This article will discuss anti-Zionist dogma within the context of African time and space and define its substance and structure as well as its ideological representations. It will identify its grammar, vocabulary, and metaphors, describe its dissemination, and reveal its ultimate purpose.
Anti-Zionist discourse should generally be seen as part of the historical continuity of anti-Semitism. While anti-Semitism is a permanent, recurring phenomenon, it is by no means a monolithic, rigid doctrine defined once only and for all time. It evolves, changes, and adapts according to the exigencies of different periods. There is one constant: when it does not find a way to advance in its revealed form, it quietly changes so that it can present itself differently. Today anti-Zionism is the new face and discussion forum of anti-Jewish hatred.
Far from being a dogma that leaves no trace, anti-Zionism articulates and reconstitutes this inexhaustible hatred from within a concealed language. At present, calling into question the Jews, the Jewish nation, and Judaism goes beyond condemnation of the state of Israel and the political goal of self-determination, namely, Zionism. However, the ideological mode of operation is such that the key elements of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism essentially remain the same.
Thus, for example, anti-Zionist rhetoric employs the same sort of accusatory motifs used by traditional anti-Semitism. During the 14th century, the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells and fountains. In the 19th century, they were accused of wanting to dominate the world through money and capitalism. In the next century the ostensible Red Judeo-Bolshevik Peril came to the fore, and today anti-Zionist rhetoric again accuses the Jews of wanting to take over the world. The myth of the world Jewish conspiracy has been revived in the form of the Zionist global plot.
Naturally, this revival of a hackneyed myth is questioning the reality, impact, and uniqueness of the Holocaust. The genocide, it is charged, was invented by the Jews in order to favor the creation of the state of Israel by casting blame on the Western world. This calls into question the Jewish state’s moral right to exist while simultaneously denying history and indeed turning the Holocaust against the Jews. Nazism represents the Jew as the epitome of absolute evil, an existential, racial menace. Yet anti-Zionism accuses Israel of…Nazism. Thus the Palestinians become victims of a tragedy that is far worse than that of the Holocaust. In this rhetoric the role of the victim is reversed as the promoters of anti-Jewish hatred ascribe to the Jews any sort of wrongdoing, discrimination, persecution, and violence of which they themselves have been victims.
Anti-Zionism is, however, inspired by the classic anti-Semitic motifs, reformulating them even if it restructures them around a different dynamic. Anti-Zionism is also loaded with a new terminology that recycles older staples of anticolonial rhetoric: “ethnic cleansing,” “colonization,” “apartheid.” The term apartheid is used to express general indignation and brandished as a new weapon. Reality, however, is given short shrift. In South Africa, racial inequality was written into the constitution. In contrast, Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees the Arab population “full and equal citizenship and appropriate representation in all state institutions, both provisional and permanent.” South Africa practiced segregation; in Israel it does not exist. There is nowhere in Israel that is permitted to one racial or ethnic group and prohibited to others. Nevertheless, the aim is to class Zionism with colonial racism and nurture the idea that both Zionism and apartheid stem from the same oppressive, racial, discriminatory logic. This entails besmirching the state of Israel with supreme infamy, putting it in the ghetto because of its supposed evil, stripping it of its moral right to exist. It is a way of killing two birds with one stone, of endowing hatred with the positive feeling of struggling against oppression.
Toward the end of the 1960s, the phenomenon of anti-Zionism was essentially confined to the Arab world, the Soviet Union, and the countries of the Eastern bloc. Since then it has expanded and become more global, though stronger in some places than in others. It has, however, reached every continent, including Africa. How did this phenomenon also become a discourse within the African continent? Is there an anti-Zionist rhetoric that is specific to Africa? Or is the African anti-Zionist only too happy to reiterate the common anti-Semitic themes that were produced on other continents? How did this discourse remain alive and undergo renewal? What beliefs does it convey? What political motives drive it?
