Friday, July 16, 2010

Detailing the Unspoken Truths of a Deadly Relationship

Detailing the Unspoken Truths of a Deadly Relationship


The African World Book Review


Detailing the Unspoken Truths of a Deadly Relationship


By Bill Fletcher, Jr. Editorial Board


Black Commentator


July 15, 2010


      The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship

      with Apartheid South Africa

      Sasha Polakow-Suransky

      New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.

      324 pps. $18.45, hardcover


I could hardly contain my excitement after reading Sasha

Polakow-Suransky's The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret

Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. So, I got on the

phone and called a long-time friend who had been active in

the solidarity movements against white colonial / minority

rule in Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. He responded: "Well,

didn't we already know about the connection between

apartheid South Africa and Israel?"


What is striking about The Unspoken Alliance is not that it

contains the revelation of a complete secret. My friend was

correct. Bits and pieces of this story had been public for

years, at least in some circles. What makes this book

different is both the level of detail and factual disclosure

combined with its blunt recognition of a strategic unity

between Israel and apartheid South Africa based on a common

colonial / settler framework.


Polakow-Suransky provides historical background that may

surprise many readers in pointing out that the dominant

political forces in Israel, up through the late 1960s, saw

themselves as operating within an anti- colonial framework.

Israel reached out to many newly independent African states,

for example, providing a wide range of types of assistance.

While this `solidarity' may not have been driven completely

by the noble aims that Polakow-Suransky suggests, it is

nevertheless noteworthy. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir,

for instance, saw no inconsistency between advancing a

settler project in the Palestine Mandate (the territory

occupied by Britain until 1948) aimed at displacing the

Palestinian people, on the one hand, and positioning Israel

as an ally in the struggle for independence on the part of

African states. Interestingly, they suggested that they were

an outpost not only for the anti-colonial struggle, but also

one in the struggle against reactionary Arab regimes.


This paradigm began to change in the context of the June

1967 war between Israel and the Arab coalition of Egypt,

Jordan and Syria, and the subsequent occupation and

colonization of Palestinian territories. The situation

shifted even further in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War

of October 1973, which Israel nearly lost. During those

moments Israel made the decision to become a nuclear power

and an essential component of their ability to make such a

decision was related to the slow but steady construction of

an alliance with apartheid South Africa.


Apartheid South Africa, at the same time, was an

increasingly isolated state. Interestingly Israel, at least

in the early 1960s, joined with most of the rest of the

international community, in condemning the system of

apartheid. Nevertheless, as Israel began to face

international criticism for its role in the 6 Day War and

the subsequent occupations, it found itself drawn toward a

relationship with the South African regime, a relationship

that it entered into somewhat ambivalently and later joined

with determination and without apology. One consequence of

this developing relationship was the steady decline, to the

point of becoming obstructive, of criticisms of the South

African apartheid system.


The details of this relationship read like an excellent

politico-mystery novel, yet they are documented. With the

ascendancy of the more reactionary elements of the Israeli

establishment in the 1970s (symbolized by the rise of

Menachem Begin), the paradigm of Israel as an anti-colonial

outpost was completely jettisoned in favor of Israel-as-

fortress state. This new paradigm was well-suited to justify

the alliance with the criminal South African regime.


Striking for any reader will certainly be the discussion of

potential cataclysms. Once both Israel and apartheid South

Africa achieved nuclear status, they were prepared to

entertain the actual use of such weapons. Polakow-Suransky,

in describing the circumstances of the Yom Kippur War,

suggests that the Israelis were prepared to use nuclear

weapons against the Egyptians and/or Syrians if the USA did

not intervene to provide additional military support in

order to blunt the Arab assault. Apartheid South Africa,

during the 1980s, contemplated using nuclear weapons against

those southern African states that supported the national

liberation forces of the African National Congress and the

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. This latter point helps

the reader to better understand the complicated politico-

military situation in which the national liberation forces

in South Africa found themselves in the late 1980s when

negotiations toward the end of apartheid commenced.


Interestingly Polakow-Suransky ends his book suggesting that

while - in his opinion - Israel is not yet an apartheid

state, it is well on the road. This was probably the

greatest weakness of the book, but a weakness that should

not turn the reader away from this work. Israel is already

an apartheid state, both in the context of the conditions of

the occupation of the Palestinian territories but also with

respect to the treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Polakow- Suransky conceptualizes apartheid far too narrowly

rather than in the manner that the United Nations defined

it, i.e., a system of racist oppression and separation. The

South African system was only one possible variation on a

theme, not the only apartheid model.


That said, what this book succeeds in doing so well is

dispelling the notion of the supposed democratic and

moralistic character of the Israeli state. The alliance

between Israel and South Africa, as well documented in this

book, was not a time-limited aberrant action on the part of

an otherwise honorable state. It was a cold, calculated

maneuver that not only was seen from the standpoint of naked

self-interest, but equally from within the context of a

growing recognition that two settler states needed mutual

protection in a world that was heightening its objections to

such social systems.


At a moment of increasing interest in the growth of the

Boycott / Divestment / Sanctions movement in opposition to

the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, The

Unspoken Alliance becomes that much more important to read.

The struggle for Palestinian self-determination involves,

among other things, an ideological struggle against the

dominant Israeli narrative, a narrative that has suggested

that a people on the verge of extermination by the Nazis had

the right to seize a territory away from its indigenous

population. This narrative, in addition to holding a blind

spot to the indignity and injustice within which the

Palestinian people have been treated, first by the British

colonialists and then later by the Israelis, is premised on

the notion of the Israeli state as being grounded on a high

moral platform placing it beyond any criticism. The Unspoken

Alliance contributes to shattering at least one of the legs

upholding that platform. Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher,

Jr., is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy

Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum

and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in

Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice

(University of California Press), which examines the crisis

of organized labor in the USA.


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