The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Relationship with Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Relationship With Apartheid South Africa By Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Pantheon Books, 2010, hardback, 336 pp. List: $27.95; AET: $18.50.

Reviewed by Ian Williams

SASHA Polakow-Suransky's book, The Unspoken Alliance, is subtitled "Israel's Secret Alliance With Apartheid South Africa"-but it certainly was no secret to anti-apartheid campaigners worldwide, nor to the African National Congress (ANC), whose victory and present control of Pretoria's archives has allowed the author to unveil some genuinely shocking secrets.

Polakow-Suransky details the alliance and the active part in fomenting it played by the "official" South African Jewish community, drawing out the various threads of a relationship which so many people from all sides of the political divide wanted to hide. For example, he shows how President Jimmy Carter, now ostracized for echoing domestic Israeli concerns about apartheid, effectively buried the details of Israel's 1979 nuclear test off the southern shores of South Africa. He did not want the Lobby even more on his case than they already were.

Indeed, reading this book while looking at the current responses to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the Goldstone Report induces a certain sense of "déjà vu all over again." Apologists for Israel denied the relationship with apartheid South Africa, lied about the size of the economic and military connections, claimed that others were doing it anyway, excoriated the ANC as terrorists-and, of course, alleged that only anti-Semites would have an interest in bringing up such inconvenient facts. Polakow-Suransky shows how, in fact, South Africa was Israel's biggest arms customer, while the latter bought and resold the otherwise embargoed diamonds.

Since for decades, demonization of anyone who has had contact with an enemy of Israel has been a standard media and political tactic, it is always interesting to see how previously interned Nazi supporters like B.J. Vorster could become honored guests at Vad Yashem, quite apart from their devotion to apartheid. Particularly sinister was Israel's hosting of Dr. Wouter Basson, whose hobbies included stockpiling the Ebola virus, dropping enemy soldiers out of planes over the sea, and trying to develop a biological weapon that would target only blacks. …