Picture: REUTERS Juda Ngwenya – The late and former South African president Nelson Mandela and the late and former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat address the media after holding talks on the crisis in the Middle East May 3, 2001. Arafat attended the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting on Palestine.
By Iqbal Jassat
As Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu is now firmly entrenched into a Jewish supremacist regime, unashamedly racist and in pursuit of total annihilation of Palestine, one is reminded of the era of Hendrik Verwoerd in South Africa.
In his book Apartheid Guns And Money, Hennie van Vuuren recounts that during 1961 Nelson Mandela wrote a final letter of ultimatum to National Party Prime Minister Verwoerd on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC).
It requested the government to abandon plans of establishing a Republic that carried only the mandate of white South Africans, and instead called for a sovereign national convention to draw up a non-racial and democratic constitution. Failing this, Mandela and the ANC, in lucid tones, promised protest and resistance.
Six decades later, Israel on the eve of 2023, has not only disregarded lessons from the rise and fall of Apartheid in South Africa, but doggedly and faithfully follows the same Verwoerdian script, Mandela opposed.
In fact in addition to opposing it, Mandela called for sanctions which became a pillar of resistance politics, as described by Van Vuuren.
“We call on democratic people the world over to refrain from any cooperation or dealings with the South African government, to impose economic and other sanctions against this country and to isolate in every possible way the minority Government whose continued disregard of all human rights and freedoms constitutes a threat to world peace”, wrote Mandela.
It doesn’t require much imagination to substitute Verwoerd with Netanyahu, nor can it be disputed as The Economist commented that “Israel’s new government is the most right-wing ever”.
It is a minority government of ultra-right Jewish supremacists in occupation of Palestine, and that has vowed to continue plundering more land to expand illegal settlements, without regard for International Law which prohibits it.
Since he is on trial for corruption charges, it is no surprise that Netanyahu is determined to push through a bill to strip the judiciary’s power. A simple majority in the Knesset will be able to overturn Supreme Court decisions, thus enabling him to escape imprisonment by having his prosecution revoked.
Likewise it will suit two of his fellow thugs who now hold key ministries – Aryeh Deri and Ben-Gvir – both have criminal records. Deri was convicted for bribery in 2002 and late last year pleaded guilty to tax fraud. Ben-Gvir, an avowed racist who proudly wears his racism in the most arrogant and abrasive way, is an unrepentant convicted racist.
Paradoxically, Israeli apartheid, akin to the Verwoerdian model, boasts of being the “only democracy” in the Middle East, yet makes a mockery of its very concept.
Not only are millions of Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian – in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) excluded from the sham “democracy”, also millions within ’48 Palestine are deemed lesser “citizens” and denied equal status reserved for Jews only.
However, the most outrageous outcome of Netanyahu’s hard-line coalition of hard-core racists is the declaration that Jewish people have a “natural right” to all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, described in it as the “Land of Israel”.
The declaration by Netanyahu which flows out of the internal agreement of coalition parties, undertakes an imminent annexation of the West Bank and expansion of illegal settlements in the OPT.
Though the Biden administration recycles hopes of a “two-state” solution, which remains a futile expectation given the sustained enormity of land grabs, home demolitions and evictions, South Africa, will have to urgently review and reassess its position on the same score.
Not only is the idea of “two-states living side by side” obsolete and reduced to rubble by successive Israeli regimes, but to hold onto it inspite of the reality of Occupation and Apartheid, is both foolish and unrealistic.
In a sense, it can be argued that Netanyahu’s fascist policies to extinguish Palestinian hopes and liquidate their desire for freedom and justice, is an indirect challenge to South Africa.
Will the ANC-led government readjust it’s foreign policy built on a “two-state” paradigm or will it remain wedded to it on the basis of Mahmoud Abbas and his discredited Palestinian Authority requiring it to do so?
Equally the shift to armed struggle within the West Bank by resistance groups banded together to defend their lives and properties, also challenges South Africa to be alive to the reality of Israeli terrorism being far removed from “peaceful incursions”.
Palestinians are justifiably engaged in “protest and resistance”, terms described by Mandela in his ultimatum to Verwoerd.
And in South Africa, neither the ANC government nor civil societies, may stand aside as mere spectators.
Jassat is an executive member of the Media Review Network.