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Can South Africa provide the inspiration that Israel needs?

In the struggle to achieve justice and equality in a land that has yet to fulfill its promise, what role will be played by those from the iconic country of South Africa, which has transformed itself so remarkably towards justice and equality?

By Hagai El-Ad

I was recently in South Africa for a few days, and I didn’t once bump into Judge Richard Goldstone. As an Israeli, that may be surprising, because in Israel the only recognizable face of South African Jewry is in fact Judge Goldstone – and the way his rough handling by the Jewish community in that country.

But chance encounters do happen. While checking into my Sea Point hotel in Cape Town, I was chatted up by a couple, who, it turned out, happened to be Jewish. They were delighted to discover that I am from Tel Aviv. Their next question, however, caught me off guard.

“Are you thinking of leaving?”

I am not. Israel is my home.

My first visit to Cape Town in 2006 was for a transitional justice conference at the University of Cape Town. This second visit was for a meeting, graciously hosted by South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre (LRC), with peers from other national human rights groups similar to Israel’s Association for Civil Rights (ACRI), the organization I currently head. For many around the world, myself included, South Africa plays a global iconic moral role – especially in the context of human rights, equality, and justice – and even more so, because its people were able to realize these values through an inspiring transformation.

And oh, how we need inspiration.

South African Jewry’s treatment of Judge Goldstone was no source for inspiration. But the group of Habonim Dror activists I met were. The conversation was of a familiar global-Jewish speak: on the one hand, an ethos of social justice, faith in equality and steadfast commitment to fight racism. On the other hand, Israel. How does a South African Jew live the values of social justice and the realize his or her desire to have a meaningful relationship with the State of Israel, given the ongoing realities of occupation, discrimination, and segregation?

A recent example of this unjust reality is the decision of the High Court of Justice, in rejecting an appeal brought forward by ACRI and others, to approve the expansive “permits regime,” a system that systematically limits Palestinian access to their own lands that happen to be located in the “seam zone” (the territory locked between the Green Line and the separation barrier). The barrier’s route was set by Israel at varying distances east of the green line, thus leaving approximately 10 percent of the occupied West Bank freely accessible for Israelis, but restricted to the actual owners of the land. What is the proper term to describe this “permits regime” system?

Another example is the “Nakba Law.” For the Palestinians, Israel’s establishment in 1948 was a national catastrophe, remembered as the Nakba. For the Jews – myself proudly being one – Israel’s independence is the fulfillment of dreams of generations. Reconciling painful truths? Recently, a law was passed in the Knesset depriving certain public funding from those who commemorate Israel’s independence as Nakba Day. ACRI is appealing against this law. Memory and identity should not – indeed, cannot – be regulated through legislation.

Sugar coating these unacceptable realities is not an option – morally or practically. Thus, a different path emerges for a meaningful relationship: one that does not try to Disneyfy a complex reality, but rather a relationship in which all members become part of the endeavor to fix that reality. The young activists I met in Cape Town are no Disney fans. I found their personal struggle, their questioning, and their unyielding commitment to ethically figure it out inspiring.

I traveled back home to Israel with a question close at heart: In the struggle to achieve justice and equality in a land that has yet to fulfill its promise, what role will be played by those from the iconic country of South Africa, which has transformed itself so remarkably towards justice and equality?

Hagai El-Ad is executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

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    1. Anousim

      ZA is possibly the most antisemitic nominally modern country in the world today, outside of Saudi Arabia or Iran. African notions of justice have to do less with extermination more to do with reconciliation. Arabs aren’t going to ever consider reconciliation with the Jews. Not ever. They’d rather exterminate us.

      Reply to Comment
    2. RichardNYC

      “the iconic country of South Africa, which has transformed itself so remarkably towards justice and equality”
      Is this a joke?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Deïr Yassin

      @ Anousim
      Sorry, what’s your “ZA” supposed to mean ?
      SA/South Africa ?
      In that case your statement is utter BS ! As all Zionist extremists you tend to deliberately mix up anti-zionism and antisemitism.
      About the Arabs and the extermination of the Jews:
      Maybe you should see a therapist instead of posting here ….

      Reply to Comment
    4. Michael

      Anousim, what is your evidence for these two statements? Have you ever been to South Africa? Have you ever spoken to an Arab?

