In one of her last acts as US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice had Nelson Mandela’s name removed from America’s terrorist watch list. Many Americans were shocked to learn that their favourite former political prisoner had ever been deemed a terrorist.But international solidarity and people power put paid the powers that be, or rather, that were. But what has that to do with us?
The international anti-apartheid movement began at the grassroots among religious, community and labour groups, but it grew sufficiently powerful to force governments to distance themselves from a regime that they had viewed sympathetically. And that is a lesson that terrifies Israel’s leaders.But why should that be? South Africa was an apartheid state.
Even as Israeli officials admitted last week that they were hoping to “rebrand” Israel’s image abroad, the Israeli media were reporting that six Israeli soldiers who had fought in Gaza were alleging that men in their units had indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians because of what they said were permissive rules of engagement. There is only so much that “rebranding” can achieve when it is the product, rather than its packaging, that is at the root of the problem.Apartheid is qualitative not quantitative. So many people try to get Israel off the hook of the apartheid tag on the grounds that Arabs are a minority under Israel's rule. This ignores the ethnic cleansing that made that the case. It also ignores the fact that apartness is what apartheid means and that apartness is the crux of zionist rule.
And that is where the apartheid warning used by Mr Olmert and other Israeli advocates of a two-state solution becomes an unintended confession. It is not some demographic milestone that will tip Israel into the realm of apartheid, because apartheid is a qualitative rather than a quantitative term: it refers to a situation in which a whole category of people were denied the rights of citizenship in the state that ruled over them. South Africa’s apartheid would have been no more acceptable to the world had black people comprised 45 per cent of the population rather than 80 per cent. And since 1967, the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza have been living under the control of a state that denies them citizenship.
What Mr Olmert and others are really saying, without realising it, is that Israel is already in an apartheid situation – and that if it doesn’t end that situation soon, the world will notice and begin to respond accordingly.