomes reality. This technique incidentally (and ironically) was pioneered by the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

Resorting to the Bible to explain behaviour is a distracting gimmick - the idea is to cloud the archaeological fact that Jews have lived in the land for millennia with the disdain and patronisation that many secularists have for religious people's views. But let's not venture there, and consider only the secular reasons for Israel's right to exist.

5 The historian Paul Johnson writes on the alleged Jewish trait of being inflexible...

...sprang from a fundamentally different approach towards negotiations. The Jews had been for two millennia an oppressed minority who had never possessed the option of force. They had therefore been habitually obliged to negotiate, often for bare existence, and nearly always from a position of great weakness. Over the centuries they had developed not merely negotiating skills, but a culture of negotiation. They would negotiate against impossible odds, and they had learned to accept a negotiated status, however lowly and underprivileged, knowing that it could later be improved by further negotiations and their own efforts. The paramountcy of settlement, as opposed to force, was built into their very bones. That was one reason they found it so difficult, even when the evidence became overwhelming, to take in the magnitude of Hitler's evil: it was hard for them to comprehend a man who wanted no settlement at all with them, just their lives.

The Arabs, by contrast, were a conquering race whose sacred writings both inspired and reflected a maximalist position towards other peoples, the despised Dhimmi. The very concept of negotiation towards a final settlement was to them a betrayal of principle. A truce, an armistice might be necessary and was acceptable because it preserved the option of force for use later. A treaty, on the other hand, appeared to them a kind of surrender.

6 Notice the double standard (and irony) of the 'demonisation of Arabs'.

In Israel much work is going on for the Arab sector to reach economic parity with their Jewish neighbours. Both the left and right of politics talk of the need to do this. Again, if McGregor had evidence of discriminatory practices, she might have quoted them so they could be dealt with directly. Are Arabs kept out of universities: no. Are Arabs denied social welfare payments: no. Are Arabs denied the vote: no. Are Arabs discriminated against when filling government positions: no. Like the black community in the United States, there is no legislative reason why an Arab couldn't become president, prime minister or head of the Supreme Court. "Way, way down" indeed.

Finally, we get to perhaps the real reason behind McGregor's bias. She is a former South African nursing a guilty conscience. By over compensating in this way, relief follows. It is unfortunate indeed that she focuses her misguided social conscience on the Jewish State, which has been the victim of much aggression and sought every step of the way to find compromise. Racism on behalf of others is still racism.

7 Again, this author reaches rock bottom and just keeps digging. There are no bans on inter-marriage. There are High court decisions allowing any Israeli citizen to live anywhere. Arabs living Haifa are not living in a marginal, drought stricken ghetto. But Jews do live in the Negev desert. Bear in mind, a major British paper found this worthy of publishing.

Let's use the excuses/reasons theory here to examine this claim of the ban on intermarriage: In Israel there is no civil marriage, could this be the reason for this outrageous claim (if indeed this claim was based on any fact at all)? Marriages are the affairs of the different religious communities, and not of the state. Obviously a Muslim cleric would not marry a Muslim and a non Muslim, but does this constitute a government sanctioned ban? Would an Anglican minister marry an Anglican and a Catholic? In Israel, civil marriages performed overseas are recognised. This is the same as in the states that border Israel. McGregor's reason therefore, is not a reason, but again an excuse.

8 Note here replacement of 'terrorist' this time by victim, the alteration of commonly accepted English usage. McGregor would have you believe that a suicide bomber who walks into a nightclub in Tel Aviv and indiscriminately kills themselves, and twenty other largely teenage girls is some kind of victim. By any civilised standard the well known suicide bomber is a terrorist: if they don't make the definition, then who really does? Incredibly, she insinuates they deserve some celebration of their life after committing such a crime.

Unlike the majority of Palestinian dead of the Intifada, Israeli citizens murdered did not have the opportunity to chose the manner of their death. There can be no moral equivalence between the indiscriminate murder of citizens going about their daily lives, and the deaths of Palestinians participating in armed confrontations with Israeli troops. Nor can the number of dead on each side be some kind of measure of the justice of each side's claim. German troops fighting on the Russian front in WWII took enormous casualties, yet no one would suggest because of this they were not the aggressors.

