Israel at 60-A South African Perspective

By Saks, David | Midstream, September-October 2008 | Go to article overview

Israel at 60-A South African Perspective


Saks, David, Midstream


When it comes to Israel, any South African Jew over the age of thirty is likely to feel a great deal of schizophrenia. The political revolution that the country went through during the early 1990s, in which white minority rule was replaced by nonracial democracy, also revolutionized public attitudes towards Zionism and the State of Israel. The first transformation was obviously for the good; from a Zionist point of view, the second has been largely negative.

I grew up in an environment where mainstream attitudes towards Israel, as reflected in the media, civil society, and all levels of government, were overwhelmingly favorable. In apartheid-era South Africa, Israel was seen as a bastion of Western civilization staunchly confronting the twin evils of Third World terrorism and the tentacles of atheistic Communism. Religion played an equally important role. The ruling Afrikaner caste was strongly informed by its adherence to conservative, Bible-based Christianity, and this led naturally to the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land being viewed with favor. Moreover, from the 1970s onwards, both Israel and South Africa were being regarded internationally as pariah states. This resulted in increasingly close economic and military ties being established between the two countries.

The suppression of the voices of the non-white majority meant that Jews had little or no knowledge of how very differently the non-white majority viewed Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. It came as a tremendous shock, therefore, when it was learned how whole-heartedly the incoming leadership identified with the Palestinian cause. As for their views on Zionism, far from understanding, let alone sympathizing with it, the prevailing notion within the newly ruling African National Congress was that Zionism was a racist, colonialist project aimed at dispossessing the legitimate inhabitants of their land.

The official standpoint of the South African government today is that Israel has the right to exist within secure borders, alongside an independent Palestinian state. …

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