Any black South African who claims there is apartheid in Israel is either uninformed or blatantly dishonest, says a member of parliament in Pretoria.
According to Kenneth Meshoe, chairman of the African Christian Democratic Party faction, any attempt to compare Palestinians’ experience in Israel with the former racist regime is offensive to individuals who suffered under the system of racial separation.
Whatever challenges the Arab minority in Israel faces, the reality of life here cannot be compared to his experiences growing up, he insists.
“There is freedom of movement in this country that we never had in South Africa,” Meshoe told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) during a visit to Jerusalem last week. “Benches and bathrooms said ‘whites only.’ We could never take ‘white’ transportation. Most white doctors would not treat black patients, only white ones. And those who were willing to treat black patients out of compassion – many of them would ask the patients to enter their clinics through the back door so they wouldn’t be seen by the white patients in the lobby. I don’t know if it was illegal for white doctors to treat black patients, but the reality was that very few did.”
According to Meshoe, “Some South Africans who say there’s apartheid in Israel are only repeating things they’ve heard from other people, not because they’ve actually seen it themselves. They are just perpetuating propaganda.
“Other people – politicians – are only thinking about their needs, and the statements that will serve their needs. They ask ‘what do I gain [by claiming there is or is not apartheid in Israel] and then make a decision. So they are perpetuating something that that they know very well is a lie.”
Meshoe said he first visited Israel several years after Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994. He joined a church delegation to the Holy Land and used the opportunity both for a religious pilgrimage and a political education, but the latter came as a surprise.
“On that trip, I deliberately looked for anything that looked like apartheid. I took a bus to the center of Jerusalem, but blacks, Jews, Arabs and everybody else all sat together. Swimming at the Dead Sea was mixed. I looked for the ‘black only’ beaches, but there were none. Arab school teachers stood in front of Jewish classes! That would never have happened under apartheid,” he said.
Parliamentarians Avoid Fact-Finding Missions
In parliament, Meshoe said he has offered to lead parliamentary fact-finding trips to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but he said that few of his colleagues are prepared to come. He added that even the ANC government discourages its members from visiting Israel because too many have come and changed their minds as a result – something that poses a political problem in a country where there is both widespread dissatisfaction with the current government and a growing, vocal Muslim minority with staunchly pro-Palestinian views.
It there is any group that frustrates Meshoe, it is the Arab members of the Knesset. While he did not meet with members of the Joint List faction on this trip, he told TPS that he has been frustrated with his interactions with MKs such as Haneen Zoabi on previous trips.
“[They] complained about not being treated fairly. One of the realities that we had to make clear to them is that the fact that you are a member of parliament makes your situation fundamentally different than our situation under apartheid…
“It hit them between the eyes. Of course, they may face challenges, but you cannot call it apartheid. If there were apartheid here, they would not be in the parliament. It’s a simple as that. An Arab judge would not be allowed to preside over a case involving a Jew. So let them coin another word for yourselves, but it isn’t apartheid,” Meshoe said.