Idi Amin: The Quintessential Anti-Zionist
Anti-Zionism in Africa used to be epitomized by the figure of Idi Amin Dada. On September 5, 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists took nine Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic Village in Munich. The final toll of the operation to free them was very high – 11 Israelis. For the first time in the history of the games, the Olympic flag was flown at half-mast. Hardly a week after this episode, Amin welcomed the attack in a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim: “Hitler and all German people knew that the Israelis are not people who are working in the interest of the people of the world, and that is why they burned over six million Jews alive with gas on the soil of Germany. The world should remember that the Palestinians, with the assistance of Germany, made the operation possible in the Olympic village….”1
According to Amin, the Jews were responsible for their own extermination because of their evil nature. Notably, in his message to Waldheim, he conflates “Israelis” with the victims of the Holocaust. This is an instance of the fact that, as Martin Luther King once remarked, when anti-Zionists refer to Israelis they are really thinking about Jews.
Another rant similarly reveals Amin’s mental universe. In 1974 French director Barbet Schroeder made a documentary called General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait. It was close to the end of the Yom Kippur War, and Amin, facing the camera before a display of Ugandan military maneuvers simulating an attack on the IDF, says:
If I have to prepare for a war against Israel…I don’t need very many forces and navy. Just very few, and I will just strike inside Israel, and move people from all borders towards Israel. I think the situation would be very difficult and very different. With paratroopers, with everything, and bombing by airplanes and having a few suicide squads who are determined to commit suicide, and I think that is already in progress. They are already training the suicide squads; they are already in progress. And many delegations are meeting me to prepare this. And they come to the conclusion: we can command from here through communication. I welcome any volunteer from all over the world.2
In the same documentary Amin claimed to have discovered the Israelis’ secret. Brandishing a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he added, “Mecca and Medina should be under Israeli control today. But just like they lost the war, they haven’t been able to advance. But their objective is to capture Mecca and Medina. They would like to control all of the healthy places in the world. This is their objective.”3
Amin also repeated another anti-Semitic cliché: “The Israelis in Uganda want to poison the Nile so that the people who come to drink the river’s water on another coast will die.” In conclusion, he stated: “Israelis are criminals, and they are not trusted people. They don’t tell the world the truth. They were taken to Palestine as refugees and then they changed Palestine to become Israeli by force of arms given to them by the Americans and British.”4
The litany of anti-Semitic beliefs recycled in Idi Amin’s statements is currently heard in other places, usually from the mouths of less flamboyant characters, notably in South Africa.
The South African Paradox
South Africa is home to the largest Jewish community on the African continent. The history of this minority has been marked by difficult episodes, including discrimination and persecution, especially during the 1930s. Most of the Jews who arrived in South Africa came from the countries of Eastern Europe, fleeing a reality of pogroms. In 1937 an immigration law put a stop to the large increase during the previous year of Jewish refugees leaving Europe, finally ending this wave of immigration. In those days many Afrikaners flaunted their sympathies with Nazi Germany, and extreme right-wing organizations such as the Grayshirts of Louis Weichardt and Ossewabrandwag were openly pro-Nazi.
In this general context, marked by anti-Semitism, the ruling political party adopted many discriminatory laws prohibiting Jews from working in certain professions and putting an end to their naturalization. Following World War II, despite a relative improvement in their condition, a number of South African Jews emigrated to Israel.
During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the members of the Jewish community became involved in the struggle against apartheid, in which some of them were leading figures. For example, out of the 150 activists convicted at the Treason Trial in 1956, 23 were whites, of whom 14 were Jews. And on July 11, 1963, when the regime’s police forces arrested the main leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) at Liliesleaf in Johannesburg, all the whites who were apprehended were Jews: Arthur Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Dennis Goldberg, Bob Hepple, and Hilliard Festenstein. Considering that South Africa’s Jews are a small community – currently representing just 3.1 percent of the white population and 0.65 percent of the overall population – they played a disproportionately large role in the struggle against the apartheid regime. It was not enough, however, to dispel anti-Semitic attitudes.
In post-apartheid South Africa, even though public displays of anti-Semitism are unusual, this is not the case with anti-Zionist rhetoric, which is quite common. From the end of the 1970s, it became a tradition within the anti-apartheid movement to criticize Israel and equate Zionism with racism; today this tendency is even stronger. It may be that identifying with the Palestinian cause is a way to prolong the struggle of the past.
