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Red Rag weekly column: In memory of Mandela
By: Gideon Spiro
15 December 2013 (English translation 29 December 2013)

In memory of Mandela

While the whole world was making the pilgrimage to the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela, Israel officially cancelled the participation of its leaders, President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu. It did well to do so. Israel is the last remaining state that maintains a regime of apartheid at home, and it had warm relations with Apartheid South Africa. The singer Peter Gabriel said in a concert in 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London in honour of the prisoner Mandela that South Africa was the only state where racial discrimination is anchored in legislation. He was mistaken. Evidently he did not know what was going on in Israel. He subsequently corrected that mistake and today he is a supporter of boycott of Israel.

During the years when Mandela was sitting in prison, Israel maintained close cooperation in the industry of death that helped to oppress the Blacks. And worst of all, Israel collaborated with South Africa in developing South Africa`s nuclear bomb and provided it with expertise and equipment. This is the greatest absurdity: the government of Israel, which is raising the alarm globally about the danger of Iranian nuclear weapons, was for all practical purposes the godfather of the nuclear bomb of South Africa – a state that applied Nuremberg race-laws, the political and intellectual leaders of which were soaked in racist Christian fundamentalism and thought in terms of Armageddon, a regime that was inestimably more dangerous than Iran. In other words, successive governments of Israel were willing to endanger the peace of the world by providing nuclear weapons to a criminal government, just to keep selling equipment from the Israeli war industry. Fortunately the last leader of White South Africa, Frederik de Klerk, was more responsible than governments of Israel, and he and Nelson Mandela decided to give up the nuclear arsenal and join the international Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The sin of relations with Apartheid South Africa was shared by the Likud and the Labour Party.

Each party when it was in power continued the policies of its predecessor in consolidating relations with South Africa. Prime Minister Rabin hosted South Africa`s prime minister in Israel, Israeli ministers, military commanders and intelligence chiefs went to South Africa and their South African counterparts often visited Israel. Future generations will find it hard to believe that a country of refugees from the Holocaust effectively forged a blood-covenant with a state the leaders of which had supported the Nazis and the anti-Black laws of which were a copy of Nazi legislation against Jews. And it will be even harder to believe that the management of Yad Vashem did not speak out against that desecration of the Holocaust. The racist rot that spread in Israel after the establishment of the apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories, plus swinish capitalism, was the fertilizer from which the friendship with racist South Africa grew. While the world was strengthening the boycott of South Africa, Israel was continuing to sail in the stinking swamp of friendship with the Apartheid regime. You could put it this way: the regime of Judea, Samaria and Gaza [Heb. Yesha’] was joined to the regime of evil [Heb. resha’] until close to its collapse.

The Israeli Right was in distress. On the one hand, Mandela was loved and admired in his country and worldwide, politicians and artists from north, south, east and west, secular and religious, Right and Left, all paid homage to him. On the other hand, he also supported the Palestinian struggle for liberation from the Occupation. So what do they do? They re-write the man’s history. Netanyahu issued a statement declaring that Mandela was a moral man (would that the same could be said of Netanyahu) who opposed violence, hoping thereby to distance him from the Palestinian struggle. That is inaccurate, to put it mildly. Mandela believed that against the terror of the Apartheid regime it was necessary to combine military and political struggle, so he founded the military arm of the African National Congress, which gave the Apartheid regime no small headache. The combination of military and political struggle and international boycott brought about its collapse in the end. Mandela was accused nearly of every possible crime: treason, terrorism etc. and was sentenced to life in prison. A regime of oppression takes similar measures without distinction by religion, race and gender, so it is but natural that the regime of Israeli apartheid dealt with the Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti in similar ways and with similar accusations to those the South African Apartheid regime levelled against Mandela. Like Mandela, Barghouti combined struggle armed with political struggle. With the help of a cooperative court, the Israeli apartheid regime that declares itself to be `Jewish and democratic` imposed several life sentences on him. Just as Mandela emerged victorious from his struggle against Apartheid South Africa, Barghouti will emerge from prison triumphant over Israeli apartheid.

One of the reasons Mandela was appreciated and admired was his adherence to his vision, which was not eroded even after 27 years in prison. He walked out of prison committed to the same vision that stood at the basis of his struggle before he was arrested and imprisoned: replacing the White dictatorship with a democratic state, a state of all its citizens, Blacks and Whites and all colours in between.

