The word “apartheid” has in recent years been affixed, as a Homeric epithet (such as “wine-dark sea,” “wily Odysseus,” “grey-eyed Athena”) to tiny, much-maligned Israel by its army of enemies: every single attack on the country now starts by describing it as “apartheid Israel” or “the apartheid state.” It has been repeatedly pointed out, in dignified response, that the epithet is flatly false. There is no “apartheid” in Israel. Arabs serve on the Supreme Court and in the Knesset; Arabs go abroad as ambassadors for the Jewish state. The chairman of Israel’s biggest bank, Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Jews and Arabs work together in the same offices and factories. Jews and Arabs receive medical care from the same hospitals and from both Jewish and Arab medical personnel, Jews and Arabs attend the same universities. Jews and Arabs play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras. Jews and Arabs go into businesses together, everything from restaurants to high-tech start-ups. In only one way are Jews and Arabs treated differently: Jews must, while Arabs may, serve in the Israeli military.
It’s one thing to hear this rejection of the “apartheid” charge from Israelis and their supporters. But it is much more persuasive to hear it from a black South African who knows very well what apartheid means. The South African Moisua Lekota, who was imprisoned on Robbins Island with Nelson Mandela for his anti-apartheid activism, and served as South Africa’s Minister of Defense for nine years, recently discussed the “apartheid” accusation here.
Israel cannot be compared to an apartheid state, former anti-apartheid activist and South African politician Mosiuoa Lekota said in a complete rejection of the accusation in an interview with the South African Friends of Israel podcast earlier in September.
Lekota, who served time in prison alongside Nelson Mandela and later became South Africa’s defense minister, provided arguments against such comparisons.
“I was in Israel, my brother,” Lekota began, recounting his visit. “In Israel, you won’t find the same divisions between Jews and non-Jews that we used to witness during apartheid. There are no segregated buses for different ethnic groups, like Jews and Arabs.
“In Israel, everyone boards the same bus, travels wherever they need to, and disembarks as they wish. There is no apartheid in Israel, not even within their schools.”…
Lekota, a 75-year-old anti-apartheid activist with a storied history, initially aligned with the African National Congress (ANC) and endured imprisonment alongside Nelson Mandela in 1985. In 2008, he parted ways with the ANC to establish the Congress of the People (Cope), a splinter party, and has served as its president since December 16, 2008.
While with the ANC, Lekota held the esteemed position of defense minister under President Thabo Mbeki from June 17, 1999, to September 25, 2008….
Reflecting on his earlier beliefs, Lekota admitted, “I once held the assumption, as we did in South Africa, that most Jews supported apartheid.” He continued, “I always had this idea that all the Jews are in one corner and the others are in the other,” but upon visiting Israel, he was surprised to find that “in the parliament, there are Arabs who are members of parliament, and they were all sitting together.”
Once Lekota had accepted the view, unfortunately so widespread in South Africa, that Israel was indeed an “apartheid state.” But then he went to Israel, and the scales fell from his eyes. He could see that Jews and Arabs attended schools and universities together. He. saw that Arabs were members of the Knesset. He saw that busses were not segregated; there was no “back of the bus” for Arabs only. What he does not mention are the many other examples he might adduce of Jews and Arabs studying, working, performing, playing, healing, and being healed, together. But Lekota has time in future interviews to supply all the other examples of Arab legal and social equality in Israeli society for those South Africans who still need more evidence that Israel is not an “apartheid state.”
The current regime in South Africa contains many ministers with an anti-Israel animus, and it has threatened to cut off all relations with the Jewish state. So far that has not happened, but following a vote in the Parliament, Pretoria has downgraded its relations with Israel; its embassy in Tel Aviv has now become merely a liaison office.
Those of you who so mindlessly affix the epithet “apartheid” to Israel ought to read what Lekota, who grew up in South Africa as a black man, suffering under the real thing, even being imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for attacking the apartheid system, has to say on the subject. He has visited Israel and seen for himself how preposterous that charge is. Listen to Mosiuoa Lekota; he knows whereof he speaks.