Skip To Content

No Resemblance At All

Born only a year after the National Party came to power in 1948, I grew up in a South Africa that was deeply and obscenely divided. An intricate system, built on centuries of colonialism and segregation, defined every aspect of life: place of residence, education, health prospects, career opportunities, sports and ordinary daily movement. Harsh exploitative laws hemmed in the overwhelming black majority, including coloreds (those of mixed descent) and Indians.**

Secretary of State John Kerry superficially raises the prospect of Israel becoming an apartheid society. Perhaps he has in mind annexation of the West Bank. That would indeed raise the possibility of an apartheid Israel. But Israel proper bears no resemblance to the old South Africa. Its Declaration of Independence declares all its citizens equal, without distinction of race, creed or sex. In practice, there are flaws. But similar shortcomings and ambiguities exist in many other democracies, including the United States.

Given Israel’s circumstances — most notably its effective state of war with most of its neighbors and its threats of annihilation — the Jewish state has done reasonably well. Its far-from-perfect treatment of Israeli Arabs is certainly comparable with the treatment of minorities in many other respected countries. Israeli symbols are not neutral, but this is much the same for many other states. Even the contentious “law of return” is not unique. Shortcomings and ambiguities exist in many democracies; Israel is not alone. But the excoriation of Israel in world forums is unique.

Milton Shain teaches in the department of historical studies and is the director of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.