Uri Avnery on why Israel isn’t South Africa – and a boycott wouldn’t work

August 31, 2009 at 10:52 am (democracy, Human rights, israel, Jim D, Middle East, national liberation, palestine)

Veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has written a powerful piece explaining the falsity of crude comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa – and therefore why the boycott campaign is misguided.

The article is published in today’s Morning Star, which is interesting in itself as the Star’s coverage of  Israel/Palestine has, for some time, verged upon “absolute anti-Zionism” that seems to question Israel’s very right to exist. They have published Avery’s articles before, but never one that makes his “two states” position and his rejection of the “apartheid” comparison so plain.

The article opens with a description of a conversation the author had recently with Desmond Tutu and why Avnery – an admirer of Tutu – believes he’s wrong about boycotting Israel:

“To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story. In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederik Willem de Klerk, was elected president of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?”

“It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasises the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today. The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority.

“Among a general population of almost 50 million, the whites amounted to less than 10 per cent. This means that more than 90 per cent of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them too.

“In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80 per cent of Israel’s citizens and constitute a majority of some 60 per cent throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And 99.9 per cent of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.

“They will not feel that “the whole world is with us,” but rather that “the whole world is against us.”

“In South Africa, the worldwide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle.

“The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite. It would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-semitic world.”

“People are not the same everywhere. It seems that the blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis and from the Palestinians too.”

I don’t agree with everything in Avnery’s piece, but it makes a refreshing change from the unremiting  root-and-branch hosility to Israel’s very existance that permeates much “left-wing” discourse these days. It also points out that “the vast majority of Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state”…which inevitably must mean “next to Israel.”

Read the whole article (link in second paragraph, above).


  1. Uri Avnery against the Israel / South Africa analogy and against the boycott. « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism said,

    […] Tip to Jim D at Shiraz Socialist. Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment […]

  2. Jenny said,

    I have to disagree here, the boycott is against institutions, not the citizens. Although judging from Antony Lowenstein’s post: http://antonyloewenstein.com/tag/gaza/ there are quite a few do or die nationalists who are in favor of more settlements. There is indeed a difference in the sense that pro boycotters are in favor of the rights of a seperate country,but there are palestinians being discriminated in Israel too so there is a level of similarity there.

  3. online essay said,

    According to history, Britain have let Israel live it’s one life since 1947. So now they have policy… So, it was predicteable.

  4. Israel: it’s apartheid – but not as we know it… « Shiraz Socialist said,

    […] back to that “apartheid” analogy: serious Marxists and Israeli peace activists have repeatedly explained how and why it’s not an appropriate analogy, and that […]

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