Israel and Apartheid in the Middle East Part 2

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The Denazification of Apartheid

Hardcore supporters of apartheid, vehemently opposed to Botha’s reforms, became the reservoir of Nazi inspired ideology. On 20 March 1987 the Christian Science Monitor reported that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies expressed concern over the Herstigte Nasionale Party questioning the loyalty of South Africa’s Jews to Pretoria and “denies the truth of the Holocaust ….” and more disturbingly that of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) attacking parliamentary democracy as a “British-Jewish system designed to weaken the Afrikaner people by dividing them against one another.” HNP leader Jaap Marais was regarded both as an anti-Semite and an anti-Zionist.

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The Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging (BBB) was founded in 1987 and advocated an extreme version of fascist apartheid based on ‘refined Nazism’. Its aim was to ‘repatriate’ all blacks, Jews and Indians and nationalise the assets of ‘nonwhites’. The BBB had links with the British National Front (BNF) and similar groups in Australia, New Zealand and America. It is also believed to have had links with the Ku Klux Klan. The BBB was banned under the state of emergency in 1988 and unbanned with other political organisations on 2 February 1990.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour of CNN, dated 10 May 2012, former South African president FW De Klerk said:

There is this picture that apartheid was…used to be compared to Nazism….It’s wrong, and on that, I don’t apologize for saying that what drove me as a young man, before I decided we need to embrace a new vision, was a quest to bring justice for black South Africans in a way which would not – that’s what I believed then – destroyed the justice to which my people were entitled.

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The Helen Suzman Foundation was founded in 1993 to promote the work of the MP who for thirteen years was the sole voice opposing apartheid in South Africa’s parliament. As a result Mrs Suzman was subject to taunts and jibes, often anti-Semitic, from the ranks of the National Party and Afrikaner nationalists who had been in sympathy with Hitler. On 1 October 2009 the foundation published Playing the Nazi Card on its website:


Perhaps the most important and sustained expression of the thesis equating the NP (which governed South Africa from 1948 to 1994) with the Nazi Party of the Third Reich and apartheid with Nazism is contained in Brian Bunting’s book, The Rise of the South African Reich. Now retired, Bunting, a dedicated communist and major theoretician, is a former MP. He was elected as a special representative of blacks in 1952 and then, after a long period of exile, in 1994 as member of the ANC.

First published in 1964 and revised and republished at least twice, his book documented the anti-Semitism of the NP in the 1930s and 1940s and the influence on its thinking of Nazism in a chapter entitled “Followers of Hitler”. It noted that in 1940 the NP in the Transvaal “actually incorporated in its constitution a provision debarring Jews from membership”. Another chapter entitled “South Africa’s Nuremberg Laws” drew parallels between the Third Reich’s racist laws and those of South Africa under National Party rule. As Bunting noted, apartheid-inspired legislation sanctioned racial discrimination, enforced segregation from cradle to grave except when blacks were needed as farm labourers and factory workers and as cooks and nannies, proscribed interracial sex and marriage, and – it should be added – sought to deprive blacks of South African nationality by imposing the nationality of ersatz tribal states on them.

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The foundation wrote the article in response to an attack on the Democratic Alliance leaders Tony Leone and Helen Zille in an ANC pamphlet as being racist, Nazis and anti-black. The pamphlet was issued by the ANC in the Western Cape during the run-up to the 5 December 2009 local government elections and were “just the most recent example of the ANC’s inclination to damn liberals as neo-Nazis.” Leon actually came from a Jewish family and married Michal Even-Zahav from Israel. From age 18 Leon, son of anti-apartheid activists in the Progressive Party, himself became an organiser for that organisation. Zille is the daughter of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and succeeded Leon as leader of the DA. She is also a former journalist and anti-apartheid activist and was one of the journalists who exposed the truth behind the death of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko while working for the Rand Daily Mail in the late 1970s. She also worked with the Black Sash and other pro-democracy groups during the 1980s. Yet in 1999 ANC MP Bukelwa Mbulawa claimed that Leon was reviving neo-Nazism and fascism. About a month later ANC national executive member Dumisani Makhaye took up Mbulawa’s theme in an article published in The Mercury. But it was consistent with Thabo Mbeki minimising the contribution of white liberals such as Suzman and Harry Schwarz in helping to end apartheid. ANC frontbencher Pallo Jordan, reinforced that view when he scathingly compared the “collective amnesia” of whites about apartheid with the holocaust denial of many Germans who lived through Nazissm, although he later clarified that he was only comparing the phenomenon of mass denial in the two countries, not equating apartheid policies with the actual Holocaust:

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Jordan was right to make his disclaimer, for the missing element in the equation of apartheid with Nazism has always been the absence in South Africa of evidence of a deliberate plan to exterminate blacks comparable to the Nazis’ final solution of the “Jewish problem”. ANC minister Kader Asmal attempted to grapple with that problem in the 1996 book that he co-authored with his wife Louise and Trinidad-born Ronald Suresh Roberts, Reconciliation Through Truth: a Reckoning of Apartheid’s Criminal Governance. They wrote of “striking similarities” and “substantial overlap” between the two policies. They conceded, however, that “the systematic process of hi-tech Nazi exterminations had no equivalent in South Africa” and that apartheid was not “a duplication of Nazi policies”. But they reasoned: “apartheid nonetheless amounted, under international law, to a form of genocide . . . There were no gas chambers, but there can be genocide without gas chambers, which is what many apartheid dumping grounds achieved.”

But comparing the National Party to Nazis plays too well on the international stage to let such historical niceties get in the way. In June 1992, after the massacre of more than 40 Boipatong residents, an event which led the ANC to break contact with the De Klerk government, Nelson Mandela said: “Just as the Nazis in Germany killed people simply because they were Jews, the National Party regime is killing our people simply because they are black.” (It later transpired that invaders from the nearby KwaMadala Hostel were responsible for the massacre without the alleged police involvement.) Less than a year later, in an address to the British Parliament, Mandela likened the “pernicious system of racism in South Africa” to the “similar system in Nazi Germany”. In his evidence to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Aboobaker Ismail, former head of Umkhonto special operations, justified the ANC bombings in which civilians died by comparing them with Allied bombing of German cities during the Second World War. These were considered legitimate targets, he said, because the Allies were seen as “liberators from the Nazi beast”.

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The ANC’s inclination to smear its white opponents as overt or covert neo-fascists might be an effective propaganda stratagem. But it is based on an inaccurate interpretation and application of history. The National Party certainly had a period of flirtation with Nazism. But in the end its leader during the war years (1939-45), D.F. Malan, fought and won a political battle for the soul of Afrikaners against the overtly fascist movements seeking their allegiance. By the 1948 election the NP had established itself as the premier political voice of Afrikaner nationalism. The fascist movements – Ossewabrandwag, the Grey Shirts and the New Order – were withering on the sidelines. The NP rejected the Führer principle, the idea of an infallible leader. Instead it practised democracy within its own ranks and advocated a restricted form of parliamentary democracy.

The rejection of Führerism, a fundamental tenet of Nazism, had an important consequence: NP leaders who had served their purpose or who had overrun their time were prevailed upon to give way to new men (Malan in 1954, B. J. Vorster in 1978 and P.W. Botha in 1989 come to mind). The advent of the three men who led the NP between 1966 and 1944, Vorster, Botha and F.W. De Klerk, was marked in each case by a new surge of reformism, taking the NP further away from the original apartheid doctrines. While powerful or kragdadige Afrikaners led the NP, none attained the status of Führer and none was able to lead the Afrikaner people to a Götterdämmerung. Instead there was a gradual process of reform and renewal, leading – in response to demographic, economic and political pressures – to abandonment of fundamental apartheid doctrines and eventually to De Klerk’s momentous decision to negotiate a peaceful settlement.


