South Africa’s apartheid died in 1994, but the word is alive: Israel is accused of being “the new apartheid,” while its founding ideology, Zionism, is attacked as “racism.” If the apartheid label is appropriate, it provides a potent political weapon. If, however, the usage is wrong, it reduces the vile system of racism perpetrated in South Africa to just another swear word. It also raises questions about the motivation of those who apply it. The word “Bantustan” is often used in an accusatory way to describe Israel’s policy about a future Palestinian state. White South Africans invented the Bantustans to pen black people into defined reservoirs of labor, being allowed to leave only when working for white South Africa. The Israeli intention is the opposite: To keep out Palestinians, having as little to do with them as possible.
In South Africa pre-1994, skin color determined every single person’s life. In Israel, Arabs are approximately 20% of the population. Discrimination occurs despite equality in law and is buttressed by custom – but it is not remotely the South African panoply of discrimination enforced by parliamentary legislation. Anyone who says that Israel is apartheid does not appreciate what apartheid was. A crucial indicator of the status of Israel’s minority is that Arabs have the vote black South Africans did not. The writer, Benjamin Pogrund, former deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, is director of Yakar’s Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem.