A May 6 "expose" from the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot gave Israeli government officials and their hardline American proxies the ammunition they had been seeking against Judge Richard Goldstone. After Goldstone, a Jewish former South African judge who describes himself as a proud Zionist, charged Israel with crimes against humanity for its assault on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and 2009, the Israeli government sought to destroy him. Now, thanks to Yediot‘s report, which documented Goldstone’s career as a judge in South Africa’s apartheid system and ignored his heroic role in guiding the country’s democratic transition, Israel and its allies have renewed their assault.
According to an editorial by Alan Dershowitz, Goldstone "helped legitimate one of the most racist regimes in the world… he had climbed the judicial ladder on whipped backs and hanged bodies." Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Magazine followed up, calling Goldstone, "a man without a moral compass." The attack spread throughout the neocon blogosphere, including to Tablet, where Marc Tracy accused Goldstone of publishing his report about the assault on Gaza to alleviate his "severe case of guilt." Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon piled on, characterizing the judge’s explanation for working inside the apartheid system as "the same explanation we heard in Nazi Germany after World War II."
However, by assailing Goldstone’s reputation to protect Israel from the meticulously documented facts and modest recommendations contained in his report about the assault on Gaza, Israel’s right-wing government and its American allies unwittingly summoned the Banquo’s Ghost of Israeli foreign policy: the country’s longtime military alliance with South Africa’s apartheid regime.
In the wake of the 1973 war, Israel initiated a close relationship with apartheid South Africa, exchanging intelligence, nuclear technology, arms and military strategy with the white supremacist government. Though figures from Israel’s Labor Party initiated the connection with purely cynical motives, the Likudniks who now dominate Israeli politics consolidated the alliance along the lines of ideological affinity, nurturing cozy personal relationships with the architects of apartheid. Israel was apartheid South Africa’s most dependable ally, sustaining its racist system even after the rest of the world recoiled in disgust, and perhaps learning a thing or two along the way.
This sordid and under-examined relationship comes to life on the pages of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, a meticulously researched book that reads like a spy thriller. The author, Foreign Affairs senior editor Sasha Polakow-Suransky, spent seven years on his project, conducting interviews with key players from Israel and South Africa, mining South Africa’s apartheid-era archive and resurrecting documents and articles that the Israeli Foreign Ministry would prefer remain forgotten. Rich with intrigue and shocking details but written without a trace of stridency, The Unspoken Alliance is the most authoritative account to date of Israel’s scandalous dealings with the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Readers of the book will learn that while serving as Israeli defense minister, Shimon Peres nurtured his country’s diplomatic relationship with South Africa even while publicly condemning apartheid. After a secret trip to Pretoria in 1974, when Peres first proposed the alliance, he assured his South African hosts that "this relationship is based not only on common interests and on the determination to resist equally our enemies, but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it." The following year, Peres signed a secret security pact with South African defense minister P.W. Botha that led immediately to $200 million in arms deals.