If It’s ‘Apartheid,’ Then Who’s the Palestinian Mandela?

By Nir Eisikovits

Published January 19, 2007, issue of January 19, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Of all humanistic disciplines, history is the easiest to exploit for the advancement of one’s political worldviews. Former president Jimmy Carter’s recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” is an interesting case in point.

Carter compares Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians to the notorious system of racial segregation that was imposed on blacks in South Africa. He is not the first to make such a comparison. Advocates of the Palestinian cause regularly raise the South African analogy. But Carter is the first prominent, mainstream American to make the comparison.

Since the term “apartheid” stirs up a host of bitter, angry associations, it is important to probe Carter’s accusation carefully.

The charge is not without merit. Key aspects of Israel’s occupation of Palestine are, indeed, analogous to the practices of South Africa’s National Party: A system of separate roads and road blocks facilitates the free travel of Jews while curtailing the movement of Arabs; the members of one group live in well-groomed, heavily subsidized communities, while many members of the other group live in degrading poverty.

In addition, young Palestinian are routinely detained without trial, often for prolonged periods of time. These detentions are justified by repeated government declarations of a state of emergency, just as similar arrests were rationalized in South Africa. Like South African courts, Israeli tribunals have been lenient with soldiers and policemen accused of committing human rights violations, failing, in essence, to exercise judicial review over the application of political power.

These similarities are frightening and should worry anyone who cares about Israel’s commitment to democracy. And yet, Carter and many Palestinians use the South African analogy selectively. The comparison suffers from a glaring omission: If many of Israel’s policies resemble the practices of the white government in South Africa, how do the Palestinian armed organizations measure up to the South African resistance movement, the African National Congress?

For one thing, although both the ANC and the Palestinian organizations have targeted civilians, the ANC did so more sporadically and more reluctantly than the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For almost five decades after its establishment, the ANC espoused nonviolence, arguing that armed struggle would alienate whites.

The ANC adopted armed resistance in the early 1960s only after its repeated attempts to negotiate had failed. For several years, the group restricted itself to acts of sabotage against property. It was only when this policy proved fruitless that the organization turned against security forces and, eventually, against civilians.

The Palestinian armed factions, by contrast, have shown little interest in nonviolence. The more extreme organizations have consistently refused to distinguish between Israeli military personnel and civilians. They have targeted women and children, for much longer, much more consistently and with far more devastating results than the ANC.

Furthermore, the leadership of the ANC forcefully pursued compromise with whites when the opportunity for peace arose in the early 1990s. The Palestinians, on the other hand, snubbed the dramatic peace proposals put forth by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the summer of 2000. While the ANC remained committed to a peaceful settlement with whites in South Africa throughout the struggle against apartheid, the Palestinians have voted into power a government that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, has called for its destruction and has aligned itself with Holocaust-denying Iran and its Lebanese client Hezbollah.

If historical analogies are to be politically instructive, those making them must consider all aspects of the case under discussion, not only those parallels that bolster their agendas. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa can, in fact, teach us valuable lessons about the Middle East conflict.

It can show us that war does not end before both sides give up on the maximal formulation of their claims. It suggests that enemies who acknowledge and account for their record of human rights abuses are likelier to reconcile than those who insist on burying the past. It indicates that peace depends on a rare mixture of fatigue among combatants, daring local leadership and significant international pressure.

Perhaps most importantly, the South African analogy shows us that hate is not a force of nature beyond the reach of human influence. As Nelson Mandela so eloquently put it: “No one is born hating another person. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

Americans, Israelis and Palestinians could benefit greatly from studying South Africa’s tortured past. But as long as we are focused on simply exploiting history to win arguments, these lessons are likely to be lost.

Nir Eisikovits, a professor of philosophy at Suffolk University, is a fellow at the International Institute for Mediation and Historical Conciliation.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.