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Israel, Apartheid, and John Kerry



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I know the news moves fast fast fast, and there’s no going back. But I’d like to comment on Secretary of State John Kerry’s linkage of Israel and apartheid. It is very important. To link Israel with apartheid is just about the worst thing you can do to that country. The greatest stain you can put on it. Hard as it may be to believe, apartheid South Africa is probably the most hated regime of the 20th century, after Nazi Germany. This includes Stalin’s Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, etc. Come to think of it, the Nazi government is the other government that Israel’s enemies link it to.

It’s obvious why apartheid South Africa was the object of near-universal opprobrium. First, it was nasty — but that wasn’t enough. There were plenty of nasty, and nastier, governments in the world. But this was a right-wing government with a colonial air. It was composed of white people, who oppressed black people. It was an ally of the United States. So, from the point of view of indignation, it was perfect.

My professors, for example, were uncomfortable criticizing Castro’s Cuba. In fact, they were comfortable defending it. But South Africa — that was pure evil, an opportunity for unbridled moral and political expression.

When I was in college, the campus was deeply involved in the South Africa issue. There were shantytowns everywhere, in solidarity with the country’s oppressed. About what was happening behind the Iron Curtain, or in China, you heard not a peep. If you tried to peep, you were blasted as a fascist. At best, you were asked, “Why are you trying to poison the atmosphere of détente? Are you trying to start another war?”

Let me quote a bit from Peace, They Say, my history of the Nobel Peace Prize:

Elite opinion around the world was almost unanimous against apartheid South Africa. Consider merely the realm of sports: From 1964 to 1992, South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games. And athletes from other countries paid a penalty if they competed in South Africa. (Musicians, too, were discouraged from performing there.) The United Nations kept a list of athletes who traveled to South Africa; this was the U.N. Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa. The list was compiled mainly through accounts in the South African press. For example, if Billie Jean King played in a tennis tournament, the newspapers could be expected to report that. And then King would get put on the list (as she was). This register was kept to shame and correct the straying athletes.

We might debate whether individual citizens, such as athletes, should be punished for the policies of the governments that rule them. And we might debate whether any country should be off-limits to athletes or others. But what about the fact that, from 1964 to 1992, athletes governed by other beastly regimes were allowed to compete in the Olympics? What about the fact that countries with regimes at least as beastly as South Africa’s were not made pariah states? The world can be extraordinarily selective.

Many would like to anathematize and ostracize Israel the way apartheid South Africa was . . . In 2006, former president Jimmy Carter, the 2002 peace laureate, wrote a book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Exactly. Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi — they’re all cut from the same cloth. If Israel is destroyed, historians of the future will analyze why. They will note, I think, that Israel was softened up for destruction. By what means? One of those means is to associate Israel with apartheid. Because nothing, apart from Nazism, is so reviled as apartheid.

I have a special affection for the Cape Town Opera. I’ll tell you why. Again, I’ll quote from Peace, They Say:

In 2010, the Cape Town Opera was planning to include Israel on an international tour of Porgy and Bess. The company had changed the setting of this American opera to apartheid-era Soweto. . . . [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu demanded that the company boycott Israel. He wanted the Jewish state to have the same stigma as apartheid South Africa. The company told the archbishop no. It went ahead to Israel.

May our leaders and opinion-makers have more of the spirit of the Cape Town Opera.



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