Furthermore, the CNN (9th May 2001) reporting of the very incident McGregor talks of inexplicably carried the picture of an unrelated Palestinian death, killed in very different circumstances. CNN was later embarrassed enough to remove the picture. Quite the contrary, Palestinian deaths get much more generous press coverage: readers may remember Muhammad al-Durrah, by no means certainly killed by Israeli crossfire (an understatement: there is now strong evidence that this appalling event was staged by Palestinians). This image played for weeks. And - to top it off - Palestinians name streets after their suicide bomber 'martyrs', to encourage the next generation to carry out more of these heinous crimes.

9 Significant here is the use of the passive verb, the rather nebulous comment "many in the Arab world are thought to resent its very existence". Rather an understatement to anyone in possession of a history book. Perhaps Ms McGregor chose not to turn on her TV during the Gulf War, when Scud missiles rained down on Israel - a non combatant in the conflict. Or the rhetoric and sponsoring of cross border terrorist activity from Iran. Or the naked anti-Semitism from Bashar Assad (president of Syria) in his meeting with the Pope in 2001 - when he invoked the age old libel - the Jews killed Jesus.

10 South Africa was at once diplomatically isolated, and at the same time enjoying the patronage of superpowers.

11 Not only is Ms McGregor unfamiliar with history, apparently she does not read the news. As she typed the article, next door in neighboring Zimbabwe, Robert Magabe in a deeply unpopular government was forcefully seizing white owned farms without compensation - in violation of the judiciary - as a gimmick intended to regain popular black support. Zimbabwe, the former Rhodesia, made the same transition as South Africa several decades before. This racism in reverse can hardly be comforting to whites in South Africa. South Africa currently has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Hardly a ringing endorsement for her homeland. That's not to say we should not support the changes South Africans made to their political system, but it does illustrate the basic intellectual dishonesty which characterises her article.

The "living off and in fear of" opinion is reminiscent of the "capitalist Jew" so popular in anti-Semitic literature. This explanation for Israel's higher living standards can be debunked using the reasons/excuses theory. If Israelis really were "living off" their Arab minority, we would expect neighbouring Arab countries to enjoy such a standard too (where there are no Jews to "live off" them after fleeing/expulsion/"ethnic cleansing" in the 50's). In 1999 the GDP of the entire 21 Arab countries, some 280 million people, was US$530 billion - less than that of a medium sized European country alone (eg Spain's GDP for the same year was US$595 billion). The bulk of this was the non renewable export of oil - that requires little work to obtain. Israel's GDP for the same period was US$105.4 billion - from a state of 6 million people - some 9 times higher per capita. The explanation therefore comes down to plain hard work by Israel's citizens - and a democratic system of government that makes that possible. You can also see this when you visit Israel's borders - on the Israeli side you see agriculture, industry - that abruptly stops at the fence. To labour the point, if Israel was in fact "living off" her neighbours, you'd expect to the it green on both sides. McGregor's reason is again an excuse - a libelious accusation easily deconstructed.

12 Jews have been without the protection of a state before. And in the last 60 years alone that resulted in the genocide of fully one third of their number. History is strewn with massacres of Jews, because of this fundamental reason: with no state, there is no control over a nation's destiny. When a consistently persecuted minority puts their future in the hands of someone else - particularly someone else with a long standing hostility towards them - what guarantee is there that they'll be treated with equality or have their rights respected? That was the reason the Zionist movement began, and why it is relevant today. McGregor as she paints her "nation founded by religious fundamendalists" cannot be unaware the beginnings of the Zionist movement were overwhelmingly secular in nature - it attracted opposition from religious circles.

It is cause for alarm that articles like this, which openly challenge the Jewish right to live in a sovereign state like other nations - despite UN resolutions otherwise - are routinely canvassed at some western news outlets. This naked (soft core) Anti-Semitism should be seen for what it is.

Bias, double standards, fabrications and vilifications aside, this journalist makes one point here. Is it acceptable for a state to be based on ethnicity (like the majority are)? Why not - so long as its minorities have their rights respected and have access to the same opportunities - as they do in the Jewish state. Opposing ethnic states is a topic promoted by the hard left. Selectively applying using it to bring about Israel's demise - while at the same time using the idea to carve out a Kurdish or reinstate the Tibetan state say - is just part of the mental gymnastics involved in the movement.

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