Monthly Archives: May 1978

1978.05.00: Zionism, Israel and South Africa (UCLA)

South Africa’s prime minister John Vorster (second from right) is feted by Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) and Menachem Begin (left) and Moshe Dayan during his 1976 visit to Jerusalem.

Note: Since this paper was written in 1978, the close military ties, nuclear and otherwise, between apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa has been more fully revealed. See, e.g., Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa Pantheon, 2010),


Zionism, Israel and South Africa: Roots, Causes, Extent
Michael Letwin
UCLA, May 1978 (Rev. February 3, 2017)


It is widely accepted that there is a political, economic and military “Pretoria-Jerusalem Axis,” which reflects a strong bond between Zionism and apartheid South Africa.

Yet, there is dispute over the origins, basis for and extent of this relationship. Though supporters of the South African regime will readily admit, and even boast of, the relationship, apologists for Israel and Zionism tend to argue that the South African-Israeli alliance is a recent result of Black African and other Third World hostility toward Israel, forcing Israel to find friends wherever she could.

However, the historical record reveals a long history of South African-Zionist collaboration dating to the early years of the 20th century; indeed, South Africa was instrumental in aiding the early Zionists and in foundation of the Israeli state.

Such collaboration has always been based on common perceptions of isolated European colonists carrying out a “civilizing mission” on behalf of white European “civilization” — the infamous “White Man’s Burden.” This shared ideology has been the basis for both support from Western imperialism, and the special relationship, military and otherwise, between Zionism and apartheid South Africa.

I. Weizmann and Smuts

White South Africans, and particularly Afrikaners, have long seen Zionism as akin to their own vision. In 1896, the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, assured the Grand Duke of Baden of the “civilizing mission” of Zionists who hoped to conquer Palestine. When Jews “returned” to their “historic fatherland” they would bring “cleanliness, order and the well-established customs of the Occident to this plague-ridden, blighted corner of the Orient.” Zionists, representing European “progress,” would “build railroads into Asia — the highway of the civilized peoples.” The Zionist state would “form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.”[1]

In 1917, leading Labor-Zionist David Ben-Gurion similarly advocated alignment with European powers against “Asian sentiments.”[2] Zionist settlers in Palestine would be like “a company of Conquistadores,” and recalling “fierce fights” that white American colonists had fought against “wild nature and wilder redskins.”[3] A 1917 essay by Chaim Weizmann, British capitalist and Zionist, articulated this “White Man’s Burden” in regard to Palestine:

[E]ven today we hear people saying: ‘Well, yes, perhaps what you have done is all very good, but the Arabs in Palestine were used to a quiet life. They rode on camels; they were picturesque, they fitted into the landscape. Why not preserve it as a Museum, as a National Park? You came in from the West with your knowledge and your Jewish insistence. You are not picturesque. You do not fit into the landscape. You drain the marshes. You destroy the malaria. And you do it in such a way that the mosquitoes fly on to the Arab villages. You still speak Hebrew with a bad accent, and you have not yet learned how to handle a plough properly. Instead of a camel you use a motor car.’ It reminds one of the eternal fight of stagnation against progress, efficiency, health and education. The desert against civilization.[4]

A Zionist Israel would, he promised, safeguard the approaches to British-controlled Egypt: “England would have an effective barrier, and we would have a country.”

While deeply involved in the British war effort in 1917, Weizmann met South African Gen. Jans Christian Smuts, then a member of the British war cabinet.[5] According to Weizmann, Smuts greeted him,

in the friendliest fashion, had given a most sympathetic hearing. A sort of warmth of understanding radiated from him, and he assured me heartily that something would be done in connection with Palestine and the Jewish people. He put many search questions to me, and tried to find out how sincerely I believed in the actual possibilities. He treated the problem with eager interest, one might say with affection.[6]

Smuts was particularly attracted to Weizmann’s “desert vs. civilization” mentality. After all, hadn’t this been the very “mission” which the small but tough band of Afrikaners, defying oppressive governments,” pursued so earnestly in South Africa? On these grounds, Smuts could see the “natural rightness” of the Zionist cause, whose task was to “civilize” otherwise “primitive” areas.[7]

From his position in the British war cabinet, Smuts played a significant role in the British government’s adoption of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which promised Palestine to the Zionists as a “Jewish homeland.” In 1926, he convinced his coalition Nationalist-Labor government in South Africa to call on the League of Nations to implement the Declaration. From the 1920s-1940s, Smuts consistently argued that it was in Britain’s interests to support establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine, which would protect the Empire against both foreign competition and indigenous nonwhite majorities of the Middle East.

