The Z Word website has an excellent piece by former anti-apartheid activist Rhoda Kadalie and her daughter Julia Bertelsmann tackling the question of why some leading South Africans are so eager to apply the apartheid label to Israel– despite a lack of hostility to the Jewish state among the general public.
Proponents of the analogy used it to appeal to black South Africans, drawing links between Palestinian suffering and their own. But most black South Africans dismiss the analogy. Outside the small Muslim community (1.5 percent of the population), anti-Israel sentiment is largely an elite phenomenon. However potent the Israel-apartheid analogy, few of those who suffered from apartheid directly have bought into it.
Even so, Israel must bear some of the blame for the apartheid analogy. Its not-so-secret military alliance with South Africa from 1973 to 1987 cemented the two countries together in the minds of a generation of anti-apartheid activists. But the relationship is often blown out of proportion and considered in isolation; Arab states carried out billions of dollars in sanctions-busting trade with the apartheid regime during the same time, as did several European countries. Furthermore, Israel never endorsed South Africa’s apartheid policies and frequently criticized them at the United Nations, even if it belatedly joined sanctions only in 1987.
Islamist radicalism is also a rallying cry for leftists and populists in the ANC. One faction of the ANC in the North-West province which supports Jacob Zuma, the current ANC President, calls itself the Taliban to present a more radical image. On several occasions, COSATU has marched against privatization and other ANC policies carrying “Viva Arafat” placards. Elements of the ANC have therefore been able to incorporate anti-Israel motifs into the context of domestic opposition towards, and protests against, government policies and its poor service delivery record.
The ANC devotes more attention to Israel than to many domestic issues and conflicts closer to home. It denies that anti-Israel protest is often antisemitic, but on no other issue has the party been more willing to abandon its supposedly non-racial ideals. Party leaders have addressed openly antisemitic rallies; radical sectors of the party have made blatantly antisemitic statements; and ANC election posters have featured blood-drenched Israeli flags.
It’s long, but worth reading in full.