During the early 1960s, apartheid South African diplomats were increasingly concerned their country’s plummeting reputation would affect relations with America. In one notorious incident, of March 1960, South African police shot dead 69 black protesters in Sharpeville, a township about 40 miles from Johannesburg.
Such atrocities sparked protests against the racist regime on the streets of England, America’s great ally, which surely did not go unnoticed in Washington. Aware of the changing climate, South Africa’s dignitaries pleaded with their American counterparts for continued assistance. They need not have worried that the earth’s dominant power would desert them.
As long as the United States provided support, it mattered little if the rest of the world looked on disapprovingly. Indeed, successive US governments backed the apartheid regime, both financially and militarily – peaking during the Ronald Reagan years (1981-89). The Reagan administration listed Nelson Mandela‘s African National Congress (ANC) party as, “one of the more notorious terrorist groups”.
Mandela himself remained on America’s terrorist watch list until 2008, and even then, it took special legislation in Congress to have his name removed. Upon closer inspection, perhaps the mistrust in which Mandela was held by US elites is not surprising. In 1990, among the first words Mandela spoke following his release from a disgraceful 27-year jail term, was to praise Cuba for being “an inspiration” and that Fidel Castro was “a tower of strength”.
Mandela was highlighting Cuba’s pivotal role in liberating southern Africa from the plague of apartheid. During the 1970s and 1980s, Castro sent tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight against the white South African-backed mercenaries – in Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. The Castro government also provided Africa with significant numbers of medical personnel, academics, teachers, engineers, and so on.
Meanwhile, in March 1976, Cuban-led forces drove South Africa’s terrorist armies out of oil rich Angola – a country about 900 miles north of the South African border. In doing so Mandela said Cuba had,
“destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor”.
In the late 1980s, the Cuban-African coalition again defeated apartheid-backed terrorists in renewed fighting in southern Angola. This decisive victory further impelled South Africa to end its illegitimate occupation of neighboring Namibia.
The apartheid regime – a classic Nazi-style outfit – was attempting to spread its rule to nearby countries, committing atrocities on an astonishing scale. A 1989 UN report outlines that South Africa killed 1.5 million people from 1980 to 1988, while also inflicting tens of billions of dollars worth of infrastructural damage.
South Africa’s murderous onslaughts were backed to the end by Reagan – and also by Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister for over a decade. As the 1980s advanced, and with international boycotts increasing, even the US Congress was compelled to pass sanctions on South Africa, which Reagan vetoed.
There are quite a few similarities between the South Africa of that era, and the Israel of today. The Israelis, with virtually the entire world against them, are propped up by the US’s massive, long-standing support.
America and Israel are joined at the hip militarily. In 2016 Barack Obama, allegedly an “anti-Israel” president, signed “the single largest” 10-year military deal between the two states. The agreement, worth $38 billion, was a considerable increase on the previous deal signed by George W. Bush in 2007.
Israel has for decades performed an invaluable service to the US in the Middle East, one of the earth’s key regions. In June 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel destroyed the main origin of Arab secular nationalism: Gamal Abdel Nasser‘s Egypt. In doing so, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. It proved a definitive victory whose repercussions stand to today.
Nasser before Yemeni crowds on his arrival to Sana’a, April 1964. In front of Nasser and giving a salute is Yemeni President Abdullah al-Sallal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
This stunning rout was richly celebrated among first world nations. Following 1967, relations between the US and Israel – cordial up to that year – became irrevocably intertwined. Nasser’s Egypt, a major enemy of the West, was also considered a serious threat to nearby Saudi Arabia. At the time, the Egyptians and Saudis were fighting a proxy war against each other in Yemen – called the North Yemen Civil War, which ended in a Saudi-led victory in 1970.
The Saudis themselves have long been an extreme fundamentalist dictatorship, with among the world’s worst human rights records. Such unpleasant realities have been of little concern to Western governments.
Successive Saudi regimes have been supported for decades by America and Britain – primarily due to their massive oil reserves. Had Saudi Arabia fallen under the influence of Nasser’s Egypt, it would have proved an unmitigated disaster for Western planners. As Israel wiped out the Nasser government, it largely ended the threat of popular Arab uprisings.
In the early 1970s, the Israelis made another fateful decision. They rejected out of hand a full peace treaty offered by Egypt’s new president Anwar Sadat – which would have guaranteed complete security for Israel, along with normalization of relations. Indeed, Egypt was the only Arab state that possessed anything resembling a military force at the time. During the past five decades, Israel has instead continued its policies of annexation and settlements over peace and diplomacy.
As a result, they have become further and further isolated on the international scene, again like apartheid South Africa before her. Crucially, the Israelis enjoy the huge support of the US, with a renewed boost in relations provided by the Donald Trump administration. Or so it would seem.
Ironically, Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has led to a renewed slump in Israel’s reputation. Trump’s resolution may do nothing but harm Israel itself – and could even prove a turning point against the expansionist regime.
Trump’s announcement was hardly a surprise. A sharp-nosed businessman, he would surely have noticed comments made by figures like Warren Buffet – a long-time leading American magnate. In 2013, Buffet approvingly described Israel as,
“The leading, largest and most promising investment hub outside the United States”.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, have little power, wealth or influence. Furthermore, they are not culturally tied to America in the manner that Israel are, through the vast Zionist base of the Evangelical movement. The support from Evangelicals comprises much of the backing for the Republican Party.
Major Western corporations, such as Barclays, Nestle and Intel, are conducting widescale business operations in Israel. Last year Intel’s American CEO, Brian Krzanich, said while visiting Jerusalem,
“We think of ourselves as an Israeli company as much as a US company”.
It seems of little consequence that less than 100km from Jerusalem, in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, 1.5 million Palestinians are crammed into a territory smaller than Andorra. The Gaza Strip, 140 square miles in size, is in reality an open air prison. It is also under blockade by sea and air – with its Palestinian inhabitants subjected to various deprivations, along with random acts of terror and punishment.
The almost complete absence of criticism within Israel itself toward its destructive policies, is as a result of the country shifting greatly to the right. A generation ago and more, there was once a vibrant left-wing movement in Israel. However, many disillusioned opponents of the regime have long since left, or become marginalized and scattered. It has reached a point whereby simply referring to any criticism of Israel is now labeled “anti-Semitism”.
Senior American politicians have not even been spared such charges. In 2014, the then US Secretary of State John Kerry said,
“There’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that’s been building up [against Israel]”.
Kerry was referring to “boycotts and other kinds of things” occurring in Europe. He was subsequently reprimanded in public by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for endorsing “anti-Semitic” attitudes.
The fact is, Netanyahu and colleagues are genuinely fearful of the increasing international boycotts and delegitimization against their state. America may be continuing in its near unconditional support, yet there are no guarantees that Israel can continue indefinitely with its current policies.
Shane Quinn obtained an honors journalism degree. He is interested in writing primarily on foreign affairs, having been inspired by authors like Noam Chomsky.