At crucial moments, Smuts aided the Zionists, making contacts, public declarations and pleas to the British government, while advising Weizmann on strategy and tactics.[8] In a letter to Smuts in 1943, Weizmann argued that a Zionist state would also help Britain develop synthetic materials and more systematically exploit her colonies.

Most importantly, Weizmann argued that a Zionist Palestine could become the vehicle for the development and production of materials and processing. It was an argument that Smuts dutifully passed on to the British.[9] In a 1946 plea for Smuts’ support, Weizmann again reiterated their shared conviction that “a Jewish Palestine is the surest of all available bulwarks for British power in the Middle East.”[10]

II. 1948 War

Establishment of the Israeli state in 1948 further reflected the extent of white South African support for Zionism. Smuts’ government sent food, medical supplies and other materiel to the Israeli regime, while allowing South African Jews to send private funds.[11] Military reserve officers and other white South Africans made up the largest single national contingent of foreign fighters for Israel. Ben-Gurion later credited such volunteers as a major reason for Zionist victory, while the South African Zionist Record similarly boasted that that the relatively small Jewish community had “contributed more to the Israeli war effort, in terms of skilled volunteers, than any other country in the world.”[12]

In May 1948, Smuts’ government became the first Commonwealth state to extend de facto recognition to Israel, and later that month the newly-elected Nationalist government extended de jure recognition to the Zionist state.[13] Soon, the new Nationalist Prime Minister, Dr. D.F. Malan, made the first Commonwealth state visit to Israel,[14] followed in 1950 by a reciprocal visit to South Africa by Israeli Prime Minister Sharett.[15] South Africa was among the first to support United Nations membership for Israel.

Smuts could legitimately claim that, “There was no country in proportion to its population which had done more, materially, for the [Jewish] National Home than South Africa according to its means.”[16]

III. Nationalist Party Rapprochement with South African Zionism

The South African Jewish community was surprised by the warm reception given Israel by the Nationalist Party government, which defeated Smuts in 1948. In the 1930s and ’40s, the openly pro-Nazi Nationalists had attacked “Jewish capitalism” and participated in a government that barred Jewish immigration. During the Second World War, the Nationalists’ secret Broederbond (Band of Brothers) organized paramilitary support for the Nazis and hoped to take power on Hitler’s bayonets. Nationalist leaders imprisoned during the war included present-day Prime Minister John Vorster. The Broederbond, which still exists, has included all Nationalist prime ministers since 1948.[17]

For all of the above reasons, Jewish South Africans feared that the Nationalist’s election would signal a pogrom, and many considered emigration before it was too late. However, several reasons compelled the Nationalists to restrain their anti-Semitism. Afrikaner domination of the South African economy required thoroughgoing and rigid institutionalization of apartheid — “separate development” — in which the already brutal racial oppression of nonwhite South Africans was escalated in order to increase economic exploitation of nonwhite workers.

This policy included a battery of repressive new laws, attacks on the few remaining bastions of qualified non-white suffrage, and extensive use of Bantustans (rural ghettos). Black workers would always remain “temporary sojourners” in white society, without any rights. To suppress growing nonwhite resistance,[18] Nationalists sought to unify whites who, regardless of religion, were vastly outnumbered. Moreover, they recognized that Jewish investors, “99%” of whom were ardent Zionists, played a critical role in the South African economy.

