In June this year, two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa referred to the system of military occupation in the occupied Palestinian Territories as apartheid. This is a direct reference to the South African Bantustan policy, implemented by the racist government of Pretoria until 1994.
Separating and confining the indigenous populations into non-continuous enclaves, and ruling over them with military laws, were among the similarities noted by the two former Israeli ambassadors between Israeli policy today and South African apartheid. These comments speak to a deeper parallel between the two ethnoseparatist garrison states – apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel had a cooperative and longstanding military-political alliance for decades, based on a shared politico-religious vision of their respective nations.
The Afrikaners, in settling and colonising African land, invoked the notion of a ‘chosen people’, a god-ordained biblically informed vision of establishing an ethnosupremacist state. This has direct parallels with the Zionist notion of a biblically inspired campaign to colonise the holy lands of the Old Testament, namely Palestine. In both cases, the indigenous populations – black Africans and Palestinians – are regarded as the eternal outsiders; the savages who need civilising.
Jan Smuts, long time Afrikaner politician and field marshal, was not only a racist advocate of Afrikaner supremacy, but also an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism. Forming a friendship with Chaim Weizmann, leader of the Zionist federation and first president of Israel, Smuts strongly supported the Zionist goal of building settlements in pre-1948 Palestine. A supporter of the 1917 Balfour declaration, he expressed his admiration for the civilising mission of Zionism in Palestine – there is a kibbutz named after Smuts in his honour.
The alliance between Tel Aviv and apartheid-era Pretoria is not just a matter of academic history. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, growing numbers of Afrikaners – both those born South African Jewish and converts – are finding a comfortable new home in Israel. Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, was the most famous South African to move to Israel, and many have followed in his footsteps.
The Afrikaners who come from a Pentecostal background, and convert to Judaism, may have a spiritual connection to Israel. But latching onto this explanation ignores the shared history of settler colonialism and apartheid practices of both garrison states. Afrikaner racism and Zionist exclusivity are fellow political travellers, and share a vision of a state based on suppressing the respective indigenous populations.
European antisemites – Zionism’s biggest supporters
European ultrarightist parties have a long history of vicious antisemitism and white supremacy. However, that has not stopped them, over the last few years, from expressing open support for the Zionist state. From Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ultranationalist Hungarian Civic Alliance – Fidesz – all have advocated steadfast political support for Israeli colonisation in Palestine.
To be sure, the European ultraright is undergoing a makeover, abandoning the white hoods and bedsheets, and taking up the collared shirt and office suit. They realise that the skinhead, bully boy image is harmful to their electoral prospects. However, there is also a deep ideological correspondence – Israeli apartheid is an ethnonationalist model state that the European far right intends to emulate.
The rise of a new enemy has lead to an emerging political nexus between the European far right and Tel Aviv – the purported ‘threat’ of Islam. Hostility to Muslim immigration has provided an ideological glue sealing together the goals of Zionism – as an outpost of settler colonialism against Muslim-majority Palestine, and European ultranationalist parties who intend to sustain Europe as a white Christian entity.
Geert Wilders, the suit-wearing suntanned neofascist of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) called Israel the ‘canary in the coal mine’ with regards to the ostensible struggle against Islam. Preying on paranoid anxieties about ‘mass Muslim immigration’, Wilders has pushed Dutch politics further to the right.
The Austrian neofascist politician, Heinz Christian-Strache, has visited Israel numerous times, applauding Tel Aviv’s militarised response to refugees, particularly against the Palestinians. Rabid Islamophobia, combined with anti-immigration xenophobia, has led to a rise in violence against migrant communities – but the ultranationalist admiration for Israel has not abated. Being participants in a global ‘war against Islam’ has provided a pole of attraction for Tel Aviv and European white supremacists.
It is difficult to conceive of a European far right that is internationalist in its perspective – hating foreigners is a necessary precondition to join or support such organisations. Despising foreigners is one aspect – supporting foreign-born racists is the other side of the coin. Screaming claims that anti-Zionism is antisemitism only distract from the very real cultivation of political links between Tel Aviv and the European far right.