      Reply to Comment
    5. weinstein henry

      It’s not serious.
      I mean to title this post “Can South Africa provide the inspiration that Israel needs”?
      … and to provide no answer, no comparative study.
      Just platitudes.
      We don’t need inspiration, we need meaning, serious intellectual work.

      Nota bene: I support ACRI, my comment has nothing to do with the previous comments.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Right Wing Zionist

      Ah … ‘Beautiful South Africa’. Israel never was like South Africa, it isn’t like South Africa and I hope it never will be.
      On the Human Development Index, Israel is rated number 15, South Africa is rated 113th. And South Africa is much richer in natural resources than Israel. Now let’s try crime statistics:
      “The rampant crime rate in South Africa, where around 50 people are murdered every day, was a major concern in the build-up to the tournament and had prompted accusations that the country was an unsuitable host for the world’s most popular sporting event.”

      Reply to Comment
    7. Right Wing Zionist

      “deliberately mix up anti-zionism and antisemitism”(DEIR YASSIN)
      Pure double talk by supremacists. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It aimed to establish self determination for the Jewish nation (I say nation not religion – there is such a thing as Jewish ethnicity).
      Most Jewish people world wide are self avowed Zionists, only a small minority are not. There are all sorts of Zionists. Secular ones (the majority of Jews), religious Zionists, right wing Zionists (like me) and left wing Zionists.
      So, Deir Yassin, stop your BS. Hatred of Zionism is hatred of most of the Jewish people, no matter how you want to disguise that fact.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Israel

      I recently saw statistics showing that the huge income gap between blacks and whites in South Africa has hardly changed since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994. There is also a major outflow of educated South Africans of ALL races from the country. I don’t know what there is to emulate there.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Fadeel

      The general comments made here typically conveys the blatant arrogance and disrespect for human rights by the Zionist lobby. We liberal and liberated majority South Africans concur with the sentiments of justice before peace. The writer of the article did not imply that SA is a bed of roses. He amplified the political transformation, rather than the emancipation of our social challenges (which any sobre minded person will understand that perfection from horrid Apartheid is a process, not an event!).Aparheid Israel can only be mildly comparable to the old SA. The stolen land from the Palestinians for self-supremacy comparable to that by Hitler and the continued killing and destruction of innocent civilians (women and children alike), whose only weapon of defence is stones, can hardly equate to the Zionist sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. For millions around the world the challenge of occupied Palestine is not a religeous supremcy battle, it is one of HUMAN RIGHTS, which the handful of arrogant , self-righteous Zionist lobby is completely oblivious about!

      Reply to Comment
    10. RichardNYC

      At least its nice that “human rights” anti-semites aren’t clever enough to see how transparently anti-semitic their libelous talking points are.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Right Wing Zionist

      “the continued killing and destruction of innocent civilians (women and children alike)”(FADEEL)
      You mean killings like this FADEEL?
      “The Itamar attack,[1] also called the Itamar massacre,[2] was an attack on a Jewish family in the Israeli settlement of Itamar in the West Bank that took place on 11 March 2011, in which five members of the same family were murdered in their beds. Two young Palestinian men from Awarta have been indicted for stabbing the parents to death and slitting the children’s throats, and the main perpetrator confessed in open court to the murders.[3] The victims are the father Ehud (Udi) Fogel, the mother Ruth Fogel, and three of their six children—Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, the youngest, a three-month-old infant.[4] The settlement of Itamar had been the target of several murderous attacks before these killings.[5]”
      You people keep on pretending that what Israel does, happens in a vacuum and the Arabs are just innocent victims. The truth is that the Arabs started this war of extermination against the Jews nearly 100 years ago and they perpetrated horrendous massacres like the above many times before. Yes, Jews too kill and killed Arabs. That’s what happens in all wars.
      No wonder most ordinary Jews have lost all respect for the left and the Arabs. No self respecting person would accept the one sided propagamda that the extreme left has embarked on to dish out to Israel. It makes one’s stomach turn in disgust.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Right Wing Zionist