Beyond these practical imperatives, Nationalists found a natural affinity for Zionism. Like Afrikaners, Zionists were a small group of white European settlers who justified their subjugation of nonwhites by citing the Old Testament of the Bible, while at the same time having to fight British imperialism for control of a former colony. It was a close enough parallel to draw sympathy, even if Zionist settlers happened to be Jewish.[19]

In addition to continuing Smuts’ support for Zionism abroad, the Nationalists sought to win over South African Jews. Beginning with the 1948 election campaign, they renounced anti-Semitism, declared that there was “no longer a Jewish Question in South Africa,” appointed a large number of Jews to important offices, and in 1951 opened Nationalist Party membership to Jews.[20]

The vast majority of South African Jews were pleased with these changes, and many were won over to the Nationalists. Most South African Jews were already Zionists[21] and had always considered themselves to be “legitimate” members of the white community. As Leo Marquard explains in The Peoples and Policies of South Africa, “While clinging tenaciously to their religion and in this respect isolating themselves from the rest of the community, [South African Jews] have nevertheless thoroughly identified themselves with South African Life.”[22]

South African Jews have certainly “earned” their place in the white community of South Africa. From 1652 on, Jews were involved in colonization, and played a leading role in South African economic development dating from the discovery of diamonds and gold in the 1870’s and 1880’s.[23] By the mid-20th century, the Jewish community had come to control such industries as clothing and cinema, and had a fair hand in gold, furniture, tobacco, chemicals, leather, food manufacture, farming, and finance.[24] Per capita, the 120,000 South African Jews are the wealthiest Jewish community in the world,[25] and like the rest of white South Africa, owes its wealth to subjugation and super-exploitation of Black labor.

This Nationalist rapprochement toward South African Jews neutralized Jewish opposition to the new apartheid regime. In exchange for ending anti-Semitic practices and giving full South African support for Israel, the country’s Zionist community became staunch supporters of the new South African apartheid regime.[26] Thus, immediately following the 1948 election, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies stated that it would “not express views on the various race policies being advocated” by the white Nationalist regime.[27] As Rabbi Dr. M.C. Weiler explained in 1953:

The Jews as a community had decided to take no stand on the native question, because they were involved with the problem of assisting Jewry in other lands. South African Jewry was doing more to help Israel than any other group. The community could not ask for the Government’s permission to export funds and goods and at the same time, object to the Government.[28]

This Zionist commitment to South African apartheid grew as time went on. Like other whites, they began to worry about the growth of communism and Third World nationalism in Africa and the Middle East. By the early 1950’s, Israel and South Africa were considering an alliance for mutual protection, and at least one Israeli destroyer had docked in South Africa. Such fears were spurred by Nasser’s 1952 rise in Egypt, which appeared to both threaten the Zionist state and hearten the Black liberation movement in southern Africa.[29] This specter encouraged South Africa to support Israel in the 1956 Middle East war. Again, while South African Zionists were again allowed to privately send their own money, supplies and combat volunteers.[30]

As this relationship grew, many leading South African Zionists went from abstention on the “race issue” to overt support of South African apartheid. As Dan Jacobson, a Jewish South African writer, commented in January 1957:

[R]acialism . . . is not a government, not a movement, not a political party, but the very basis of society: South Africa has never been anything but racialist, and yet so far it is a country in which Jews have managed to fare rather well. Many South African Jews see no necessity that South African color-consciousness must give rise to anti-Semitism: if there is, it is a necessity that after three hundred years in which to mature has not yet issued into action.

Only Communists wanted Jews to associate with Blacks, “who like Communists everywhere else in the world, make appeals that are permitted by contempt for the fate of particular people in particular situations.” Ronald M. Segal, a Jewish exception to this general trend, criticized Jewish indifference to the oppression and exploitation of non-whites.[31]

By 1960, Charles Hoppenstein, a member of the Board of Deputies, asserted that “[a] majority of [Jews] are supporting the Union Government’s policy in connection with apartheid.”[32] Responding for the Israeli government in 1959, leading Knesset member Mordechai Nurok declared, “We are very grateful to the South African Government for the part it has played in helping Israel to attain its present status. South African Jews who have settled in Israel are staunch patriots of the [South African apartheid] Union.”[33]

Meanwhile, Abba Eban made clear his views towards non-Europeans in Israel:

The idea should not be one of integration. Quite the contrary: integration is rather something to be avoided. . . . . [F]ar from regarding our immigrants from oriental countries as a bridge toward our integration with the Arab-speaking world, our objective should be to infuse them with Occidental spirit, rather than to allow them to draw us into an unnatural orientalism.[34]

