More on Israel’s Support for Apartheid

More on Israel’s Support for Apartheid

As the smear campaign against Richard Goldstone gets ever more desperate, it seems opportune to provide a bit more information about Israel’s support for apartheid, to which Goldstone’s pales in comparison.  Here is Sasha Polokow-Suransky again, this time responding to attacks on Goldstone by the Speaker of the Knesset and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister:

Goldstone’s apartheid-era judicial rulings are undoubtedly a blot on his record, but his critics never mention the crucial part he played in shepherding South Africa through its democratic transition and warding off violent threats to a peaceful transfer of power — a role that led Nelson Mandela to embrace him and appoint him to the country’s highest court.

More importantly, Ayalon’s and Rivlin’s moralism conveniently ignores Israel’s history of arming the apartheid regime from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s. By serving as South Africa’s primary and most reliable arms supplier during a period of violent internal repression and external aggression, Israel’s government did far more to aid the apartheid regime than Goldstone ever did.

The Israel-South Africa alliance began in earnest in April 1975 when then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres signed a secret security pact with his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha. Within months, the two countries were doing a brisk trade, closing arms deals totaling almost $200 million; Peres even offered to sell Pretoria nuclear-capable Jericho missiles. By 1979, South Africa had become the Israeli defense industry’s single largest customer, accounting for 35 percent of military exports and dwarfing other clients such as Argentina, Chile, Singapore, and Zaire.

High-level exchanges of military personnel soon followed. South Africans joined the Israeli chief of staff in March 1979 for the top-secret test of a new missile system. During Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli army took South African Defense Force chief Constand Viljoen and his colleagues to the front lines, and Viljoen routinely flew visiting Israeli military advisors and embassy attachés to the battlefield in Angola where his troops were battling Angolan and Cuban forces.

There was nuclear cooperation, too: South Africa provided Israel with yellowcake uranium while dozens of Israelis came to South Africa in 1984 with code names and cover stories to work on Pretoria’s nuclear missile program at South Africa’s secret Overberg testing range. By this time, South Africa’s alternative sources for arms had largely dried up because the United States and European countries had begun abiding by the U.N. arms embargo; Israel unapologetically continued to violate it.

The blatant hypocrisy of the latest attack on Goldstone is nothing new. In November 1986, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s U.N. ambassador, gave a stirring speech to the General Assembly denouncing apartheid and insisting that “Arab oil producers provide the umbilical cord that nourishes the apartheid regime.” (Never mind that Israel remained absent from the 1980 U.N. vote to impose an oil embargo on South Africa in deference to its friends in Pretoria.)

Netanyahu was right that Arab and Iranian oil was flowing through middlemen to the apartheid regime, but he categorically denied Israel’s extensive military and trade ties with South Africa, calling charges of lucrative arms sales “flat nonsense” and accusing his critics of trying “to defame Israel.”

In fact, Israel was profiting handsomely from selling weapons to Pretoria at the time. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman estimated that the two countries did $400 million to $800 million of business in the arms sector in 1986. According to declassified South African documents, the figure was likely even greater: A single contract for modernization of South African fighter jets in the mid-1980s amounted to “approximately $2 billion,” and  arms sales in 1988 — one year after Israel imposed sanctions against the apartheid regime — exceeded $1.5 billion. As the former head of the South African Air Force Jan van Loggerenberg told me bluntly: “Israel was probably our only avenue in the 1980s.”

Declassified South African arms-procurement figures (which exclude lucrative cooperative ventures and shared financing arrangements) reveal the full extent of Netanyahu’s lie. The “independent IMF figures” he cited (which excluded diamonds and arms) suggested trade was a minuscule $100 million annually. It was actually between five to 10 times that amount — depending on the year — making the apartheid regime Israel’s second- or third-largest trading partner after the United States. Not all of the weapons Israel sold were used in external wars, and there is no denying that Israeli arms helped prolong the rule of an immoral and racist regime.

Who, exactly, deserves to be barred from the US?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Africa, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, Middle East, Organizations, Trade & Economic Law
Notify of
Benjamin Davis
Benjamin Davis

That there are different aspects of the history of the aparthied era that are instrumentalized today for political advantage is nothing  new.  This attack  is also seeking to resonate with those anti-aparthied Americans  to encourage dismissal  of the Goldstone  report. The bet being made I guess is that people are stupid and will conflate and do  it in the  way the speaker has conflated. Reminds me of the Sudan guy objecting to alleged Israeli war crimes  and crimes against humanity.  Same type of  instrumentalization by  the  state as an  assertion  of power.  Stay strong Goldstone – if Hamas  and Isaeli leaders reject what you say, maybe you are speaking “la verite” and there is a French adage that “seule la  verite blesse” (only the truth hurts- rough translation).

Patrick O'Donnell

I suppose, then, it’s rather sad irony that current Israeli military practices, political policies and legal strategies amount to apartheid (Neve Gordon prefers to speak of ‘ghettoization’: see his discussion of the ‘colonization’ and ‘separation’ principles in his book Israel’s Occupation, 2008) in regard to the Occupied Territories. Sylvain Cypel writes in Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (2006), that Michael Ben Yair, former legal adviser to the Rabin government, told him (in 2003), ‘I wrote publicly that we had established an apartheid in the territories, that nothing is worse than the daily humiliation we make the Palestinians undergo, that our society is rotting from within from its wish to dominate another people by force. Now I keep quiet. There’s no point in saying what people do not want to hear.’ As to the myriad means that have been deliberately constructed in a manner that has resulted in apartheid, see Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (2008), and Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni and Sari Hanafi, eds., The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Territories (2009). In the latter volume, Hilla Dayan notes that ’it is important to clarify that apartheid in South Africa is neither… Read more »