Who will be Israel’s F W de Klerk?


The death of former South African President F W de Klerk marks the passing of an era. De Klerk shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for his role leading the negotiations on behalf of the white South African government as they prepared the transition from white minority rule to a democracy where everyone in South Africa would have equal rights. De Klerk’s place in history is assured for that reason if nothing else. 

But more to his credit, in the last days of his life he recorded a moving apology to black South Africans for the racism, abuse, indignities and brutality they suffered at the hands of the white regime which held power from 1948 to the first democratic elections in 1994. 

Israel dates its racist policies towards Palestinians from 1948 also but, unlike white South Africa, it still holds onto exclusive power for itself in historic Palestine. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem describes Israel as “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”. 

The end to Israel’s racist, apartheid policies towards Palestinians will come in a similar way to the ending of apartheid in South Africa. In South Africa the internal struggle by black workers, students and civil society organisations of all sorts against a white, colonial regime was reinforced by an international solidarity movement which promoted boycotts, divestment and sanctions of all kinds to isolate South Africa. This international pressure had built to the point that by the late 1980s the US and UK could no longer hold out supporting the old regime. The UK’s Maggie Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan then insisted the white government begin a process of negotiating an end to South African apartheid in a way which would preserve its privatised, capitalist economy for big business to continue to benefit.

In a case of “pass the parcel” de Klerk found himself holding it when the US and UK were forced to stop the music. In many ways De Klerk was no less hard line than any of the other racist leaders who preceded him. It was the broader international situation which forced the leading western nations to demand he do so – and he did!

However, the way history tends to be told through personalities, some are already describing de Klerk as an enlightened individual who finally saw the wrongs of apartheid and determined to end it. Not so. Internal and international pressure tipped the balance and people around the world, in spite of their governments, can claim credit for helping pile it on. But De Klerk will be the white South African leader remembered by history – all his racist predecessors have already faded into oblivion.

International pressure has been building on Israel now for many years and I think 2021 is the turning point. Despite what political leaders in the US and Europe say, the ground has begun its inexorable shift away from the Israeli narrative and support for the Palestinian people as an indigenous people driven off their land and persecuted by a racist, colonial regime is taking centre stage. From now Israel will increasingly struggle for legitimacy and survival as a racist state, despite the hubris of its leaders and despite how many atomic bombs and cruise missiles it has. They will count for nothing when political support runs out.

There will be those who say Israeli hardliners will never agree to equal rights for everyone and point to the settler movement – living in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land – whose racism and brutality is renowned and which is increasingly being used by Israel as the frontline of their plans to continue driving Palestinians off their land. But South Africa had its equivalent of the settler movement among hard-right Afrikaners who were side-lined and isolated when push came to shove. The same will happen in Israel. Even before negotiations for equal rights have begun a quarter of Jewish Israelis say they would be happy to live in a country where everyone has equal rights. That number will tip over, as it did in South Africa, to majority support once the path to democracy is taken.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Internationally the situation is moving in a similar direction. Most Jews living around the world have already made the mental shift. 25% of Jews in America describe Israel as an apartheid state and among young Jews the figure is up to 38%. Here in New Zealand the same generational change is evident in the Jewish community. The old certainties are going and the deep-seated racism within the New Zealand Jewish Council is seeing it lose credibility and influence. It will soon be a spent force.

The US will continue to tend to Israel’s whims until that internal and international pressure builds to the point where the US simply forces Israel to negotiate a deal with Palestinians, as the US did with South Africa. Initially the US will try to force a two-state solution to maintain a strategic position in the Middle East but the tide has run out on that option. Israel’s illegal settlements have turned what could have been a Palestinian state into a block of Swiss cheese. A one-state solution where everyone has equal rights is the only viable way forward.

Our job in the international solidarity movement is to build the pressure and the three key words here are Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – the three words which terrify the state of Israel as much as they terrified white South Africa. Whenever Israel howls about BDS and tries to shut down pro-Palestinian campaigns, the Palestinian people are winning.

So who will be Israel’s F W de Klerk? Who will be the Israeli leader left holding the parcel when the music stops? Will it be Naftali Bennet? Benjamin Netanyahu? Yair Lapid? They can at least be sure they will be remembered by history when all their racist predecessors are just awful grey historical footnotes.