Attacks by the SADF on neighbouring states was not for lebensraum but to create a cordon sanitaire against ANC guerrillas. Apartheid itself was seen as a prelude to territorial division that would give justice to blacks as well as whites. Part of this was forced removal. However brutal it was not an active policy of genocide against blacks:

If the apostles of apartheid were as ruthless and efficient as the Nazis – which is what the equation of the NP with the Nazi Party implies – it would be logical to anticipate a reduction in black numbers. That is not the case, however. Giliomee, quoting the demographer Jan Sadie, notes that the black population grew twice as fast in the last decade of white government as in the decade before the advent to power of the NP in 1948. Black life expectancy rose from 38 to 64 and infant mortality declined from 175 to 55 per 1000 births, he adds in an article published in Beeld. In retrospect it is clear that the faster than anticipated growth in the black population was a major factor in gradual loss of control over black people, particularly in the townships, by the white minority government.

The increase in coloured life expectancy and the decrease in coloured infant mortality is even more spectacular. According to figures quoted by Giliomee in his 1996 presidential address to the Institute of Race Relations, between 1950 and 1980 the life expectancy of coloured men rose by ten years and that of coloured women by 15, while coloured infant mortality fell by two-thirds between 1970 and 1985.

Racial policies of apartheid had much more commonality with classic European colonialism, or even the segregation of America’s Deep South, rather than Nazism. In his autobiographical The Last Trek, FW De Klerk explains that apartheid was seen as a viable solution to also protect African cultures from being destroyed by the materialist values of the West.

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Hence why PW Botha eventually stated that apartheid must “adapt or die”. He removed the more noxious elements of petty apartheid, as well as legalising black trades unions, abolished laws forbidding mixed marriages and mixed-race political parties, and created a tricameral parliament which included Indians and mixed race Coloureds, much to the chagrin of more hardcore racist opponents in the CP and HNP. But basic demographics meant that this was not possible if white minority rule was to be maintained. Verwoerd had predicted that by 1978 blacks would be living in their respective homelands. However these were largely impoverished areas making up just thirteen percent of land for seventy-five per cent of South Africa’s people. But by 1978 it was clear to the leadership of the ruling NP that the status quo had become economically, politically and socially untenable. In the late 1970s leasehold rights were extended to urban Africans and by 1986 they were given full freehold rights. From 1977 there was greater expenditure on black housing. Petty apartheid signs were gradually dismantled and hotels were allowed to serve and accommodate overseas black guests. Many measures taken were aimed at reducing the hardships and humiliations experienced by Blacks generally. Expenditure on Black education was greatly increased, but the government was still spending R7 for whites for every R1 spent on Blacks in the mid-1980s. In 1979 Botha even visited Soweto township to win the confidence of blacks. The following year he doubted the viability of black homelands and instead proposed regional development through a scheme of “co-prosperity development zones”. In 1982 the government stopped the routine eviction of Blacks from inner city suburbs and these became racially mixed, while applications by Black business people to live in wealthy White suburbs were granted. The ban on inter-racial sex and marriage was repealed in 1984 and the government began to issue permits for Blacks to engage in business in the central business districts of major cities and to permit municipalities to open public amenities to all. Hotels and restaurants were permitted to desegregate their facilities in 1986. It was hoped that the creation of a black middle-class would stem militancy and calls for revolution because by being given access to better jobs and amenities, they would have a greater stake in the country. In January 1986, President Botha shocked conservatives in the all-white House of Assembly with the statement that South Africa had “outgrown the outdated concept of apartheid.” But in fact it had outgrown it much earlier, and during the premiership of that icon of segregation himself, Dr Verwoerd.

In 1961, he returned to Johannesburg after South Africa was thrown out of the Commonwealth for its racial policies. The architect of Grand Apartheid turned this into a triumph:

We have freed ourselves from the Afro-Asian states.

In fact Verwoerd was about to make a jaw-dropping compromise in his racial utopia. It was relations with Japan that exposed the absurdity of apartheid. In 1962 the Japanese company “Yawata Iron & Steel Co. offered to purchase 5,000,000 tons of South African pig iron over a ten-year period.” To encourage continued Japanese investment, they carved out the “honorary white” rule. Japanese were to be treated, for all purposes and intents, as white. When South Korea and Taiwan began investing in South Africa, this rule was extended to Koreans and Taiwanese. The result was a legal farce. Korean South Africans were white; Chinese South Africans were Coloured. If you were Taiwanese, you could presumably marry a white person – but marrying a Chinese person was against the law, which forbid interracial marriage. A Japanese individual could swim in the white-only swimming pools; a Chinese individual could not. When asked how this regulation would be enforced, one official admitted, “It would be extremely difficult for our gatekeepers to distinguish between Chinese and Japanese.” Economics overrode racial obsession when Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd determined that it would be tactless and disadvantageous to their trade arrangements to subject the Japanese people to the same restrictions as other ethnicities, since trade delegations from Japan would now regularly visit South Africa for business. Thenceforth, Pretoria’s Group Areas Board publicly announced that all Japanese people would be considered white, at least for purposes of residence. Johannesburg’s city officials even decided that “in view of the trade agreements” the municipal swimming pools would be open to all Japanese guests. The designation gave Japanese almost all of the same rights and privileges as whites, except for the right to vote, and being exempt from conscription.


Due to close relations between the two states, Chinese settlers from Taiwan were treated as honourary whites, whereas Chinese South Africans from the mainland continued to be classified as Coloureds or Asians under apartheid legislation. In 1984, South African Chinese, now increased to about 10,000, finally obtained the same official rights as the Japanese in South Africa, that is, to be treated as whites in terms of the Group Areas Act.

By the 1970s a largely rural inward looking embittered Afrikaner community had benefited from rising affluence. A more urbane and cosmopolitan mindset among South Africa’s whites meant that the intrusive racism of petty apartheid was looking outdated and embarrassing. They were more confident, relaxed and so became more critical of apartheid itself.

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Israel and Africa

Before the state of Israel was even established, the father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, had recognised parallels between the black and Jewish experiences. In his book Altneuland, published in 1902, just five years after the Zionist conference in Basel formally initiated the drive for a Jewish state, Herzl acknowledged:


…once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.

In her 1975 autobiography My Life, former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir felt that the Jewish state could become a model for the newly free African nations. One of Israel’s main contributions to Africa was military aid, which was provided in the form of conventional and paramilitary training and, to a lesser extent, by the sale of arms. By 1966, 10 African states had received some direct military assistance from Israel and, in each case, the aid was provided to individuals who were either influential or potentially influential. For example, Israel trained Mobutu Sese Seko, head of the Congolese army who later became president of the country he renamed Zaire. In his 1962 visit to Israel, President Decko of the Central African Republic remarked:

You have not tried to create us in your image. Instead, Israel has contented itself with showing the new African nations its achievements, in helping them overcome their weaknesses, in assisting them in learning. In so doing you have conquered Black Africa.

In 1956, diplomatic relations were established with Ghana, followed by most other sub-Saharan countries. By the early 1970s, Israel maintained full diplomatic relations with thirty-three countries in the region. These ties were an expression of African affinity with Israel, itself a young state that had achieved independence in 1948 and was eager to share its experience and expertise with the newly independent African states. In 1958, then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir sent Jewish technocrats to help newly independent African countries get on their feet. Israel helped establish agricultural cooperatives, youth training programs, medical infrastructure and joint industrial enterprises in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and other sub-Saharan countries. In 1962, Newsweek called the Israeli program “one of the strangest unofficial alliances in the world.”

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Even before Kenya attained independence, Israeli experts from various fields were engaged with the rising Kenyan leadership and assisting with the difficult task that lay ahead to create and strengthen bodies that would later lead in the creation of the fledgling state.  The seeds for the creation of organizations like the National Youth Service were planted, based on the Israeli “Gadna” experience of enlisting the countries youth for national service in many fields and most specifically in agriculture. Following an official visit to Kenya by Golda Meir, Israel’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was decided in a meeting between Meir and Kenya’s Prime Minister at the time, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, to put more emphasis on the Kenya’s training needs in the fields of agriculture and medicine among others.  The result was an extended effort to train Kenyans and bring Israeli know-how to Kenya by MASHAV, the Center for International Cooperation, created just five years earlier under the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Under MASHAV, trainees from Kenya were flown to Israel for study, an effort that continues even as diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed following the 1973 “Yom Kippur” War.

