July 2010, Week 3


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Thu, 15 Jul 2010 23:24:41 -0400
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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. 
BlackCommentator.com 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.

[BlackCommentator.com 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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