It doesn’t really matter which one it is. Once the pressure is on even the most racist, reactionary, fascist leader will do what the international community forces them to do.

In the meantime those of us outside Israel should, in the words of the international expert on apartheid, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “call it apartheid and boycott”.


  1. There is no apartheid in Israel. Approx 1.5 million Arabs live, work and vote in Israel. They also serve in the military.

    Why the concern over Jews running Israel? Why not Scots running Scotland or Arabs running Saudi Arabia?

    • deluded liar. They even passed a law to reduce rights of Palestinians. It’s not a real democracy. BDS all the way baby until the apartheid scum are gone

    • Or any concern for the concentration camps and live organ harvesting in China . . Minto is an old dog with a bone.

      • Many bones I would have thought. I mean he has worked on more human rights issues than anyone that I am aware of, he can’t do everything James, have you organised a protest against live organ harvesting, oh well who are you to poke Minto. I expect like me he has in his time signed petitions and marched on more issues than you every have!

        His main issues are State Housing and the plight of the Palestinians, both pretty time consuming.

        Which are your issues and what are you doing about them?

        • Michal. I agree. Minto has done more than most to better society. His efforts against apartheid were significant even if things didn’t turn out as well as he would have liked. People like Minto should get the accolades ahead of people like Brierly, Key and rich sailors.

      • …. and you are a fuckwitted one trick show pony? If not, front up with your own campaign supported with evidenced information so we can support your issue. Clearly Bomber would encourage you to post of TDB.

      • Of course there is fucking concern. It’s the only concern that the spooks and spy’s at GCSB feeding information to the Lovley New Zealand Herald want you to know. You wouldn’t hear about whats going on in West Papua because because that doesn’t suit the spooks story.

      • james you have some proof other than ‘sources suggest’ or youtube videos for any charge against china, I remember the cold war and am suspicious of unsubstantiated rumours…there’s the pot for you..

    • Check your maps – the country was always called Palestine, until the unilateral declaration of the colonial state of Israel, which went on to introduce a series of laws entrenching apartheid.

    • Bullshit Andrew, complete bullshit.

      Palestine will be free in my life time, one state with one vote for all, democracy is what it is called.

      • I remember the days when all the Israeli apologists fell deeply in love with the one state solution, just because Palestine wanted a 2 state solution. Funny that. 🙂

        It’s just absolutely rediculous that a population of 5 million could maintain military dominance without the aid of a Nuclear Super Power and right now, with schools getting shot up every year, America is doing it’s absolute best to slid into the Atlantic for no other reason but muh Daka, gun go boom paaaa, first amendment nut jobs.

        Y’know, America is 10,000 miles away from the middle east, Russia shares a border. Shake my head.

    • Kia ora Andrew. There is an International Definition of Apartheid and Israel falls under that Definition.

      No amount of look at this, look at that, look around that corner or down the Rabbit hole, changes that fact.

      For more information, go here – https://lettersforpalestine.weebly.com/apartheid-israel.html

      It is difficult for people brought up being told that Israel is a Demoracy while is is not so. Apartheid states Are Not Democracies.

      It is time Israel dropped the Apartheid and embraced Demoracy!

  2. Well put John. Looking back, the ANC had the great misfortune to assume office at the peak of Reaganism and Thatcherism so the Freedom Charter barely got a look in. And in fact the PAC and other groups had better policies than the ANC too. While it is easy enough to be critical of SA people and political organisers for not getting it totally right, many of them were brutalised and locked up for years.

    So it was a corporate influenced handover almost of state power to the majority in South Africa to make sure that capitalist class relations and business as usual would continue. A class left revolution is still required in todays RSA to deliver the rest.

    Yes, the tide is turning on Israel too at last. More people are realising it is ok to still be disturbed by the WWII holocaust by the Nazis, AND criticise the Israeli state and military for its unrelenting campaign against Palestinians since The Nakba in 1948. BDS until the Israeli butchers in charge of the Apartheid state are defeated.