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It was in Ethiopia, facing threats from Egypt and Somalia, that Israeli overtures were most successful. Israel helped Emperor Haile Selassie put down an attempted coup in December 1960. Full diplomatic recognition to Israel was accorded two years later. The two countries also helped southern Sudanese rebels called Anya-Aya resist the Islamisation and Arabisation policies of Khartoum. But in May 1973, following the latest war between Israel and its Arab neighbours, Libya used the OAU meeting in Addis Ababa to press Ethiopia to sever its relations with Israel. In the following months, Saudi Arabia also increased the anti-Israel pressure. Similar pressures applied to the no of black Africa finally resulted in all of Israel’s friends on the continent severing their ties with the Jewish state. The Arab members of the OAU achieved their goal by threatening to move the organization’s headquarters from Addis to another capital such as Cairo. Ethiopia caved in to this threat, and formally severed relations with Israel on 23 October 23 1973.

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In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, followed by the global oil crisis, most of the Sub-Saharan countries severed diplomatic ties with Israel, due to two prime factors: promises of cheap oil and financial aid, and compliance with the OAU (Organization of African Unity) resolution, sponsored by Egypt, calling for the severing of relations with Israel. Only Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel, while a few other countries sustained contact through interest offices in foreign embassies.


In May 1982, Mobutu, anxious to capitalize on Israel’s relations with Washington, became the first African head of state to announce the restoration of relations with Israel. He was followed in August of that year by Samuel Doe of Liberia, also interested in breaking the diplomatic isolation imposed on his objectionable regime bythe United States. Later that decade Ivory Coast and Cameroon renewed ties. By the early 1990s, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Ethiopia, and Kenya had resumed relations.

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However in the next decade diplomatic ties were reestablished. MASHAV diversified its efforts regarding Kenya and over the years, with the resumption of diplomatic ties in 1988, in addition to the many Kenyans traveling to Israel for training, Israeli experts arrived in Kenya to hold “on the spot” courses in various fields for large groups of trainees at a time.  This cooperation diversified into large-scale projects, which were a welcome addition to the efforts being made by private Israeli companies to advance Kenya’s infrastructure.  The pinnacle and more well known of these projects was the “Kibwezi Irrigation Project”.  A large scale “school of irrigation”, created in the Kibwezi district, aimed, in collaboration with USAID, to bring the successes made in Israel in the field of irrigation to Kenya. But even as relations were officially severed, Kenya allowed Israeli commandos to use its territory in order to free Air France hostages at Entebbe, who had been taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists hosted by Idi Amin of Uganda. More recently Kenya has seen Israel as a key ally in the battle against Islamic militants of al-Shabbaab. Israeli agencies helped Kenya investigate the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Kenya has also benefited from NGOs such as IsraAid and Brit Olam who have brought expertise on irrigation in arid areas to boost crop production. A similar scheme has been introduced to Malawi. As for Africa’s youngest nation, IsraAid helped South Sudan set up its Ministry of Social Development. Israel and South Sudan engaged in their first official agreement in July 2012, when Israel Military Industries signed a pact to cooperate on water infrastructure and technology development. The agreement outlined plans for cooperation between Israel and South Sudan on desalination, irrigation, water transport, and purification. Israel’s Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau his South Sudanese counterpart Water and Irrigation Ministe Akec Paul Mayom: “We see this as a privilege to be the first [sector in Israel] to sign an agreement with the new state.” But relations actually dated back almost 50 years earlier when south Sudanese were impressed by Israel’s military victories over its hostile Arab neighbours in the Six Day War of 1967. Leaders of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army reached out to the Jewish state.

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There was heavy Israeli involvement in the Bantustans, especially in bilateral trade and military training. Homeland despots Mangope, Matanzima, Sebe and Venda’s Patrick Mphephu visited Israel in the 1980s, but failed to elicit full diplomatic recognition. Less well known is how Israel helped African nationalists fight colonial oppression by the Portuguese. The Israeli government aided the National Front for the Liberation of Angola in 1963 and 1969 in the war of independence. In the 1960s, Holden Roberto, head of the NFLA, visited Israel and FNLA members were sent to Israel for training. In the 1970s, Israel shipped arms to the FNLA through Zaire.


