New book reveals that Israel’s secret relationship with apartheid South Africa went far deeper than previously understood.

Peres who not long ago said that former South African judge Richard Goldstone is “a small man, devoid of any sense of justice.”

History is a great teacher, but sometimes it packs a nasty sense of irony. A case in point: South African Prime Minister John Vorster’s visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in April 1976, where he laid a wreath to the victims of the German Reich he once extolled.

It’s bad enough that a former Nazi sympathizer was treated like an honored guest by the Jewish state. Even worse was the purpose behind Vorster’s trip to Israel: to cement the extensive military relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime, a partnership that violated international law and illicitly provided the white-minority government with the weaponry and technology to help sustain its grip on power and its oppression of the black majority over two decades.

Like many illicit love affairs, the back-door relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime was secret, duplicitous, thrilling for the parties involved — and ultimately damaging to both. Each insisted at the time that theirs was just a minor flirtation, with few regrets or expressions of remorse. Inevitably it ended badly, tainting everyone it touched, including leaders of American Jewish organizations who shredded their credibility by endorsing and parroting the blatant falsehoods they were fed by Israeli officials. And it still hovers like a toxic cloud over Israel’s international reputation, providing ammunition to those who use the comparison between Israel’s 43-year military rule over Palestinians and the now-defunct system of white domination known as apartheid to seek to delegitimize the Jewish state.

As bureau chief for the Washington Post in Southern Africa and Jerusalem in the 1980s, I squandered a lot of hours trying to pierce the iron curtain that the two countries carefully drew around their strategic partnership. I reported the various estimates that the arms trade between the two amounted to anywhere from $125 million to $400 million annually — far beyond the $100 million that the International Monetary Fund reported as total imports and exports in the mid 1980s. Soon after arriving in Jerusalem in 1986, I asked Ezer Weizman, a former Israeli defense minister and champion of the secret partnership, about the uncanny resemblance between Israel’s Kfir fighter jet — itself patterned on the French Mirage — and South Africa’s newly minted Cheetah. He just smiled at me and replied, “I’ve noticed that as well.”

Now comes Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who is an editor at Foreign Affairs magazine, a Rhodes scholar, and an American Jew whose parents emigrated to the United States from South Africa. His singular achievement in his new book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa scheduled for publication on May 25, is to have unearthed more than 7,000 pages of heretofore secret documents from the bowels of South Africa’s Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry, and Armscor, the state defense contractor, including the secret 1975 military cooperation agreement signed by defense ministers Shimon Peres and P.W. Botha.


Also read:

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz – 25 May 2010


  1. rexw on the 30. May, 2010 remarked #

    With respect to Mr. Frankel, the statement that “And it still hovers like a toxic cloud over Israel’s international reputation, providing ammunition to those who use the comparison between Israel’s 43-year military rule over Palestinians and the now-defunct system of white domination known as apartheid to seek to delegitimize the Jewish state.”

    I have no doubt about the fact that is does still “hover”, but it is obvious from past and recent actions over 40 odd years that Israel has long since discarded any concerns about its “international reputation”. The single factor that allows that to happen, every day, is it’s total hold over the weak government of the US and the timid administration doing its bidding is every way.

    As well, it can be seen in honest and accurate reports from Palestine of the murders of people, but not seen in the NYT, of course, but a fact, nonetheless.
    This kind of relationship breeds arrogance and a lack of concern for the opinion of others, anywhere.

    So when your reputation has got nothing to lose, and you employ enough spin doctors to treat the minor ripples, then life is easy.

    Being an apartheid state may be the one thing that even real American Jews will not tolerate. When I say ‘real, I mean those who swear allegiance to the US flag, that have their Jewishness on display as a religion and nothing else, are not Zionists and don’t spend every waking moment trying to promote ‘their’ country into another war on behalf of a foreign state.
    Now they are real Jews, American Jews, citizens of the US.

    Apartheid would be repulsive to them, rightly so.

  2. michael mazur on the 30. May, 2010 remarked #

    Mr Frankel, you get leverage for your story from The Holocaust, but i’ll tell you straight, there were no gassings of Jews or anyone else, and that makes the Nazis a far far more moral and ethical people than the Jews of Israel who voted 94% in favour of white phosphorous being dropped on Gaza Palestinians.

    True, i am distorting to make a point, as the question was whether Israelis approved of Operation Cast Lead.

    And, i am not aware of a subsequent poll about whether there were any regrets about things going too far with the white phosphorous, nor of reports about people in Israel having qualms about what was done.

    So the problem is not the wickedness of the South Africa of the time since the Nazis were good people – if you are going to make the comparison, but the Israelis who, under no pressure of war even, murder people just for fun; something the Nazis did not do, even under pressure of war.

  3. D freeman on the 30. May, 2010 remarked #

    The Nazis were German of race not a different race that Germans and they did gas and experiment on people and the rest of the Western world allowed it. In Namibia the Germans who ruled the place did the same things to those Africans what they later went on to do to others in WW11 you play with the devil and you pay the price, the Rothschild family and there followers run the world and have done for many many years they were given Palestine by the English to appease them and they have had the the huge building of the Israeli parliment built and they back role the wars that kill millions the Israelis have coursed a Holocaust in Palestine and again the world does nothing, hell is on earth.

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