Apartheid From South Africa to Israel

This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Students for Palestinian Rights member Rowland Robinson at the rally by SFPR and Laurier 4 Palestine against Israeli Apartheid on March 1st, 2010.

Rowland is in his 4B Honours Anthropology and Sociology term at the University of Waterloo. Much of his academic work has been on colonialism, post-colonialism and indigenous issues.


Apartheid. Apartheid is a powerful word that evokes many thoughts and feelings. It comes from Afrikaans, the language of the largest, primarily Dutch descended group of European settlers in South Africa. It means separateness, and was used to initially describe the National Party’s system of enforced racial segregation. But apartheid is more than that; it is more than a system of laws that existed in a particular country over a specific period in history. Apartheid is a way in which groups with power structure their relationships with groups they have power over. This is of course why we are here today. We are here because we recognize the fact that apartheid is alive and well today in the land of historic Palestine.

We are far from alone in our recognition of this simple fact. In a letter to the President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario, Willie Madisha, the President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions wrote, “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed against the South Africans by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.” Also, On the 6th June 2008 Kgalema Motlanthe, the Deputy President of the African National Congress, who had recently visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, told a delegation of Arab Knesset members visiting South Africa that conditions for Palestinians under occupation were “worse than conditions were for Blacks under the Apartheid regime.” This point is driven home even more so by the fact that COSATU and the ANC were two of the lead organizations in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

However, we don’t have to rely simply on the testimony of those who lived under and struggled against apartheid in South Africa in order to make this point, because the white minority government that instituted these unjust laws recognized these parallels themselves. Hendrik Verwoerd, former prime minister of South Africa and the architect of South Africa’s apartheid policies, said in 1961 that the Israelis “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”

The struggle against apartheid, whether in South Africa or in Palestine is a struggle for the rights and dignity of all people, and as such it touches all of us. You might be gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, Asian in Europe, Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a poor farmer in West Bengal, Mayan on the streets of San Cristobal, Jewish in Germany, Gypsy in Poland, Mohawk in Québec, pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a Brazilian peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, or an unhappy student, the struggle against apartheid speaks to all of you. It demands for us not just the right to be who we are, but rather, as the Zapatistas say, “to become who we want.”

This is why it is so important that we are all here today. We are here to demand that the world move towards ending a situation which is unjust, and illegitimate. One in which pregnant women are forced to give birth at checkpoints; where children are used as human shields as soldiers invade the streets of their towns; and where schools and hospitals are destroyed under the cover of fighting “terrorism.” But deeper than that we are asking for an end to a situation in which apartheid exists. We want a world in which all apartheids have been brought crashing down to the ground.

Because of this I think that Israeli Apartheid Week is about more than just calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine, because in reality it is about all the struggles for true freedom, justice and equality by people all around the world, including right here in Canada. With that in mind I would also like to borrow a phrase from French Philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault, in his introduction to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s book Anti-Œdipus, wrote that one could easily subtitle the book “an introduction to the non-fascist life,” and I think that we could something like that here today and say that Israeli Apartheid Week is an introduction to the non-apartheid life, because that is what so much of this week is. We are not just here to shout slogans, wave flags and hold signs, we are also here to educate people about just what is going on in the world.

Finally, before I go I would like to leave you with a quote that I hope you will keep in your mind, both as we march here today, and throughout the rest of this week. It is a quote that I think helps us to remember both what it is that we are struggling for, but also that must continue to keep the struggle going beyond this week. It comes from Stendhal’s Vie de Napoléon, and says this “People only ever have the degree of freedom that their audacity wins from fear.” Let us always remember those words. Let us be audacious this week as we stand for Palestine and all people struggling for freedom around the world.

Long Live Palestine!

Thank You.

6 thoughts on “Apartheid From South Africa to Israel

  1. South Africa went from being an international travel destination to a violent crime ridden dump. Way to go! I think I’ll just vacation in south central Los Angeles or Chicago.

  2. Re. APARTHEID BOMB May 27th, 2010 NOW Magazine

    Like NOW’s Ellie Kirzner, my skin crawls too when I hear Benjamin Netanyahu justify the killing of international peace activists bringing aid to Gaza by describing them as a “flotilla of hate.” So as the President of Israel beats the drums of intolerance and hate at the Ricoh Coliseum, activists continue to be maligned for pushing the “A” button, in order to expose Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. Obviously, there’s a lot at stake hear when the leader of the occupying army has to travel to Canada to raise monies for the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. But if Kirzner had dug a little deeper in his research, he would have understood that TORONTO is the activist pulse of the global Israel Apartheid movement and Israel is doing everything in its power to silence T.O criticism of its sixty year brutal occupation of Palestine, be it Brand Israel at TIFF, showcasing Israeli textiles at the Design Exchange or flying in the Zionist patriarch while his forces attack a Free Gaza humanitarian convoy in international waters. Had Kirzner been at the recent Teacher’s Pension Plan meeting at the Carlu he would have witnessed Israeli Apartheid activists storm the microphone condemning the Teacher’s Pension Funds investments with corporations that do the bidding for Israel’s occupation including Lockheed Martin and Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH plc), the latter being complicit in the construction of the illegal “security” wall that has destroyed Palestinian homes and imprisoned many Palestinian activists including my teaching colleague Abu Rahmah – a high school teacher and non-violent coordinator of the Bilin Popular Resistance. Follow the money trail (like the billion$ propping up the G8/20 circus) and the occupation of Palestine becomes a win-win investment for all those apologist of Israel’s apartheid policies. This is neither the time nor the place to whitewash the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by dropping the “A” word in favour of warm and fuzzy “Queers for Mid-East Justice”, as Kirzner proposes. If your not getting sympathy (or government approval from political hacks like Jason Kenney) for linking Israel with “Apartheid” so be it… when Israel stops racializing Palestinians with colour-coded identity cards and begins to invest in its Arab pupils (Jewish pupils get $1100 in funding versus $190 for Arab pupils) while simultaneously refraining from killing Palestinian children (1250 pupils killed since Sept. 2000), I’ll reconsider comparing Israel to the former apartheid state of South Africa. In the meantime I leave you with this quote from Willie Madisha, the President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed against the South Africans by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.” Boycott Israel~Free Palestine!