IV. Cosmetic Rift

The only major rift in Israeli-South African relations occurred in 1961, when Israel sought broader influence by establishing joint programs with newly independent Black African regimes, the price of which was support for two United Nations resolutions critical of South African apartheid.[35] Outraged, the South African regime pointed out that it had been among Zionism’s staunchest supporters, and that the two states were organized on similar racial principles. In November 1961, South African Prime Minister H. Verwoerd observed that Zionists “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that I agree with them, Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” Die Transvaler, a staunchly Nationalist newspaper reiterated the point:

And is there any real difference between the way that the people of Israel are trying to maintain themselves amid non-Jewish peoples and the way the Afrikaner is trying to remain what he is? The people of Israel base themselves upon the Old Testament to explain why they do not wish to mix with other people. The Afrikaner does this too.

In retaliation, the regime curtailed the export of private South African Zionist funds to Israel.[36]

South African Zionists also felt betrayed by Israel’s attempts to rhetorically distance themselves from apartheid South Africa.[37] One sarcastically asked whether there “were any circumstances at present imaginable in which the Jews of Israel would consent to share power with an Arab majority.”[38]

The South African Zionist community defended their apartheid system against rhetorical attack by the Israeli government and from liberal Jews in other countries. In December 1962, the Jewish Board of Deputies resolved that “the Jewish community should take steps to explain South Africa’s position to Jews overseas and at home.”[39] When an American Jew, Fritz Flesch, asked the World Jewish Congress to condemn South African apartheid in early 1963, he was told:

[T]he World Jewish Congress is precluded by its Constitution from undertaking any activity in relation to any country which has a Jewish community that can speak for itself, unless that community either requests or permits it. You may not find these considerations pleasing, but the democratic rights of Jewish communities are valid whether the results appeal to you and me or do not.[40]

South African Zionists rejected foreign Jewish criticism at least partly because of their privileged position in white South African society. Aaron Mendelow, a Board of Deputies leader, made clear, “[white] South African Jews have for better or for worse, cast in their lot with other South Africans, and we are proud of the fact that we have always acted as an integral part of the [white] South African community.”[41]

Similarly, when Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated in 1966, Jewish Affairs lamented that his “removal from the helm was indeed a major national tragedy.” Chief Rabbi Prof. Israel Abrahams praised him as “a man of sincerity and deep integrity . . . a moral conscience underlay his policies: he was the first man to give apartheid a moral ground.” Rabbi Arthur Super, Senior Rabbi of the Progressive Jewish Congregation, eulogized Verwoerd as “one of the greatest, if not the greatest prime minister South Africa has ever produced.”[42]

Yet, behind these acrimonious exchanges in the early and middle l960s, economic relations between the two regimes actually grew. In 1961, South Africa was already Israel’s largest African trading partner, and from 1961-1967, Israeli exports to South Africa rose from $1.4 million to $4 million, while Israeli imports from South Africa had risen to $3.3 million.[43]

V. 1967 War

The 1967 Middle East war reestablished and escalated South African-Israeli relations to unprecedented heights. The South African regime immediately allowed South African volunteers to join the Israeli forces, and permitted unrestricted private Zionist contributions to Israel, an estimated $28-30 million in 1967 alone.[44]

All of the white South African political parties announced support for the Israeli war effort,[45] South African military officers went to study the war from the Israeli side of the barricades, and the South African government loudly defended Israel’s “preemptive strike.”[46]

Die Burger, mouthpiece of the Nationalist Party, made clear that Israel’s earlier UN vote against South Africa “does not detract from the anxiety with which the present crisis is being followed in our country. Israel, like South Africa, is a stronghold and point of support for the West, whether the West always likes it or not.”[47] Die Burger also articulated how an Arab victory would directly threaten South Africa’s colonial regime:

How much does South Africa owe to the sharpness of the conflict between Jew and Arab since 1948? This is difficult to assess, but it is evident that Nasser’s Israel problem had a braking effect on his drive toward mischief in the south. He was a ringleader in the movement against the white man in Africa but dangers nearer home prevented him from playing the role he undoubtedly desired. Next to South Africa and Algeria, Egypt is the most formidable military power in Africa, Israel has the means — propagandistic, economic and military — which help to pin down what otherwise would have been more available for the anti-South African campaign of the Pan Africanists. (Emph. added)

The South African press was jubilant over Israel’s victory. The Afrikaner newspaper Volksblad rejoiced that, “[t]he strongest ally of the Blacks, Egypt, lies wounded,” and warned enemies of apartheid to “think hard about what happened to the Arabs who wanted to devastate Israel. . . . [W]e, like Israel, are prepared to defend our territory — and that includes South West Africa [Namibia] — with equal determination.”