In a forum published in the Mail & Guardian in July 2010, Kadar Asmal, former minister of education, described what he regarded as Israel’s disgraceful record and appealed to the international community to challenge the Jewish state’s legitimacy:
The only logical conclusion is that Israel has impunity because of Europe’s past crimes. The moral question remains: Why must the Palestinian people pay with their lives and freedom to ease the consciences of Europeans? Now we must engage in a “legitimacy war.” Doubt must be cast on several dimensions of Israel’s legitimacy, its status as a moral and law-abiding actor, as an occupying power, and with respect to its willingness to respect the UN and abide by international law.5
A strange fixation on Israel is apparent here. Asmal, following the example of other leading ANC figures, reiterates a classic anti-Semitic myth: “The State of Israel is the product of a feeling of blame justified by the western world following the Holocaust!” Also peculiar is the selective indignation of other ANC leaders, who denounce Israel while seeking cordial relations with some of the most odious regimes on the planet, including that of Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, instigator of ethnic cleansing in Darfur and the annihilation of more than 300,000 people.
Just as bizarre is the position of COSATU (the Congress of South African Trade Unions). During the Gaza war in the winter of 2008, the organization raised the possibility of running a campaign against Jewish businesses. Also in that year, Fatima Hajaig, South Africa’s former deputy foreign minister, stated during an anti-Zionist assembly: “They in fact control [America]. No matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush. The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.”6
The notion that Israel and the Jews control the money and secretly conspire to rule is, of course, an iteration of an old anti-Semitic cliché. Already in 1921, well before the establishment of Israel, the anti-Semite Roger Lambellin, who wrote an introduction to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, promoted the same theory in a book called Le règne d’Israël chez les anglo-saxons (The Reign of Israel over the Anglo-Saxons).7
Fatima Hajaig’s proposal aroused strong reactions among representatives of the South African Jewish community and the South African Commission for Human Rights. She was not reelected to her position during the next cabinet reshuffle.
Nevertheless, several years later, in July 2015, Rene Smit, a social media manager at ANC Western Cape, posted an openly anti-Semitic caricature on her Facebook page. Under an image of Hitler appeared the subtitle: “Yes man, you were right…I could have killed all the Jews, but I left some of them to let you know why I was killing them.”8 A similar photo montage with the same message had previously been distributed as a flyer at the anti-Israeli Durban Conference.
This poisonous atmosphere is also felt on the campuses. In 2014 the students’ representative council at the University of Cape Town asked the government to adopt certain measures advocated by the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. In February 2015 the students’ representative council at the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of any Jews who had not publicly denounced Israel. The council stated: “We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.”9 In the Middle Ages the Jews of Spain and Portugal were compelled to renounce their Jewishness under threat of severe punishment. In 2015 the Jewish students at Durban were called upon to either disassociate themselves from Israel or leave the university.
Three months after the Durban incident, Mcebo Dlamini, president of the students’ representative council at the University of the Witwatersrand, posted a Facebook message stating: “I love Adolf Hitler.”10 That same year Leila Khaled, a member of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) who was involved in a 1969 airline hijacking and an attempted hijacking in 1970, was invited to speak at various fundraising gatherings organized by the BDS movement at South African campuses.
Even more concerning are the ANC’s official positions and links with Hamas. On September 12, 2015, the ANC, as South Africa’s ruling party, signed a joint declaration with COSATU, SACP (the South African Communist Party), and SANC (the South African Nursing Council) asserting that Israel was based on apartheid and calling for a boycott:
As the Alliance, we are now heightening our campaign aimed at boycotting and isolating Israel as a state founded on the basis of apartheid, which according to international law and several UN conventions, is a crime against humanity. We therefore pledge ongoing solidarity with the people of Palestine and will enhance our support for the boycott, disinvestment and sanction initiatives against the State of Israel. The Alliance further calls on transport sector workers at South African docks and airports to neither offload products from Israel nor upload products bound for Israel. We also call on retail sector workers to refuse to handle or package products manufactured in or originating from Israel.11
In October 2015 a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashal was received by South African president Jacob Zuma. At the end of this official visit, the ANC and Hamas signed a memorandum of understanding. In a press conference after the visit, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe referred to “the struggle against the Israeli apartheid regime” and called on “Hamas to work together with all Palestinian factions to find a viable strategy for putting an end to the Israeli occupation.”12 It is worth noting that the Hamas Charter states in Article 7: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of many links in a chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders.… The Prophet, may Allah bless him, said, ‘The Day of Final Judgment will not come until the Muslims have fought the Jews, when the Jews are hiding behind the rocks and trees. The rocks and trees will say, ‘O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me. Kill him.’ Only the tree of Gharkad will not speak because this is a tree of Jews.’”13
What lies behind this South African outlook? Is it, perhaps, populism; or the notions of militants who seek to reclaim progressivism and have been convinced to make a revolution for the Palestinian cause in a new combat zone; or the ideological heritage of the Cold War and the anti-apartheid movement’s identification with the Soviet Union?