According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article 20 December 2013, Mandela actually received military training from Mossad. In 1962 he met with the Israelis in Ethiopia, where he arrived under the alias David Mobsari.a letter sent from the Mossad to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, said Mossad operatives also attempted to encourage Zionist sympathies in Mandela. The letter noted that Mandela “showed an interest in the methods of the Haganah and other Israeli underground movements”

This was echoed by Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian.

Haaretz newspaper had the original:


A letter sent from the Mossad to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem reveals that Mandela underwent military training by Mossad operatives in Ethiopia during this period. These operatives were unaware of Mandela’s true identity. The letter, classified top secret, was dated October 11, 1962 – about two months after Mandela was arrested in South Africa, shortly after his return to the country.

But this has been denied by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Jake Wallis Simon wrote this extraordinary piece in the Jewish Chronicle on 12 December 2013:

In his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, he affectionately recounted the way he learned the fundamentals of combat from Arthur Goldreich, a South African Jew who cut his teeth during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. He recalled Menachem Begin with respect, and showed gratitude to the Israeli airline, El Al, for flying Walter Sisulu, the prominent ANC activist, to Europe even though he did not have a passport.

Of course, it was not all rosy. Mandela was close to the PLO and, in the first decades of its existence, Israel did have an alliance with apartheid-era South Africa, acting as its most important arms supplier.

At the same time, however, Israel was often publicly critical of apartheid. In the late 1980s it sharply curtailed its support for the South African regime, cutting many military, economic and cultural ties. It also ruled that only non-white South Africans would be allowed to study on certain courses in Israel, voted to condemn apartheid at the UN and took part in sanctions.

In the final analysis, Mr Mandela’s position on Israel was clear. He was a firm believer in the two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders; but he never questioned Israel’s right to exist. And he certainly never drew any comparison between Israeli society and apartheid.

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On 26 October 2011, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP and President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, gave this speech to the Jewish Club in Durban:


As the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, I was honoured to visit Israel at the invitation of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in August of 1985. The Israeli media were enthusiastic about my visit. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post credited me with preventing a revolutionary explosion in South Africa. I met with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Minister Abba Eban and Director-General David Kimche. I have participated in a seminar in the United States with Premier Netanyahu. When he became Prime Minister I sent him a message of congratulations.

The Israeli Government provided agricultural aid, leadership training and assistance to women-led cooperatives in KwaZulu. We were deeply appreciative of the partnership that developed between the KwaZulu Government and the Government of Israel. I also appreciated the friendship that grew between myself and Prime Minister Peres. Our friendship endured through many years, and I was privileged to attend his 80th birthday celebration in 2003.


South African Jews and Apartheid

Much of the Israeli interest in South Africa sprang in part from the presence of about 110,000 Jews in South Africa, a figure which included more than 15,000 Israeli citizens. There were always fears that Afrikaner nationalism cold unleash a wave of anti-Semitism, especially considering the pro-Nazi past of Verwoerd and Vorster. This caught South African Jews in a dilemma. In 1963, Mandela and other ANC activists were arrested in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. This group included six Jews. In response the Board of Deputies that South Africa’s Jews were loyal and patriotic: “No part of the community can or should be asked to accept responsibility”. Nevertheless, while most South Africa Jews took the silent, implicitly conservative position of the Board of Deputies, the great majority of white South Africans involved in “the struggle” were Jewish. Journalist, academic and political activist, Ruth Heloise First was born on 4 May 1925, the daughter of Jewish immigrants Julius and Matilda (neé Levetan) First. Julius, a furniture manufacturer, was born in Latvia and came to South Africa in 1906 at the age of 10. Matilda came to South Africa from Lithuania when she was four years old. They were founder members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA, later South African Communist Party (SACP]) in 1921. Ruth and her brother Ronald grew up in a household, in which intense political debate between people of all races and classes often took place. First did support work for the 1946 mineworkers’ strike, the Indian Passive Resistance campaign and protests surrounding the outlawing of communism in 1950. In 1949 she married Joe Slovo, who also came from a Jewish family. After the Sharpeville massacre she helped to organise the first broadcasts of Radio Freedom from a mobile transmitter in Johannesburg. Both First and Slovo eventually went into exile to Britain, joining the Anti-Apartheid Movement, holding talks, seminars and public discussions in support of the ANC and SACP. Her book 117 Days, an account of her arrest and interrogation in 1963, which was published in 1965, was also made into a film with First playing herself. Following a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) conference at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, on 17 August 1982, First was killed by a letter bomb, widely believed to have been the work of security agencies within South Africa. Lazar Sidelsky, the South African-born son of refugees from Lithuania, was by the early 1940s, partner in one of Johannesburg’s biggest law firms, where he ran a program helping black South Africans get mortgages they were otherwise denied. It was he who hired Mandela and trained him to qualify as a lawyer. Mandela never forgot this. In his Long Walk to Freedom:

It was a Jewish firm…and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.

Yossel Mashel Slovo, known as Joe, joined the Communist Party in 1942. After service with the South African army in the war. Slovo became active in the radical Springbok Legion veterans’ association and studied law at Wits, where he met Mandela. Just before graduating, he married Ruth First. Slovo was the primary link between the Communist Party and ANC in the late 1950s and was Mandela’s partner in organizing the Umkhonto we Sizwe militia. Returning to the country in 1990 after Mandela was released and the prohibition on the Communist Party was lifted, Slovo crafted the power-sharing agreement credited with making the transition to majority rule after the end of apartheid in 1994 relatively smooth.

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In 1952, Sidelsky loaned Mandela seed money to start South Africa’s first black law practice. At a kosher lunch in Mandela’s home a few years before Sidelsky’s death in 2002, at 90, the first black president of South Africa still referred to his former mentor as “Boss.” Sidelsky’s cousin Nat Bregman also worked at the firm and always travelled in the same lift as Mandela – elevators were segregated by race.

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Arthur Goldreich was born in 1929 to a family proud to belong to the Anglo-Jewish elite. At the school he attended in the northern Transvaal province, a German-language instructor once passed out Hitler Youth magazines. In May 1948 he sailed to Israel on a small boat, packed with Holocaust survivors, to join the Palmach. 1954, he returned to South Africa and joined the underground Communist Party, and travelled the world raising money for the ANC. Goldreich purchasing a farm outside Johannesburg from which the ANC’s militia wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe could train. Mandela himself moved to the farm, called Liliesleaf, in 1961, disguising himself as a gardener. It was Goldreich was caught with Mandela at Rivonia, but escaped trial by bribing a guard with 4,000 rand and fleeing to Tanzania. He e ventually settled in Herzliya, Israel, and he founded the architecture department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.


Harold Wolpe became politicized after participating in a Socialist-Zionist youth project of teaching at a local night school for blacks, where he witnessed the dehumanizing effects of apartheid. He befriended Mandela and other activists while studying law at Wits and became one of Mandela’s primary lawyers beginning with the seminal 1955 political summit, the Congress of the People—filing a lawsuit to bar the police from the premises—to Mandela’s final arrest about a year before the raid on the Liliesleaf farm, when Wolpe himself was detained before escaping with Goldreich. Wolpe settled in England and became a sociologist, writing a highly influential 1972 paper, “Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa”. Wolpe moved back to South Africa in 1991 and directed education policy at the University of the Western Cape until he died at the age of 70 in 1996.


After the Rivonia raid, with Wolpe in jail, Johannesburg lawyer James Kantor served as Mandela’s lawyer until he, too, was arrested—just after Goldreich and Wolpe’s escape. n jail, he shared a cell with Mandela, who agreed to be godfather to Kantor’s child.

