In 1894, a French artillery officer of Jewish origin, Alfred Dreyfus, faced charges of treason from the French army. The events of the time prompted Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism and journalist covering the trial, to believe that establishing a national homeland for the Jewish people could address the issue of antisemitism. Despite the persistence of antisemitism, this article is written in the modern State of Israel, 130 years later.
Following the October 7 attacks and subsequent war, South Africa decided to take Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), charging it with violating the Genocide Convention of 1948. Following the conclusion of preliminary hearings for provisional measures, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola went before the cameras, and after a speech blaming Israel for genocide, stating that Israel had utterly failed. “We are standing on the principle that every apartheid state is declared a crime against humanity,” he said. “So we are here to protect the Palestinian people.”
The motivations behind South Africa’s case were clarified by its first speaker, emphasizing its intent that the case is not simply about genocide but about Israel’s legitimacy. Its ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimusi Mandonsela, claimed that the fight dates back to Israel’s very existence as a state, not just from October 7:
South Africa recognizes the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people through Israel’s colonization since 1948. We are also particularly mindful of Israel’s institutionalized regime of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices designed and maintained to establish domination, subjecting the Palestinian people to apartheid on both sides of the Green Line… SA acknowledges the genocidal acts and omissions by the State of Israel as part of a continuum of illegal acts perpetrated against the Palestinian people since 1948. The application places Israel’s genocidal acts within the broader context of Israel’s apartheid.
The birth of neo-apartheidism ideology against Israel
The development of this “neo-apartheidism” ideology did not come out of a vacuum but was formed on South African soil. The term equating Israel to apartheid was first officially articulated in the Durban NGO Forum at the Durban Conference Against Racism a few days before the September 11 attacks [in the US]. A combination of anti-apartheid activists joined forces with anti-Israel NGOs, giving birth to the new global movement. This was articulated in Article 424:
Call for the launch of an international anti-Israeli Apartheid movement as implemented against South African Apartheid through a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society, UN bodies and agencies, business communities, and to end the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States.
In 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was born, utilizing the strategy to compare Israel to apartheid. Importantly, while it wasn’t originally South African policy, since 2012 the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has adopted it as such. When challenged at the time, the ANC chair called Israel “far worse than apartheid,” and the declaration was “unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel…The conference called on all South Africans to support the programs and campaigns of Palestinian civil society, seeking to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution.”Advertisement
As such, it is important to note that what we see is not based on October 7 but the development of a new antisemitic ideological claim of Israel being the new apartheid. It is important to highlight this trend, as it goes beyond the court’s purview regarding the Genocide Convention. Nevertheless, if Israel were to be acquitted by the court, this ideology, prevalent throughout civil society, particularly on the Left across the West, will continue to haunt it.
South Africa’s ideology is so complete that it also obscures facts on the ground. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza, including removing all its soldiers and civilians. Its inability to rescue Gilad Schalit and the majority of the current hostages is proof of its lack of effective control. Despite this, South Africa acts as if Israel completely controls Gaza, viewing Gaza and the people in it as one unit with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank. Two speakers claimed that all border crossings were controlled by Israel, ignoring Egyptian control of Rafah in the South. Hamas was largely ignored, and if mentioned, sidelined. The result is Israel occupying a piece of land it has not occupied for 17 years and therefore has no right to self-defense.
To counter, it is important to highlight facts on the ground and to emphasize Hamas’s role as the governing authority of an independent authority. Gaza has not been under Israeli control since August 2005. Israel’s ability to defend itself is clear in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, based on the Jewish people’s inalienable right of self-determination. The right of self- defense is even more permissible at the state level, as “Palestine” as a state was admitted by the United Nations, in which Gaza is viewed as a part.
As stated by Israel’s lawyer, Christopher Staker, it makes little sense for South Africa as a third party to request injunctions at The Hague when the real parties are Israel vs Palestine. However, as a show trial to the world, the stage is perfect for South Africa.
Neo-apartheidism is real and upon us. It’s critical that Israel and its supporters be prepared to actively oppose and counter its presence. ■
Gil Lewinsky has a Masters of Laws from Lancaster University in the UK and a Masters of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. His master’s thesis was turned into a book in 2012 titled Gazan Independence under International Law: Is an Independent Gaza Feasible? He currently works as a writer and teacher in Israel.