The Soviet Union indeed played a major role in the demonization of Israel. The “Zionism is racism” equation was long a staple of Soviet propaganda. In an article in Sovetskaya Rossiya on July 18, 1968, V. Bosch defined Zionism as “the ideology of the financial and monopolistic Jewish bourgeoisie.” He added, “The Zionists have fashioned a clearly defined racist philosophy, as a tactic for their actions within the international arena. The philosophical doctrine of Zionism holds an extremely reactionary significance: it has created a philosophical, religious, and mystical concept called by the name of Judaism!”14
The following year, the anti-Semitic theoretician Yuri Ivanov produced a pamphlet called Beware: Zionism! 15He asserted, “Over the past 100 years, only German Nazis and Zionists have conceived of a global civilization in accordance with the idea of ‘a single, irrefutable supremacy of a nationalistic nature.’ However, whereas the former attempted to impose this idea upon other nations through brute force, the latter prefer the weapon of ‘small results’ while engaging in the same gradual process, by which they enjoy a greater success rate.”
On November 10 that year, a coalition composed of the Soviet Union, the Eastern-bloc countries, and the Arab world voted together at the UN General Assembly, with the support of the Third World and African countries, on Resolution 3379, which asserted that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
Africa’s Black-Supremacist Groups
Also espousing the anti-Zionist outlook in Africa are black-supremacy activists. These groups espouse conspiracy theories that are a regular part, either implicit or explicit, of their discourse on Israel and the Jews.
Their hatred of the Jews and Israel has become blended within a xenophobic and anti-Western notion of identity. In the eyes of these groups, the Jews dominate the planet and are the main culprits behind all the ills of the world, and especially those of the blacks. They are seen, of course, as the force responsible for the slave trade.
These groups’ rhetoric is inspired by a work published in 1991 by the Nation of Islam, The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, which maintained that the Jews’ alleged involvement in the slave trade was the “source of their financial power.” Kemi Seba, a leading figure in this movement, asks, “Do we need to recall our memory of the Pereiras, Gouins, Eichtals, Gradis, and Mendès-France, the large dynasties of Zionist supporters of slavery, who made their fortune from the blood of the Blacks that was spilled?”16 In the Middle Ages the Jews were accused of causing the Black Death; now they are accused of causing black slavery.
These movements, which are very close to the extreme European Right, are very active on the web and social networks. Their messages, either openly or implicitly anti-Semitic, always trot out the same idea: the slave trade, organized by the Jews, led to many deaths, and the blacks still deserve large reparations for what they term the most appalling “genocide” in history. This cherished objective fosters a blurring of historical categories and a trivialization of the Holocaust. In March 2015 Kemi Seba was received by former president Ahmadinejad, who “encouraged him to pursue his work of resisting Zionism.” During a press conference, Seba was full of praise for Hizbullah and Ahmadinejad. As he put it, “I would like to simply make the most of my visit here, among my brothers, to announce and specifically state that I have the deepest respect for President Ahmadinejad, who has done something extraordinary for the struggle against ‘imperialism’ and is someone who stands out, and I have great respect for a resistance movement such as Hizbullah.”17
Global jihadist violence has hit the world in general and Africa in particular very hard. Since January 2015 attacks by Islamic terror organizations have struck more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. However, the largest numbers of attacks and victims have been in Africa, with Nigeria and Kenya in the lead followed by Mali and Somalia. Violent jihadist groups in Africa include AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, Mujao, Boko Haram, Ansaru, Al-Shabaab, and Ansar al-Sharia. All of the jihadist movements operating on the African continent adhere to anti-Zionism and view the Jews and Israel as their main targets.
