Israel and old South Africa made ready allies

Today’s Guardian had an exclusive story on how South Africa negotiated the purchase of nuclear weapons from Israel in the 1970s, and that there are documents that prove that Israel in fact had the weapons, which they have never confirmed or denied. The paper has three pages (stories here: [1], [2], [3]) on the news plus an opinion piece by Gary Younge regarding the Israeli government’s (and its allies’) attacks on Richard Goldstone over his UN report on Israeli behaviour towards Palestinians. (More: Muslim Matters.)

Putting aside the nuclear weapons issue, the quotes included in this feature will confirm what many already believe about the attitudes of Israel and why it made a ready ally of old South Africa:

For years after its birth, Israel was publicly critical of apartheid and sought to build alliances with the newly independent African states through the 1960s.

But after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, African governments increasingly came to look on the Jewish state as another colonialist power. The government in Jerusalem cast around for new allies and found one in Pretoria. For a start, South Africa was already providing the yellowcake essential for building a nuclear weapon.

By 1976, the relationship had changed so profoundly that South Africa’s prime minister, John Vorster, could not only make a visit to Jerusalem but accompany Israel’s two most important leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, to the city’s Holocaust memorial to mourn the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Neither Israeli appears to have been disturbed by the fact that Vorster had been an open supporter of Hitler, a member of South Africa’s fascist and violently antisemitic Ossewabrandwag [“Ox-wagon guards”, a pro-German Afrikaner nationalist group of the 1940s] and that he was interned during the war as a Nazi sympathiser.

Rabin hailed Vorster as a force for freedom and at a banquet toasted “the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence”.

A few months later, the South African government’s yearbook described the two countries having one thing in common above all else: “They are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples.”

Pro-Israeli Jews often express outrage when non-Jews compare Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Apartheid, and they often have excuses which are trivial facts whose significance they exaggerate, such as that Black South Africans were South African citizens while Palestinians are not Israeli citizens. (In fact, many Black South Africans were stripped of their citizenship and reassigned the citizenship of their “homelands”.) So much of Israeli policy in the West Bank in particular resembles Apartheid - the theft of the most fertile lands and water, for example, but some of it is their own invention, such as the wall to divide Palestinian villagers from their own farms and from each other, the Israelis-only highways and so on.

The last paragraph quoted demonstrates why the two countries were ready allies. Regardless of whether Vorster was an anti-Semite or even a Nazi, both countries were white settler colonies facing a determined, and well-justified, attempt to force them out by natives they oppressed, who they regarded as inferiors, whose land and water they stole and who they forced into impoverished enclaves. Zionists fantasised that “Israel” was a “land without people for people without land”, but when they found that there actually were people there, they resorted, as might be expected, to straightforward racism, as can be seen on many a pro-Zionist website (this was particularly true during the post-9/11 period), calling Palestinians “Palis” and “Arab squatters” among other things. The ease with which Israelis and white South Africans got along should surprise nobody.

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