Who says Jews and racism don’t go together? By Akiva Eldar

25 May, 2010 — Ha’aretz

Those who are celebrating disclosures about Richard Goldstone’s relationship with apartheid-era South Africa ought to read a new book about Israel’s ties with that regime.

The “sexy” story of the nuclear dealings between Israel and South Africa, as told in a new book by Sasha Polakow-Suransky (“The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa” ), diverted attention from the book’s other revelations about the intimate relations between the Jewish state and the racist regime.

The author, a senior editor at the important journal “Foreign Affairs,” noted that Israel was not the only country to have violated the embargo on South Africa. Other members of this dubious club included several “enlightened” nations, among them Arab oil states. But with Israel, the relationship went far beyond security and economic interests and became a sturdy friendship.

Polakow-Suransky relates that in November 1974, Shimon Peres, who at the time was minister of defense in then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s first government, returned from a secret visit to South Africa. Peres wrote to thank his hosts for their contribution to establishing a “vitally important link between the two governments.” Peres continued: “This cooperation is based not only on common interests and on the determination to resist equally our enemies, but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and refusal to submit to it.”

This is the same Peres who not long ago said that former South African judge Richard Goldstone is “a small man, devoid of any sense of justice.” Twelve years later, on a visit to Cameroon, Peres, who was then prime minister, asserted: “A Jew who accepts racism ceases to be a Jew.” And to prevent misunderstandings, he added: “A Jew and racism do not go together.” It was at about that time, Polakow-Suransky wrote, that several of Israel’s most lucrative defense contracts with the white minority regime came into effect.

According to Polakow-Suransky, trade between the two countries – and especially security cooperation – continued to flourish even after Israel’s first unity government decided in 1987 to impose sanctions on South Africa.

Then as now, “security considerations” cast a spell on the media. The author cites an editorial published by Haaretz during the 1973 Yom Kippur War: “No political fastidiousness can justify the difference between one who has been revealed a friend and one who has betrayed friendship in our hour of fate.” The editorial related to South Africa’s decision to provide essential replacement parts for Israel’s Mirage fighter planes at a time when many black African countries that had benefited from Israeli aid programs were cutting ties with Israel.

Those on the right and in the media who are celebrating Goldstone’s relationship with the apartheid regime would do well to read this book attentively.

A question of money

Settlers and their supporters have assailed the Palestinian Authority for having the gall to tell residents of the territories to stop expanding the settlements. To this, the proper response is: Remove the blindfolds from your eyes.

On a rightist Internet site that encourages the use of Jewish labor, Elyakim Levanon, the rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh, wrote: “Here, Arabs do not come in to work. Here, only Jews work.” He reported that in some settlements, this rule is very strictly observed, while in others, it is less so. The rabbi found support for not employing Arabs in the weekly Torah portion and concluded with a practical recommendation: “Perhaps you pay a bit more, but you get quality work. We will be glad to be rid of them.”

But Levanon’s fellow settler rabbis – David Hai Hacohen, David Dudkevitch, Haim Grinshpan and Eliezer Melamed – are not relinquishing Arab labor so easily. They claim that if people at the Har Bracha settlement insisted on employing Jewish workers, the settlement would not expand at the necessary pace of several dozen homes annually.

“When the question arose as to whether to employ Arabs, who perhaps hate us, and continue to build at the necessary pace, or not to employ them and not build at the necessary pace,” wrote these spiritual leaders, a rabbinical ruling was handed down to continue to build with gentile laborers, and when necessary, even with Arabs.

Alongside the general principle of preferring Jewish laborers, the rabbis also addressed the matter of the pay. They considered the question of “whether it is necessary to prefer the Jew in every case, even if his price is double, or is there a definition whereby up to a difference of a certain percentage, the Jew should be preferred, but beyond that percentage, there is no obligation to prefer the Jew?”

In principle, the rabbis answered, “The commandment is incumbent upon the individual [contractor] to seek ways to employ more Jewish workers while advancing his business toward greater efficiency and profitability.”

But until such time as the individual finds a way to fulfill the commandment that workers of your own city take precedence, they leave the responsibility on the state’s doorstep: “In principle, it seems it is the responsibility of the Jewish state to see that every Jew has a respectable living.” Thus as long as the state does not see to providing them with cheap Jewish labor, ruled the rabbis, “it is not possible to impose this obligation on the individual employer, who must compete in the market against competitors whoemploy far cheaper workers.”

The El Matan outpost

In a column on June 6, 2009, I wrote that work in the vicinity of El Matan was being carried out on private land belonging to the village of Tulat. I want to clarify that the work is being done on state land that is under the jurisdiction of the settlement of Ma’aleh Shomron. It was not my intention to claim that the synagogue there was built on private land belonging to any particular resident of the village of Tulat, and it was certainly not my intention to harm the inhabitants of El Matan.

The term “state land” refers to approximately 1 million dunams that the state has expropriated in the West Bank under a law dating from Ottoman times. A large part of this land was earmarked for building settlements exclusively for Jews.

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