Anti-Zionism: A New Guise for Anti-Semitism
As anti-Zionism spreads in Africa, the antiracist struggle is revived and adapted to a different use. The aim is to legitimize and normalize anti-Jewish hatred on a global level.
Anti-Zionist rhetoric is fraught with recycled anti-Semitic motifs that are used to delegitimize the state of Israel and are part of a new form of anti-Semitism. Obsessive and indiscriminate criticism of Israel or Zionism is an alibi for notions about conspiracy and the ostensible domination of the world by the “Zionists” – meaning Jews, even if they are not explicitly mentioned.
Such anti-Zionism is nothing but an updated and intensified – though perhaps disguised – replica of anti-Jewish hatred. The anti-Semite declares, “I don’t like the Jews”; the anti-Zionist replies, “I have nothing against the Jews, but I don’t like the state of Israel.” The anti-Semite asserts that the Jews are responsible for all the evils of humanity; the anti-Zionist swears by every god that he has nothing against the Jews, but Israel is the world’s problem. The anti-Semite accuses the Jews of trying to dominate the world; the anti-Zionist avers that he is not anti-Semitic at all, but the Zionists control the world through finance. The anti-Semite demonizes the Jews and works for their destruction; the anti-Zionist works for the delegitimization and destruction of Israel. Yesterday the anti-Semite called for an economic and cultural boycott of the Jews and said, “Never buy from Jews”; today the anti-Zionist calls for an economic and cultural boycott of Israel and says, “Don’t buy any Israeli products!”
We are facing a globalization of anti-Semitism whereby all the traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes are being projected onto the state of Israel. Today’s means of communication, which make it easy to promote both rhetoric and unfiltered images, serve this purpose well.
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1 Idi Amin on his plan to attack Israel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3uF5L0Q8oo ( 2 février 2018)
2 Idi Amin gives away his plans to invade Israel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phPMSCcpb40 (14 février 2016)
3 Idi Amin on Zionism, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvaGF4scBxc (12 septembre 2015)
5 Kader Asmal, World must deny legitimacy to Israel, Mail&Guardian, 22 Avril 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2010-06-25-world-must-deny-legitimacy-to-israel
6 Sue Segar, Hajaig ‘hate speech’ upsets DA, News24, 29 janvier 2009, https://www.news24.com/Archives/Witness/Hajaig-hate-speech-upsets-DA-20150430
7 Roger Lambelin, Le Péril Juif: Le Règne d’Israel Chez les Anglo-Saxons; Fb&c Limited, juin 2017 – 280 pages.
8 Alex Mitcheley, ANC volunteer’s ‘Pro-Hitler’ post draws anger, The Citizen? 15 juillet 2014, https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/210742/anc-volunteers-pro-hitler-post-draws-anger/
9 Stav Ziv, Backlash after students at south african university demend jews deregister, Newsweek, 2 Décembre 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/backlash-after-students-south-african-university-demand-jews-deregister-306502
10 Riante Naidoo, SRC president says: “I love Hitler”, Witsvuvuzela.com, 27 avril 2015, http://witsvuvuzela.com/2015/04/27/src-president-says-i-love-hitler/
11 Press release: Stance of ANC Alliance on BDS boycott of “Apartheid Israel” and support for retail sector boycott welcomed, https://ymlp.com/zmIdbC
12 Ngwako Modjadji, ANC, Hamas to fight ‘apartheid’, The Citizen, 20 octobre 2015, https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/826018/anc-hamas-to-fight-apartheid/
13 Traduction de la Charte en français par Jean-François Legrain – CNRS, http://iremam.cnrs.fr/legrain/voix15.htm
14 V. Bosch, “Le sionisme,” Sovietskaia Biélorussia, 18 juillet 1968
15 Youri Ivanov, Attention sionisme! Editions de Littérature politique, Moscou, 1969
16 Tristan Mendes, Tribu ka 2.0 ? Un nouveau site et deux fois plus de conneries, 14 août 2006, http://egoblog.net/2006/08/14/tribu-ka-20-un-nouveau-site-et-deux-fois-plus-de-conneries/
17 “Le MDI est avec le Hezbollah,” Kemi Seba, 20 septembre 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl6oxSbeOLQ