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The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africaby Sasha Polakow-Suransky
Synopses & Reviews
ON APRIL 9, 1976, South African prime minister Balthazar Johannes Vorster arrived at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with full diplomatic entourage in tow. After passing solemnly through the corridors commemorating those gassed in Auschwitz and Dachau, he entered the dimly lit Hall of Remembrance, where a memorial flame burned alongside a crypt filled with the ashes of Holocaust victims. Vorster bowed his head as a South African minister read a psalm in Afrikaans, the haunting melody of the Jewish prayer for the dead filling the room. He then kneeled and laid a wreath, containing the colors of the South African flag, in memory of Hitler's victims. Cameras snapped, dignitaries applauded, and Israeli officials quickly ferried the prime minister away to his next destination.1 Back in Johannesburg, the opposition journalist Benjamin Pogrund was sickened as he watched the spectacle on television. Thousands of South African Jews shared Pogrund's disgust; they knew all too well that Vorster had another, darker past.
In addition to being the architect of South Africa's brutal crackdown on the black democratic opposition and the hand behind many a tortured activist and imprisoned leader, Vorster and his intelligence chief, Hendrik van den Bergh, had served as generals in the Ossewa Brandwag, a militant Afrikaner nationalist organization that had openly supported the Nazis during World War II.
The group's leader, Hans van Rensburg, was an enthusiastic admirer of Adolf Hitler. In conversations with Nazi leaders in 1940, van Rensburg formally offered to provide the Third Reich with hundreds of thousands of men in order to stage a coup and bring an Axis- friendly government to power at the strategically vital southern tip of Africa. Lacking adequate arms supplies, van Rensburg's men eventually abandoned their plans for regime change and settled for industrial sabotage, bombings, and bank robberies. South Africa's British-aligned government con sidered the organization so dangerous that it imprisoned many of its members.
But Vorster was unapologetic and proudly compared his nation to Nazi Germany: We stand for Christian Nationalism which is an ally of National Socialism . . . you can call such an anti- democratic system a dictatorship if you like, he declared in 1942. In Italy it is called Fascism, in Germany National Socialism and in South Africa Christian Nationalism. As a result of their pro-Nazi activities, Vorster and van den Bergh were declared enemies of the state and detained in a government camp.
Three decades later, as Vorster toured Yad Vashem, the Israeli government was still scouring the globe for former Nazis-- extraditing or even kidnapping them in order to try them in Israeli courts. Yet Vorster, a man who was once a self- proclaimed Nazi supporter and who remained wedded to a policy of racial superiority, found himself in Jerusalem receiving full red-carpet treatment at the invitation of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
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PRIOR TO 1967, Israel was a celebrated cause of the left. The nascent Jewish state, since its creation amid the ashes of Auschwitz, was widely recognized as a triumph for justice and human rights. Leftists across the world, with the notable exception of those in Muslim nations,
Based on extensive archival research and interviews with former generals and high-level government officials in both Israel and South Africa, a book on Israel's covert dealings with Apartheid South Africa tells a troubling story of Cold War paranoia, moral compromises and Israel's estrangement from the international Left.
A revealing account of how Israel's booming arms industry and apartheid South Africa's international isolation led to a secretive military partnership between two seemingly unlikelyallies.
Prior to the Six-Day War, Israel was a darling of the international left: socialist idealists like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir vocally opposed apartheid and built alliances withblack leaders in newly independent African nations. South Africa, for its part, was controlled by a regime of Afrikaner nationalists who had enthusiastically supported Hitler during World WarII.
But after Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, the country found itself estranged from former allies and threatened anew by old enemies. As both states becameinternational pariahs, their covert military relationship blossomed: they exchanged billions of dollars' worth of extremely sensitive material, including nuclear technology, boosting Israel's saggingeconomy and strengthening the beleaguered apartheid regime.
By the time the right-wing Likud Party came to power in 1977, Israel had all but abandoned the moralism of its founders in favor ofclose and lucrative ties with South Africa. For nearly twenty years, Israel denied these ties, claiming that it opposed apartheid on moral and religious grounds even as it secretly supplied the arsenal of a whitesupremacist government.
Sasha Polakow-Suransky reveals the previously classified details of countless arms deals conducted behind the backs of Israel's own diplomatic corps and inviolation of a United Nations arms embargo. Based on extensive archival research and exclusive interviews with former generals and high-level government officials in both countries, The Unspoken Alliancetells a troubling story of Cold War paranoia, moral compromises, and Israel's estrangement from the left. It is essential reading for anyone interested in Israel's history and itsfuture.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Sasha Polakow-Suransky was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University from 2003 to 2006. He lives in New York and is an editor at Foreign Affairs.
Table of Contents
The Reich that wasn't : South Africa's Jews in the shadow of Nazism — A light unto the nations : Israel's honeymoon in Africa — The atomic bond : the Israeli-South African nuclear connection — The rise of Realpolitik : the Yom Kippur War and Israel's realignment in Africa — Brothers in arms : a military alliance is born — A common lot : Likud, apartheid, and the quest for minority survival — The back channel : nuclear diplomacy and the fall of Vorster — Over the edge : South Africa joins the nuclear club — Masters of spin : propaganda, denial, and the concealment of the Alliance — Losing the left : Israel, apartheid, and the splintering of the Civil Rights Coalition — Forked tongues : domestic debate and diplomatic schizophrenia — The end of the affair : South Africa's transition to democracy and the demise of the Alliance.
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History and Social Science » Africa » South Africa