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Shouts of “Go back to Moscow!” greeted Helen Suzman when she rose in Parliament, and, on at least one occasion, “Go back to Israel!” — a reference to her antecedents as the daughter of early 20th-century Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. For decades Suzman was among the most venerated of white campaigners urging an end to racial rule. In 1959, impatient with the United Party’s tolerance of racial segregation, she became a founder of the liberal Progressive Party, later known as the Progressive Federal Party, which favored a more inclusive, nonracial franchise that would lead to black majority rule. As the liberal Progressive Party’s lone representative in the all-white Parliament for 13 years until the mid-1970s, a period when many of apartheid’s most repressive features were being devised, she used her parliamentary immunity to speak out when other avenues of protest were harshly suppressed. “I am not frightened of you — I never have been, and I never will be,” she told Prime Minister Botha in a parliamentary exchange in the late 1970s. “I think nothing of you.” When a government minister once accused her of embarrassing South Africa with her parliamentary questions, she replied:

It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.

Suzman used her parliamentary privilege to visit Robben Island from 1967 to see political detainees, including Mandela. He himself lauded her in 1990:

It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard…She was thefirst and only woman ever to grace our cells.

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There was widespread affection for Mrs. Suzman in black townships like Soweto. Universities around the world awarded Mrs. Suzman 27 honorary doctorates, and she received numerous other honours from the United Nations and an array of religious and human rights groups around the world. Queen Elizabeth II made her an honorary dame, customary for citizens of countries other than Britain. Suzman was distant from the Jewish establishment and critical of its silence on apartheid, according to the historian Gideon Shimoni, and when the Board of Deputies presented Suzman with its annual humanitarian award in 2007, she said flatly, “It’s about time.” Suzman told one interviewer:


I thought that the Jewish Board of Deputies should have spoken up more against apartheid.


The SAJBD denied that Jews had the right as Jews to be politically involved; Jews who opposed apartheid, it said, did so as individuals, not as members of the Jewish community. While being pro-Israel and having knowledge of Yiddish, Suzman never saw herself as being part of a Jewish religious community. Nevertheless in 1984 she received the American Jewish Committee’s American Liberties Medallion.

Though twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she was heavily criticized for her opposition to sanctions and divestment:


I don’t see how wrecking the economy of the country will insure a more stable and just society.


Suzman died on New Year’s Day 2009. Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein at Suzman’s funeral in Johannesburg’s Jewish cemetery West Park:


People phoned her house at all times of the day and night, looking for help. She made herself accessible. It was part of her personal mission to help people in the most practical way.

While not presenting herself as a representative of the Jews, Suzman self-consciously associated her opposition to apartheid and pursuit of justice with her Jewishness.


For me, for Jews to support the people who were in favour of race discrimination was the ultimate in treachery [of] the values that Jews should hold.

I sometimes had occasion socially when people used to say proudly, ‘I support the National Party,’ to say: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself! How can you? You’re a Jew, and you know what Jews went through with persecution in Russia, with pogroms, unable to move freely, no mobility! How can you support a government which is doing exactly the same thing to the black people?’ This was not a comparison with the Holocaust — I was comparing apartheid to the treatment of Jews in Russia.


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Although the regime remained unblinkingly defiant in the eyes of the world, the apartheid system slowly started to founder because whites and blacks remained economically interdependent, just as Helen Suzman had always predicted.

Although Suzman had a total lack of interest in religion, this did not inhibit Goldstein from interpreting her life according to Talmudic and biblical precepts.


She concerned herself with the plight of people following Talmudic teaching that to save one life is to save the world. She was the living embodiment of the injunction in Deuteronomy, ‘Justice, justice you shalt pursue’.

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Stanley Bergman, chair of the AJCommittee’s Africa Institute, said after Suzman’s death:


Through decades of relentless struggle for civil rights in South Africa, Helen Suzman’s moral code, rooted in such large measure in her Jewish values, summoned her countrymen to throw off the yoke of oppression of the country’s black majority and establish democracy in that land


While not a state funeral, Suzman’s was a significant public event attended by an array of prominent figures, including former president F.W. de Klerk; Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille; Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ruling African National Congress; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela, and former first lady Zanele Mbeki. Jacob Zuma, president of the African National Congress, was not present.




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