Israel’s ‘whataboutism’ faithful to apartheid SA tactics
In 1962 the UN formed the special committee against apartheid. Its mandate was to present SA’s human rights violations and promote an international boycott campaign against Pretoria. This was one of the UN’s most active permanent groups, regularly reporting to the general assembly and the security council.
Eschel Rhoodie, apartheid SA’s propagandist-in-chief at the time, called the committee and the global anti-apartheid movement it was spawning “a fanatical obsession with SA affairs to the exclusion of all other injustices and problems in the world”. Rhoodie whinged about the “unbelievable hostility against anything SA and the application of an outrageous double standard in evaluating SA policies”.
Over the next two decades SA’s well-funded propaganda network amplified Rhoodie’s message around the world. “If SA practises discrimination so too do many Commonwealth countries. Why not cut aid to the Marxist dictatorship of Tanzania? Why not boycott the USSR?” implored a pro-apartheid advertisement in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper in November 1985.
By making a few minor changes SA’s “Unfairly Singled Out” campaign has been repurposed by Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) brigade to attack the Palestine solidarity movement. The basis on which Israel’s supporters believe it is subject to unfair criticism is eerily similar to the rationalisations of apartheid SA’s defenders in the 1970s and ’80s.
These excuses did the rounds earlier this month after international relations minister Naledi Pandor brought SA’s security council term to an end. Speaking at the council’s quarterly open debate on Palestine, Pandor called the UN’s failure to end Israel’s brutal occupation and secure Palestinian peace and freedom “a profound stain” against the UN’s mission.
Drawing on Rhoodie’s messaging, the SA Zionist Federation’s Rowan Polovin referred to Pandor’s address as a “harangue against Israel ... simply designed to single out, isolate and berate the Jewish state”. Polovin wanted Pandor to mouth platitudes about Palestinian nation-building and dialogue.
Why do Israel’s apologists still bother talking about dialogue and the peace process when Israeli leaders now in office, from the prime minister down, have been skipping the lip-service and openly admitting that there will never be a Palestinian state? The unprecedented clarity in Israeli language has narrowed the gap between Israeli actions and the empty rhetoric on negotiations and diplomacy.
Ending the occupation does not require dialogue. It’s a simple issue of Israel treating Palestinians as equals who have the right to self-determination and sovereignty.
At Oslo in 1993 the Palestine Liberation Organisation met Israel’s precondition for negotiations by accepting Israel’s right to exist within secure boundaries. Israel has never reciprocated by recognising a Palestinian state with secure borders. You cannot talk about coexistence when you refuse to even acknowledge that the other side exists. The primary consideration throughout the so-called peace process has only ever been Israel’s existence and security.
At the centre of Israel’s policies is a colonial mentality that Palestinians simply don’t deserve the same rights as Israelis. Israel’s “generous offers” to Palestinians have been a demilitarised state with its main centres severed from each other and Israel controlling connecting roads between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, movement inside the West Bank, Palestinian access to the Western Aquifer and the Jordan border.
Palestinians rejected this “deal of a lifetime” offer of a future Palestinian “state” where Israel would control the airspace, economic and foreign policy, water resources, internal movement and borders.
In 1975, the UN established the committee on the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and like the special committee on apartheid its task was to highlight the human rights violations of an occupier, apartheid state disenfranchising millions of people.
Since 1978, the UN has been observing November 29 as the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. On December 3 the UN’s annual debate on the question of Palestine will take place. The committee will present its annual report and four resolutions endorsed by it will be considered by the general assembly.
In response, Israel’s defenders will ask “what about other human rights violators?” It might interest those peddling the “Israel is being singled out” myth to know that SA’s propagandists also resorted to “whataboutery”.
During a public debate in Canada on censorship in SA in August 1988 (as the first Intifada raged), audience member Norm Richards asked: “What is this maniacal obsession with SA at the moment? I mean, 200 Palestinians are being shot to death in the streets of the West Bank, you know? I do hope that the panel will use the same sort of of energy to bring inequities in Israel to the general public.”
Thanks for the concern, Norm. That’s what we’re trying to do.
• Dadoo is a writer based in Johannesburg.