Should Israel be worried? Very much so, for the age of total impunity is coming to an end. Critical voices of the Israeli occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians are rising—not only within civil society circles, but among world governments as well.
The picture may seem grim if seen through the prisms of the recent US Republican and Democratic National Conventions. But the world is not the United States’ government, which is defined by self-serving politics and a quisling corporate media that often places Israeli interests over those of the US itself. Now with the decline of the US as an economic superpower, and as other countries and regional blocs jockey for an advanced position in the new world order, Israel is sure to suffer further isolation in coming years.
Almost daily new evidence is emerging to demonstrate this increasingly stark reality. Israel’s friends are fully aware of this, as are Israeli politicians. The emerging new realization is that money and power are rarely enough to buy legitimacy. South Africa is expectedly leading the way towards that new global paradigm shift, and others countries are following suit.
Recently, South Africa’s cabinet passed a decision requiring Israel to distinguish between products made in Israel and those made in illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank. The decision was both politically sound and morally consistent with the country’s anti-apartheid legacy. It was also a natural progression of South Africa’s policies, which have reflected impatience with Israel through the years.
It is clear that Israel has chosen the apartheid option, not just as a de facto outcome of its military policies, but through a decided legal and political pattern. South Africa’s decision, however, was not just motivated by political necessity. Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle have had numerous influences on the country’s civil society. Even the new generation is intoned with a freedom discourse that unites most sectors of society. ‘Freedom for Palestine’ was a natural fit in that powerful discourse and no amount of Israeli propaganda has been enough to deter South Africans from standing in solidarity with Palestinians. The feelings are, of course, mutual.
The total output of Israeli trade with South Africa was modest to begin with. Since 2009, trade volumes dipped significantly, and political ties became colder than ever. This had much to do with the Israel war on Gaza (2008-09) and what was seen as an act of Israeli piracy against the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara in May 31, 2011. South Africa, along with few other countries, withdrew its ambassador from Israel in protest of the deadly raid which killed nine peace activists.
The matter is of greater significance than dollars and cents. The latter will become a major factor when a global boycott reaches a critical mass. The real danger is the precedence that South Africa continues to set, which will provide other countries with legal and political references.
Soon after South Africa’s decision—which followed remarks made by various officials discouraging their nationals from visiting Israel, and was followed by another major university voting for divestment and boycott—pro-Israel officials have tried to mobilize. Denis McShane, British MP and Policy Council member for ‘Labour Friends of Israel’, reacted by making dismaying and historically inconsistent parallels between South Africa and Nazi Germany. Writing in the Jewish Chronicle on September 6, Moira Schneider said that MacShane “likened the boycott of Israeli products to the kauf nicht bei Juden imperative of Nazi Germany.”
“Criticism of Israel is perfectly legitimate, but we have to be clear that the new antisemitic trope is beyond the pale of legitimate criticism,” he was quoted as saying. “The notion of Israel as an apartheid state is deliberately promoted because an apartheid state cannot exist.”
While the flawed logic has been uttered numerous times in the past, MacShane’s alarm now can be explained outside the political context of South Africa, but rather in terms of what is happening in his own country. Indeed, there has been a string of statements pointing at efforts underway in several European countries to enact laws relevant to the illegality of the Jewish settlements.
Some recent statements include British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt “dropp(ing) the strongest hint yet that the UK may be moving towards a ban on goods from illegal Israeli settlements.” (The Electronic Intifada, July 5, 2012). Towards the end of last year, Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade renewed his country’s commitment to the exclusion of settlement products from the EU. More recently, on September 5, Israel’s daily Haaretz reported on the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s comments regarding the import of goods produced in the settlements, “which we consider illegal according to international law.”
Still more, on September 7, The Jerusalem Post reported that “the European Union is considering instituting a ban on imports of products made in Israeli settlements, a Greek Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying to a group of Israeli and Palestinian journalists in Athens…”
Such a shift in language would never have been achieved without the civil society mobilization that occurred in several countries. As in South Africa, governments are being held accountable by vigilant and tireless groups, collectively pushing for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). They will not reduce their efforts until Israel changes course, respects international law, and frees Palestinians from decades-long military bondage.
Unable to fathom the global paradigm shift, Israeli politicians are responding with an incoherent strategy. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor accused the government of South Africa of ‘exclusion and discrimination.’ The Israeli government decried the “blatant discrimination,” claiming it was “based on national and political distinction”. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon went even further, accusing South Africa of exactly that which was alleged of Israel. “Unfortunately it turns out that the changes that took place in South Africa over the years have not brought about basic changes in the country, and it remains an apartheid state,” Ayalon said (Jerusalem Post, August 23).
But angry words aside, the world is changing. Israel, however, is digressing into a dark corner where racism and apartheid are still applied with impunity. Many Israelis are refusing to attest to their country’s fall into the abyss. A wakeup call can only arrive when the world treats the Israeli government in the same way that South Africa’s apartheid regime was once treated.