In recent decades, scholars and activists have increasingly drawn an analogy between realities in Israel/Palestine and apartheid South Africa. Aware of Israel’s past alliance with South Africa’s white-minority regime, South African anti-apartheid movements have also embraced this analogy, leading to Israel being widely remembered in South Africa as an apartheid collaborator. However, this prevailing analogy masks a more fluid radical engagement with Zionism and Israel from the 1940s to the 1960s. During this period, Israel and Zionism sparked heated debates and diverse perspectives within South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement existed, ranging from sympathy and admiration to suspicion and denunciation.
This dissertation studies the evolving perspectives on Israel/Palestine among South African anti-apartheid activists, tracing their transition from solid support for a Jewish State in Palestine in 1948 to fervent anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian stances by the 1970s. It explores how, for approximately two decades, some South African radicals considered Israel a potential ally and admired its struggle for independence and early achievements. It analyzes the lengthy process by which most of those radicals came to see Israel as an apartheid-like state. It also shows how various radical ideologies, from Trotskyism to Pan-Africanism, shaped their specific attitudes toward Israel through different interpretations of nationalism, anti-fascism, the Cold War, decolonization, and interactions with Israelis.
The history of South African radicals’ views and relations with Israel sheds light on the evolution of the apartheid analogy. It recognizes an embryonic analogical discourse as early as the late 1940s but also reveals that opposing analogies, comparing the suffering of Jews and Africans, also emerged. It demonstrates how the analogy took shape over time, developing its analytical depth through various influences and interactions with local and international discourses.
Additionally, this study provides the first comprehensive historical account of Israel’s short yet eventful anti-apartheid era. Prevailing historiography focuses on Israel’s intimate alliance with apartheid, beginning in the early 1970s. However, during the 1960s, Israel pursued an anti-apartheid policy, including covert ties with liberation movements, notably the Pan-Africanist Congress. This dissertation sheds light on these previously largely unknown connections and suggests that the eventual alliance with apartheid was not inevitable.