  3. One of reasons many if not majority within Israel are in denial about their apartheid is suppression of damning archives from 1946-1948. In 2019 extended til 90 years. 95% still unreleased to historians, and under control of PMO (Prime Ministers Office).
    After Jerusalem Post published a brief in Dec 2018 with retiring Chief Archivist Yacoov Lukowicz complaining of this “How can we call ourselves a democracy when … “, I went looking for this in 2021 on their archives. No longer there. Only confirmed by subscribing to Haaretz whose archives confirmed it.
    When on a Zoom meeting with Israeli new historian Ilan Pappe last week I mentioned this he said no, it’s 98 %, he had experienced it (he’s Arab & Hebrew speaking) & had put files he’d used no longer available on another website so others could validate his conclusions (read 2016 Ten Myths about Israel), Cabinet papers, vets’ oral histories, Red Cross Geneva records & 1980s releases for confirmation about forcible displacements he has no doubt in calling ethnic cleansing. Deliberately planned from Plan Dalet well b4 creation of Israel.
    No, Andrew. You need to get up to speed about ‘Jews’ not creating an apartheid state – if the tightly argued, extensively evidenced 213-page report by internationally respected Human Rights Watch in April is too long for you, try the much slimmer January 2021 report by Israel’s human rights group, B’Tselem: same conclusion.
    Who was displaced, how many, and how is all in 10 Myths about Israel – it’s in the Chch library. Or any library in New Zealand. Get back after a bit of reading up and let’s discuss how ghastly the situation really is for Palestinians since Zionist Jews decided to reclaim ‘their homeland’ last century at the expense of the indigenous population. By the way, calling Palestinians ‘Arabs’ is like calling you a Caucasian – blurs any meaningful distinctions and makes it sound as if you belong only to a language grouping or a vague place faraway.

  4. Your analysis, John, has little to say about the collapse of actually existing socialism which coincided historically with the introduction of liberal democratic institutions in South Africa. In the absence of its chief Soviet sponsor, the ANC had little option but to take what the capitalist West was prepared to offer.

    I agree with your contention that the State of Israel faces a similar dilemma in relation to its chief sponsor, the United States. If the USA collapsed in the same manner as the USSR, then Israel’s strategic position would, indeed, become considerably more tenuous. Still, that’s a pretty big “if” – isn’t it?

    There are, however, differences as well as similarities.

    The South African Whites were a very small minority which pitted themselves against a vastly superior (at least numerically) Black population. The population of Israel, by contrast, is overwhelmingly Jewish. It is also, as you say, formidably well-armed.

    A ruthless strategy of ethnic cleansing might well recommend itself to an ethno-nationalist Israeli government in extremis as more acceptable than relinquishing control of the Jewish homeland. Would the reactionary Arab states be sorry to see the back of the Palestinian nationalists? Probably not. Would any other nation state be willing to risk war with Israel to support them? Again, probably not.

    South Africa was an apple, John. Israel is an orange.

    • Apple first…the ANC Freedom Charter as I read it does not deal with ownership of the means of production in a concrete sense apart from minerals, and stuff underground, to be nationalised. Nationalisation did not happen as envisaged in any event. The ANC was not an anti capitalist organisation when it came down to it, and faced with assuming office with corporate support. The misgivings of the PAC and others were correct. But it is all very well for people at this remove to criticise.

      During the Springbok tour I met Donald Woods and had a long chat with him at the Auckland Trades Hall, I met ANC’s Andrew Molotsane (RIP) and a number of other freedom fighters some of whom also later died in the struggle–it was not an academic exercise!

      Israel can be turned around but it is immensely difficult while US Imperialism directs money and arms. I can indeed imagine the Israeli State and Military invoking some gruesome final solution. Neighbouring states largely control their people one and all so the view of their masses on Palestinians may differ from the vicious autocrats. Trump certainly embraced various Gulf states to assist in Israel’s mission to perform genocide on Palestinians.

      • Well I think Chinas belt and road initiative is going to convey Chinese low cost production down the road totally f****** up America’s foreign policy in the Middle East for the last 100 years.

