Gideon Levy and the dangers of the apartheid canard

As a young child growing up in Apartheid South Africa I witnessed the daily humiliation and persecution of my fellow citizens who were denied their basic human rights. I cannot forget the ominous visuals of armoured vehicles or “Caspirs” as they patrolled through the city streets enforcing “law and order” during the state of emergency years. Neither can I forget asking my mother why “nannies” (as we called our domestic workers) liked to sit on the grass, never park benches. I often wondered if they just didn’t like benches. My mother’s uncomfortable response was that they were not allowed by law to sit on park benches. My child-like brain just couldn’t comprehend this.

I grew up in blissful ignorance of the reality that surrounded me. Black children were a fascination as they never attended my school or ballet classes or played in the park with me. Yes, childhood in South Africa was seemingly idyllic until I grew into a curious teenager and my Zionist youth movement, along with many other organisations both Jewish and non-Jewish started to question and rebel against the system of law in our country. Many of South Africa’s Jews left the country in protest.

I also remember what it felt like to vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections, standing in long lines as citizens of all colours exercised their right to vote for the first time. Next year, I will exercise my right to vote as an Israeli citizen. I will stand in line with my fellow citizens, including Arabs as we cast our votes. And it won’t be a unique experience. There are no laws in Israel that prohibit Arab citizens from voting. Or running for office. Or travelling around the country. Arab citizens do not have curfews, or “pass” books or have to sit in the back seat of cars when travelling with Jewish citizens. There are three Arab parties in the Knesset with openly critical members. I can watch TV in Arabic, study at the same university and travel and eat in the same places.

Reading Gideon Levy’s article referencing a recent poll that stated that most Israelis would support an Apartheid system in the country just astounded me.

Levy has never been one to shy away from controversy, however after reading his latest I cannot but respond, and forcefully.

This survey was sponsored by the “Israela Goldblum Fund” which is connected to the “New Israel Fund”. The questions for this poll were prepared by a group of academics and activists affiliated with the fund.

Many would say that the findings were decidedly skewed long before they were released and having a journalist like Gideon Levy, whose views about the country are well known only added to the distortion of the true facts..

Such articles only serve to cheapen and mock the suffering of the millions of South Africans who suffered under the heinous Apartheid regime. Many still live under excruciating conditions in the aftermath and it will take generations to right the wrongs of South Africa’s tainted past. Sadly today, the word Apartheid has become a sexy tagline used to demonise Israel and draw comparisons to the once-pariah state, South Africa. It has been forgotten that Apartheid means the legislated laws that discriminated against the non-white population of South Africa that resulted in second-class and inferior status and very often, forced removal from homes. The word Apartheid is provocative, emotive and emotional and anti-Israelists have adopted it as their weapon of choice as they mount their offensive in the assault agains Israel’s legitimacy. Cry for the beloved country and her forgotten people.

If I could address Gideon Levy directly I would say::

Mr Levy, should there be an Apartheid regime in Israel, you may find yourself without a job. I could compare South Africa’s Apartheid laws to the reality in Israel but it has been done many times. Yes there is racism in Israel, the same as in every other country around the world including South Africa, but it is not state legislated. What you have done is capitalised on a worst case scenario and turned it into a sensationalistic headline. Articles like this fuel divides in Israeli society and give impetus to fanatics.

The narratives of the two countries couldn’t be more different.South Africa was a case of minority governing and subjugating a majority. The Israeli narrative is different. Israel has sued for peace on numerous occasions and has repeatedly made concessions to its Arab citizens. You have not included any historical context in your article. It would be in the best interest of both the Palestinians and Israelis to each have a state. Foolish accusations and labels denigrate both peoples aspirations for statehood and nationhood.

Mr Levy, you have created an image for yourself as somebody who is super critical of his country and maybe you see it as your duty to expose the cracks in our society but should an Apartheid regime ever come to pass, you would not have a job, you would not enjoy the freedom to criticise at will. The very freedoms that you which you write would cease to exist.

Mr Levy perhaps Israelis the wrong country for you to call home, perhaps you should live somewhere where Apartheid really is practised. In your haste to grab headlines you have insulted millions of South Africans, invited those who would welcome the destruction of the State of Israel to continue to vilify the country and flipped the proverbial bird at the country that allows you the very freedom of expression you enjoy.

The accusation of Apartheid is a pretty serious one. Just the very use of the word evokes images of immense human suffering. Apartheid was unique to those that experienced this traumatic time in South African history. It is not a term to be taken lightly and used at will.

Israel with her many flaws is not and never will be an Apartheid State. You can take that to the polls.

About the Author
Rolene Marks is a passionate advocate for Israel and has appeared on radio, television and has been published in numerous publications. Rolene is a member of the Media Team Israel, an advocacy body that fights media bias against Israel.