NEW YORK (JTA) – Linking Israel to the former apartheid state of South Africa can be traced back to the late 1960s, when the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign found common cause with Arab world grievances at the United Nations.
Diplomatic pressure on Israel culminated in 1975 when the U.N. General Assembly passed the notorious “Zionism is racism” resolution. At the same time, the United Nations and other world bodies denounced apartheid as a “crime.”
Israel was soon linked with South Africa and its apartheid system of racial segregation, in which a racial minority ruled over a racial majority within one state.
In one instance, in 1977, the General Assembly, heavily influenced by its large Arab and Muslim bloc, passed a resolution that singled out Israeli “collaboration” with apartheid South Africa, though South Africa at that time maintained relations with dozens of other countries. The implication was clear.
“Zionism is racism” remained on the U.N. books until the Cold War ended; the resolution was rescinded in 1991. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later described the era as a “low point” in U.N. history.
Although “Zionism is racism” became passe, Israel’s foes would revive essentially the same equation shortly after the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, erupted in September 2000. They rebranded it, however, as “Israel is apartheid.”
Certain pro-Palestinian advocates found that by eliding the context of terrorism, they could portray the severe restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel said were necessary to counter suicide bombings, as racist, comparable to a once-despised white regime.
The ideal platform for this charge was in the symbolic heart of apartheid, South Africa, at the 2001 Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Thus the “Durban strategy” was born: to paint Israel as a “racist, apartheid” state and to isolate the Jewish nation through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.