    • Response to Chris Trotter.hasI think you have missed the main point of my article. I’m arguing about right and wrong and the massive injustices heaped on the Palestinian people these past 73 years. I don’t think from your previous writing about the Middle East that you have even reached the point of acknowledging the Nakba or the racist apartheid policies of Israel in the first place. If this has changed then that’s good.

      Back in the early 1980s a group of us discussed with Donald Woods how long it would take South African apartheid to be beaten. He said it was so deeply entrenched it would take maybe 30/40 years and emphasised the strong support for the white regime from Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK (as well as the strong though much less politically significant support of Israel in UN votes and in options for testing Israel’s nuclear weapons) We were all wrong however because the huge rise in pressure, internally and externally, by the late 1980s changed everything for South Africa. Change in Israel will also be rapid and will take us all by surprise – as someone once said “for decades nothing happens, and then in days decades happen”.

      But that change won’t happen without massive internal and external pressure – which is where BDS comes into it. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says “We (South Africans) could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through… non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.” Our job here in Aotearoa New Zealand is to ramp up that pressure.

      Meanwhile public opinion is changing quickly in the US and around the world in favour of the Palestinian struggle. Speculative discussion about the strength of US support is just that. The US will drop Israel like a hot potato when it’s no longer in their interests to support this racist state – just as they abandoned support for white South Africa when the political cost rose.

    • I’m surprised that Chris Trotter used the phrase ” the Jewish homeland.”
      Many many Jews around the world would not accept that. Try asking the American NGO Jewish Voice for Peace for example.
      Jeff Halper , co-founder of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions said to us, ie me and Martin, (we’ve met Jeff several times, in fact he stayed with us when on a speaking tour in NZ)
      “No one has the right to speak for all Jews. ”
      Jeff and some other Israeli Jews are united with Palestinian spokespeople in calling for a One State, Democratic and Secular with Equal Rights for All, in all of historic Palestine. It’s the only hope.
      Yes, BDS from us..but more is needed. The Zionist regime should be soundly condemned for the escalating violence being inflicted on the Palestinians..on people, including children, on their trees, their water sources , even their mosques, even on cemeteries.
      Shame on the silence from our media.

    • You said – “The population of Israel, by contrast, is overwhelmingly Jewish.”

      You must understand that this only came about by the use of more than 100 Massacres to Ethnically Cleanse more than 750,000 Palestinians from their Homes and Lands in 1948. Imagine if they had been allowed to stay. There would be equal numbers of Palestinians and Jews in historic Palestine.

      My question is, Do You support International conventions and the return of the Palestinian Refugees from Israel to their homes and lands?

      Given that Jews around the world are reclaiming posessions stolen from them in WW2, do You support the same being applied to Palestinians who have lost lands and posessions in Palestine/Israel from 1948 onwards?

      Or will you pretend to be “Pragmatic” and use the Palestinian Exception. That International Law and Conventions apply to everyone. Except Palestinians. . .

      Nga mihi


  5. Kia ora Andrew. There is an International Definition of Apartheid and Israel falls under that Definition.

    No amount of look at this, look at that, look around that corner or down the Rabbit hole, changes that fact.

    For more information, go here – https://lettersforpalestine.weebly.com/apartheid-israel.html

    It is difficult for people brought up being told that Israel is a Demoracy while is is not so. Apartheid states Are Not Democracies.

    It is time Israel dropped the Apartheid and embraced Demoracy!

    • Good point in the obvious regard–but what is your subtext, highlighting Palestinian leadership and factional issues, or positively hoping for a person to indeed “unite all who can be united”…?

    • Each time a Palestinian Nelson Mandela looks like arising, Israel either Kills them or imprisons them.

      Israel is Desperate to stop any ability of Palestinians to plan for peace.

  6. basically everything and anything to do with isreal/palestine is he said/she said…and the nabling of either side by outsiders (yes that includes us) just prolongs the carnage….everybody stop funding them, and I do mean both sides, any and all funding and support from any and all sources, neither state is sustainable so they’ll have to have meaningful long term solutions or both go under

    the continued enabling helps no one

  7. Another narrative was the rise of Umkhonto we Sizwe [the spear of the nation]. With the older leaders locked up the young exploded and the whites knew that the would be next. The revolution of the townships was not going away.

Comments are closed.