In this regard it is worth mentioning the prisoner of conscience Mordechai Vanunu, who went to prison after he was kidnapped abroad in an Israeli government terrorist operation, was tried in a closed process and sentenced to 18 years in prison by an obedient court. He was convicted of `espionage and treason` for having exposed the lies of the government of Israel and realizing the democratic principle of the public`s right to know. He was a whistle-blower who warned in the press of the nuclear adventurism of the government of Israel and demanded a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. The government of Israel, with all its agencies – the Israel Security Agency, the Mossad, the internal security department of the Defence Ministry, the army and the police were not able to digest the fact that after 18 years, 11 and a half in solitary confinement, Mordechai Vanunu, like Mandela, left prison no less committed to the idea for which he had entered it in the first place. He did not apologize or ask forgiveness and he was at peace with what he had done. So they continue to take revenge on him by means of various and sundry restrictions that have made him a Prisoner of Zion for 28 years now. It is but natural that the leaders of the new government in South Africa, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, are supporters of Vanunu and demand that his civil rights – including freedom of expression and freedom of movement – be restored to him.

After the prime minister and the president of Israel, two of the chief proponents of collaboration with the Apartheid regime, canceled their trip to the memorial ceremony seeing that their place was not among opponents of apartheid, a lower-level delegation set out, composed of five Knesset Members, all Jews, headed by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. A fine example of typical Israeli chutzpah: Israel is represented at memorial ceremony for a symbol of the struggle against Apartheid by settler who embodies Israeli apartheid. I am very disappointed that an MK from Meretz, Nitzan Horowitz, joined the delegation. I expected that a person of the Left would say that he would have no part in a delegation led by a racist settler and would replace it with a delegation composed of activists against the Israeli regime of apartheid and Occupation. In other words, Edelstein’s presence in South Africa as bids farewell to Mandela is like someone urinating from the diving-board and taunting the mourners: don’t worry, apartheid is alive and well in the democratic Jewish state!

Gideon Levy, in his article in Haaretz of 15 December 2013, writes that the government of Israel should request pardon for its close collaboration with the Apartheid government. Indeed those to whom Israel should apologize are many. It needs to ask forgiveness from the Palestinian people for what will soon be 50 years of Occupation, oppression and apartheid; from the Ugandan people for supporting and aiding the mass murderer Idi Amin; from the people of Congo for supporting the murderous and corrupt regime of the tyrant of Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo) Mobutu Sese Seko, a good friend of Minister Sharon, who even trained an elite unit to protect his regime; from the Arabs of Israel and especially the Bedouin for discrimination, marginalization and discriminatory legislation; from Holocaust survivors, many of whom are living in withering poverty even though the State of Israel has received billions of dollars in their names – and that is only a partial list. The problem is not in requesting forgiveness, for after all, the Jews are world champions in asking for forgiveness, pardon and absolution. Every Yom Kippur millions of Jews request forgiveness, and that does not prevent anyone from sinning again the next day. What is required is a change of policy, and then the forgiveness will come naturally and will be believable. Levy writes that senior Israeli journalists visited South Africa as guests of the Apartheid government, were charmed and upon their return rewarded their hosts with articles of praise. Levy does not mention names, so I will fill in the blanks.

In June 1976 the press attaché of the of the embassy of South Africa in Tel Aviv, J. D. Snyman, published a high-quality booklet that contained a digest from the Israeli press featuring well-known mainstream Israeli journalists. Shmuel Shnitzer, editor of Maariv characterized the annual condemnation of Apartheid at the UN as “appeasing the Devil”, and he also said that “there is no chance that South Africa will be subjugated by a blockade, economic sanctions economic or boycott” and “it is unlikely that the White minority will be handed over to the Black majority and be at its mercy”. (Maariv 28 September 1973)

Shnitzer is a dyed-in-the-wool racist. In August 1994 he published article in his newspaper under the headline “Importing death” in which accused immigrants from Ethiopia of spreading diseases. I submitted a complaint to the Press Council for incitement to racism and the high court of the Press Council convicted him of the charge. In 1997 he was chosen to receive the Israel Prize for journalism. I brought to the attention of MK Adisu Massala [1] the Press Council ruling against him and Massala filed an appeal to the High Court of Justice to withdraw Shnitzer’s Israel Prize. Members of the Israel Prize Committee who chose Shnitzer for the prize told the High Court of Justice that they did not know about the Press Council’s ruling. The High Court judges decided to return the subject to the Prize Committee for review in light of the Press Council’s ruling. That review resulted in the Israel Prize being withdrawn from Shnitzer and he was subsequently not counted among its recipients in the traditional ceremony on Independence Day. A straight line connects Shnitzer’s sympathetic article on the South African Apartheid regime to his subsequent inciteful article against Ethiopians in Israel.

