Over the course of August, I’m republishing a series of posts from a now-defunct site that covered the first major municipal divestment fight that took place in Somerville MA between 2004-2006. A description of how that issue played out can be found here and I hope these essays will continue to be useful for those battling against the BDS propaganda arm of the anti-Israel war movement (as well as demonstrating how divestment was and can continue to be soundly defeated by people of good will ready to take up the fight).
One suspects that if the word “apartheid” were eliminated from the vocabulary of Israel’s critics, they would be rendered nearly speechless.
The history of linkage between the Arab-Israel conflict and the struggle against Apartheid is an excellent illustration of the level of hypocrisy Israel’s friends must tolerate from its foes.
The “apartheid” slur began in the 1970s when the movement against racial discrimination in South Africa began at the same time the oil boom gave Israel’s Arab foes the resources to link their struggle against the Jewish state with battle for human rights in South Africa. Those same resources allowed Israel’s Arab critics to buy themselves a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with regard to any serious scrutiny of their own human rights abuses.
The Zionism = Apartheid mantra fixed on Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority, while avoiding the obvious fact that those who shouted “racism” the loudest were the rulers of some of the most racist states in existence, Middle East regimes whose treatment of minorities (from the expulsion of Jews, to the persecution of religious groups, to the enslavement of Black Africans) made even the crimes of South African apartheid pale in comparison. (Saudi Arabia has the distinction of having only legally banned human slavery in 1962, a practice that still continues today in the Arab League member state of Sudan.)
A second charge had to do with Israel’s trade ties with Apartheid leaders in Pretoria, trade that while real, paled in comparison to South Africa’s senior trading partners in Europe, the US, Japan and the Arab Middle East.
Carefully avoided during the anti-Israel/anti-Apartheid rallies of the 1980s was the never-discussed fact that while South Africa had no oil of its own, it managed to run an industrial, oil-based, first-world economy. Simultaneously, the oil-rich Middle East somehow managed to fill its vaults and shopping malls with ton after ton of South African gold. This particular alchemy points to one and only one conclusion: the Arab oil trade with South Africa, while carried on secretly, helped keep the machinery of Apartheid fueled for decades.
The half-tracks that swept soldiers through the streets of Sharpsville ran on oil, as did the generators that powered Nelson Mandela’s prison. And yet even now that Apartheid has been left in the ash heap of history, even as South Africa itself has undergone the truth and reconciliation process, even as the US and Europe have re-evaluated their historical mistake of “constructive engagement” with the Apartheid regime, the Arab oil-for-gold trade with Apartheid continues to be beyond the bounds of discussion, especially by those most eager to brand Israel an “Apartheid” state.
The language of the world-wide Israel boycott movement, including it’s Somerville branch, is the inheritor of the investments Israel’s Arab foes made over the decades to brand Israel a racist society, while ignoring both the rampant bigotry within their own borders, and the robust, hidden and hypocritical oil-for-gold trade with Apartheid. One would hope that this history would cause the Zionism = Apartheid crowd a small bit of reflection before continuing a tradition started by those who provided Apartheid the fuel it needed to continue year after year after year.
Sadly, reflection is not the strong suit of Israel’s critics whose self-righteous fury allows anything to be justified, no matter how unfair, hypocritical or false, in their single-minded quest that Israel must go.