    Davis Mirza
    Teachers for Palestine

  3. You have to be a completely idiot to compare the Apartheid in Africa to whats going on in Israel.

    It’s sad so much ignorants are spread in the world.

  4. It’s really too bad that you feel that way Eric. I grew up during the death throws of a petty apartheid-like system myself and so I have seen this kind of stuff first hand.

    But if you find the article above to be unsatisfactory, then perhaps the words of some South Africans themselves will help sway you:

    Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, former Minister of Native Affairs and then Prime Minister, father of the Apartheid system:

    “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” – Rand Daily Mail, November 23, 1961

    “Aren’t we actually doing the same thing? We are faced with the same existential problem, therefore we arrive at the same solution. The only difference is that yours is pragmatic and ours is ideological.” – South African delegate quoted “Conflicts and Contradictions”, 1986, by Meron Benvenisti, Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem

    “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.” – Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, “Divesting From Injustice”

    “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed against the South Africans by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.” – Willie Madisha, the President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (one of the main 3 organizations that fought to bring down South African Apartheid), in a letter to President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees published in the COSATU Weekly newsletter for June 9, 2006

    “Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It was when it was done against South Africans; it is so when it is done against Palestinians!” – COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, Ahmed Kathrada, Sam Ramsamy and Blade Nzimande and members of government in South Africa in a letter “We fought apartheid; we see no reason to celebrate it in Israel now!” published in the The Citizen

    And how about some from Israelis?

    “More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation,’ in their parlance, to a struggle for one man, one vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state…If the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then the State of Israel is finished” – Ehud Olmert, “Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution, or Israel is done for”, Haaretz, September 29, 2007

    “Israel’s apartheid movement is coming out of the woodwork and is taking on a formal, legal shape. It is moving from voluntary apartheid, which hides its ugliness through justifications of “cultural differences” and “historic neglect” which only requires a little funding and a couple of more sewage pipes to make everything right – to a purposeful, open, obligatory apartheid, which no longer requires any justification.” – Israeli journalist and academic Zvi Bar’el, “South Africa is already here”, Haaretz, October 31st, 2010

    “These dots are growing evidence of the lack of the spirit of freedom and the emergence of apartheid and fascism. If you look at each dot separately you might miss the bigger picture. Like a child watching a military brigade march, and after seeing the battalions, the batteries and the companies, asking: “And when is the brigade finally coming?” the answer is that while he watched the marching of the battalions, batteries and companies, he was actually watching the brigade. So is the situation in Israel. You do not have to ask where the apartheid is. These events, which are accepted with silence and indifference, together create a picture of a terrible reality.” – Retired Israeli judge and legal commentator for the daily Yedioth Ahronoth Boaz Okon, June 2010

    “We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.” – Michael Ben-Yair, attorney-general of Israel from 1993 to 1996, “The war’s seventh day”, Haaretz, March 3, 2002

    “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” – Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, “Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank”, May 2002

    “The regime, based on the principle of separation through discrimination, bears striking similarities to the racist apartheid regime that existed in South Africa until 1994.” – B’Tselem, “Forbidden Roads Israel’s Discriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank”, August 2004

    “enforcement of the roads regime entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa.” – B’Tselem, “Forbidden Roads Israel’s Discriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank”, August 2004

    While disagreeing with the specific use of the term apartheid, Israeli Jew and professor of philosophy in London Moshé Machover did have this to say:

    “To be sure, the two have many features in common. Both are perniciously racist; both impose a degree of separation between ethnic groups. And this is no accident: both are instances of the genus colonial settler state. Indeed, Israel and apartheid South Africa were, until the latter’s demise, the last two surviving active instances of this genus. Now Israel is the only remaining one.” – Moshé Machover, “Is it Apartheid?”, Jews for a Just Peace

    Why does he disagree with calling it apartheid? He explains in the same article:

    “much more importantly: talk of Israeli ‘apartheid’ serves to divert attention from much greater dangers. For, as far as most Palestinians are concerned, the Zionist policy is far worse than apartheid. Apartheid can be reversed. Ethnic cleansing is immeasurably harder to reverse; at least not in the short or medium term.” – Moshé Machover, “Is it Apartheid?”, Jews for a Just Peace

    Anyway, hope this helps!

  5. If one believes the bible is the word of God then to mix apartheid in South Africa with the Jewish people defending themselves against those opposed to a Jewish state may make for a good argument but doesn’t fit with the word of God. Apartheid was a wrong because it was man’s attempt to dehumanize others. The Jewish people returning to the land that God gave them is the sign that Jesus is returning soon. If one wants to argue that Israel is an apartheid state you can do so but they are just defending themselves. God gave the land to the seed of Isaac. All of us from all nations have sinned and broken the ten commandments. It says in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. If everyone believes what the bible says then there won’t be violence done against Israel. Jesus is going to return to Israel and the answer is that Jesus said my house will be house of prayer for all nations.

  6. Thank you for blogging this issue.Sometimes we try to forget reality just to go on with life. But sometimes, more often than we want to, we need to face these realities in order to make a better one. This blog gives the public the option to face or not to face reality. We have the ability to change it, if we choose to.

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