Also in the embassy booklet is an article by Daniel Bloch who published an article in Davar under the heading “Full independence for African areas” in which he tells us that the Apartheid regime had begun “first steps” in repealing racial discrimination: “in several places they are gradually repealing discrimination in the use of public spaces, and more and more they are repealing discrimination in sports” and there is a gradual process of giving “full independence to areas where most residents are Africans”. (Davar 28 November 1974) Of course that was all nonsense. There were no concessions at all and I wonder at Daniel Bloch’s adoption of the language of Apartheid regarding the independence of the “areas”. There was no independence and no “areas”, but a plan for Bantustans where the Blacks would be concentrated and whence they would go as a cheap workforce to the factories of the White minority and return there after work. Similar thinking lies at the basis of the Israeli government’s plan to settle the Bedouin in the Negev. Daniel Bloch is an important figure in the history of Israeli journalism. I knew him as a liberal and is a puzzle how he got caught up in the mendacious discourse about Apartheid. The booklet also contains articles by A. Schweitzer, who was one of the guiding lights of the newspaper Haaretz, Shaul Ben-Haim of Maariv and a super-sympathetic article by Y. Amitai from the religious newspaper Shaarim.

After the death of Mandela the television broadcaster David Witzthum was enlisted in the campaign to sanitize Israeli apartheid. Witzthum, the civilized face of Israeli television, scion of a Jewish family from Germany, knows thing or two about racism and so I was dismayed to hear him say that separation is widespread phenomenon, giving the example of the separation between men and women in toilets. That is undoubtedly a tie-breaking rationale to which I have no answer. So let us raise a glass to the made-in-Israel Jewish and democratic apartheid.

In conclusion, a personal story.

On 1 February 1978 I began to work as editor of the business newspaper Yom Yom. The newspaper belonged to United Publishing and Printing, a subsidiary of the Labour Party. The company published a number of newspapers, mainly in foreign languages intended for Jewish immigrants from Romania, Hungary and Poland. It was a time of political uncertainty. A few months previously, in May 1977, the Labour Party, which had been in power since the birth of the State, lost the elections to the Likud. Where would the Likud lead us?

There were concerns about the new Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Israel’s founding father Ben-Gurion had compared Begin and his movement to Mussolini and Nazism and saw him as a danger to democracy, and that message had sunk in. But in May 1977 the barrier of fear was broken. In retrospect we can now say that Likud governments continued many of the policies of the Labour Party, but more so: more settlements, more privatization, more arms industry, more nuclear bombs, more South Africa.

In addition to foreign-language newspapers the company also published two business newspapers in Hebrew. One was called Shaar: a business and market daily and the other, which I had been chosen to edit, was Yom Yom – a business and social newspaper. Until my arrival the two newspapers were twins who served the same public: finance, government, banks, insurance companies and also of course lots of stocks and bonds. In my conversations with the manager of the company, Shabtai Himmelfarb who was of course also the publisher, I proposed that Shaar should continue to be what it was and that Yom Yom under my editorship would be a different voice: more attentive to wage-earners, their problems and their rights, and not hesitate to publish information that the government or the financial sector wanted to keep concealed, would oppose reckless privatization, campaign against growing social inequality in Israel and give a podium to economists who think outside the box of the “Patinkin boys” who ruled the roost (Dan Patinkin was a professor of economics at Hebrew University whose students filled key roles in the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel).

Himmelfarb nodded in agreement, but on condition that I deal only with the economy, not politics. I replied that if he knew of economy without politics I would be happy to learn from him and also nominate him for a Nobel Prize in economics. I chose a deputy editor, Shlomo Frenkel, who had been my deputy editor at the student newspaper. (Frenkel wrote with Dr. Shimshon Bichler the book The Privileged: Israel’s Aristocracy of Finance [In Hebrew. HaMeyuhasim – Atzulat haMamon shel Yisra’el. Cadim 1984] – a book that has lost none of its relevance after 30 years).

Shlomo was of one mind with me and I had no doubt that together we would produce a challenging and interesting product. Our first issue came out on Thursday, 2 February 1978 with an editorial I wrote under headline “Economy and morality” sharply criticizing Simha Ehrlich, the new finance minister in Begin’s government, for his official visit to South Africa that was to begin on Saturday, 4 February 1978 with the objective of forging closer economic ties between the two countries. Among other things I wrote: “It is very hard to raise a hue and cry about a German-French company that is selling missiles to Syria at the same time as one is forging commercial ties to export missiles to South Africa, the only state in the world that declares racism to be an official policy.”

Himmelfarb did not like that article or the ones that followed it, and on 6 February he sent me a letter informing me that the newspaper would henceforth appear without editorials. In the issue that was to appear on 10 February the lead story was to be an unflattering exclusive on Bank Hapoalim. We had asked for a response from a spokesman of the bank, who refused to reply. If he doesn’t want to talk to us, so be it. Later we learned that the spokesman telephoned Himmelfarb and instructed him to remove the story. After we had put that issue of the newspaper to bed, Himmelfarb went to the printer, removed the story on the Bank Hapoalim and the editorial and in their place inserted superficial material from another newspaper. The incident sprouted wings, it was reported in several newspapers and we received dismissal letters nine days after we began to work.

My opposition to Apartheid cost me and my deputy our jobs.

Translator’s notes

1. An Ethiopian-born Israeli Jewish Member of the Knesset from 1996-1999.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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