      Here is another reason why we right of centre Zionists and many on the left side of politics too don’t have respect for South African style morality. In short, because of your much revered Bishop Tu Tu. Read below:
      “Among the world’s most respected figures is South Africa’s Bishop Desmond. His recognizable face—with its ever present grin—has become a symbol of reconciliation and goodness. But it masks a long history of ugly hatred toward the Jewish people, the Jewish religion and the Jewish state. Bishop Desmond Tutu is no mere anti-Zionist (though Martin Luther King long ago recognized that anti- Zionism often serves as a cover for deeper anti-Jewish bigotry). He has minimized the suffering of those killed in the Holocaust. He has attacked the “Jewish”–not Israeli–“lobby” as too “powerful” and “scar[y].” He has invoked classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes about Jewish “arrogance”, “power” and money. He has characterized Jews a “peculiar people,” and has accused “the Jews” of causing many of the world’s problems. He once even accused the Jewish state of acting in an “unChristian” way”
      Speaking for myself, I say he is a common bigot and I for one don’t want a bar of his morality. If you don’t agree with me, then just try the following little expeeiment: Substitute the word “Arab” or “Black African” or “Asian” instead of the word “Jew/Jewish” and tell us how you would feel abou it then.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Deïr Yassin

      @ Fadeel

      Your country has been a huge inspiration for millions around the world too, and we follow your country’s development with much concern and interest. “A long road to Freedom”, indeed.


      Nkosi sikeleli Africa.

      @ RWZ
      It’s always a good idea to post some serious links when you claim that kind of things. And by serious I don’t mean Arutz Sheva or some other of your settler friends.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Right Wing Zionist

      “It’s always a good idea to post some serious links when you claim that kind of things. And by serious I don’t mean Arutz Sheva or some other of your settler friends”(DEIRYASSIN)
      Here is your link:
      It is an article written by Alan Dershowitz. Let me guess, he is not reliable enough for you. But never fear, just google and you will find many similar articles, you-tube videos etc. Some of those no doubt have entire speeches of your revered god like Tu Tu in which you will hear/see him making those comments about “Jews are a peculiar people …” etc. No doubt you will still be in denial or at best you will rationalise his anti-semitism.
      Oh well, we are getting used to you guys.

      Reply to Comment
    15. The Barking Goat

      Deir Y

      ZA is now THEY abbreviate it. It’s the internationally defined country code. It really pays to at least pretend once in a while to know WTF you’re screaming about.

      Also, as I’m sure you know since your purport to be a self anointed expert on the subject, Southern African culture, is averse to things like war crimes trials. ZA had an opportunity to do them, as did Rwanda and both categorically refused. It’s not part of their cultural DNA

      Somehow, I’ve just got to think that sort of thing would stick in your craw as being unacceptable. So tell me, are you still down with ZA style reconciliation or not?

      So, other than screaming abuse at people, what else ya got?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Deïr Yassin

      @ RWZ
      Alan Dershowitz is about the fastest lying guy on the Israeli/Palestinian subject. Using him as a ‘proof’ of anything must be a joke.
      His “The Case For Israel” has about a lie on each line.
      If you want to get an impression of Dershowitz as an intellectual fraud, look at the ‘debate’ between him and Norman Finkelstein on Democracy Now. Finkelstein knocks him out, intellectually speaking, in about every minute.
      Dershowitz, yeah …
      By the way the name is Desmond Tutu. You don’t even know how to write it correctly, but you’re a specialist on his ‘antisemitism’. We ALL know what ‘antisemitism’ is for right-wing Zionists !

      @ The Barking Goat
      Your pen name fits you fine.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Right Wing Zionist

      Norman Finkelstein is ghe best you got? Another hater. He did not win any debate just because people like you think he did

      Reply to Comment
    18. Right Wing Zionist

      As far as Tu Tu is concerned, I will be as respectful to him as he is respectful to us Jews. I’ll call him what I like, not as YOU want me to, OK?

      Reply to Comment
    19. AmRas

      The childish attempts from both sides to portray the situation as if there is an actual conflict between two belligerent parties acting with full agency is ridiculous and demonstrates poor understanding of the mechanics of political and capital power.

      ‘Nations’ are abstracts; Only individuals may have an agenda, the commoners can only be instilled with a sense of purpose; the general population can not be held accountable to its actions, even in modern so called ‘democracies’.

      Long lasting conflicts occur when ‘the individuals in power’ divide the governed population and instill each division with animosity towards the other group.

      National conflicts are often framed in such a way that both sides occupy themselves with questions of culpability or ‘historic responsibility’ thus justifying the immoral deeds perpetrated by people who they feel affiliated with; once this mindset is instilled in a population it is possible to have the people exist in a state of near-constant conflict as long as it is beneficial to the architects of the situation.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Michael W.

      Norman Finkelstein is the oldest unemployed associate professor in the world.

      Reply to Comment
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