The South African press also expressed hopes that expanded Israeli occupation of Arab territory might deflect attention from South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia. In addition, the Cape Route had gained much greater importance with the closure of the Suez Canal, while its “ineffectuality” in preventing Israel’s attack weakened its ability to undermine South Africa’s white minority regime.[48]

The 1967 war cemented mutual self-perceptions of both Israel and South Africa as besieged colonial regimes. In 1968, Die Burger argued that,

Israel and South Africa have a common lot. Both are engaged in a struggle for existence, and both are in constant clash with the decisive majorities in the United Nations. Both are reliable forces of strength within the region, which would, without them, fall into anti-Western anarchy. It is in South Africa’s interest that Israel is successful in containing her enemies; and Israel would have all the world against it if the navigation route around the Cape of Good Hope should be out of operation because South Africa’s control is undermined. The anti-Western powers have driven Israel and South Africa into a community of interests which had better be utilized than denied.

This sentiment was echoed by the Jewish Board of Deputies, which advocated an even closer and more open alliance between the two regimes:

The argument that Israel and South Africa have a basic community of interest in the Middle East and further south has more than a grain of truth in it. There is nothing secret or sinister about it. The strong ties between the two countries, closer than ever since the 1967 war, are inseparable from their geographical and strategic position, from their anti-communist outlook, and from all the realities of their national existence. . . . In short, the destinies of the two countries, so different in many ways, but so alike in the fundamental conditions of their survival, are interwoven in a much more meaningful sense than any enemy propagandist could conceive, or for that matter, would be happy to see.[49]

These words were given real weight by the growth in bilateral trade and investment. In 1968, an Israel-South Africa Trade Association was established, and an Israeli Trade Commission visited South Africa.[50] By 1970, South Africa’s state-owned Industrial Development Corporation signed an agreement with the Bank of Israel for a R10.7 million line of credit to expand South African investments in Israel, a rare exception to South Africa’s tight control over capital export; this was soon followed by others.[51]

The two regimes also pursued a coordinated policy of “detente” with “friendly” Black regimes, as part of which Israel began major programs in South African-dominated Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Botswana.[52] In November 1970, Louis Hotz, a South African Zionist, explained that this joint policy was based on common defense interests, anti-Communism, fear for loss of the Suez Canal, and mutual economic health.[53]

Perhaps most significantly, the post-1967 relationship dramatically escalated bilateral military ties. As a result, South Africa was licensed to manufacture Israeli Uzi submachine guns, is widely believed to have been supplied with blueprints of the latest version of the French Mirage fighter,[54] and discussed delivery of Israel’s Arava counter-insurgency aircraft.[55] Gen. Mordechai Hod, chief of the Israeli Air Force, and Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres visited South Africa to meet with their opposite numbers.[56]

VI. 1973 War

The 1973 Middle East war further sealed South African-Israeli relations. South African Defense Minister M.C. Botha vowed to help Israel as much as was “within our means, and without declaring war.”[57] Promising military aid, Botha warned of “Communistic Militarism,” and compared the indigenous Arab threats to Israel with the danger to South Africa from Black resistance to minority rule.[58] South African Zionists were gain free to donate funds to Israel. At least 1,500 South African volunteers joined the Israeli war effort, [59] and the Daily Telegraph even reported that Egypt had downed a South African jet fighter.[60] In November 1973, Louis Hotz advised Jewish South Africans to follow the example of Israelis military preparedness and “national unity.”[61]

Black Africa’s alienation by Israel’s 1973 aggression in the Middle East freed Israel to openly ally with the white enclaves in southern Africa.[62] This unapologetic relationship grew rapidly.[63] In August and September of 1974, Gen. Meir Amit, head of the giant Histradut (Zionist labor federation)-controlled Koor Corporation, visited South Africa to discuss joint business operations. The next month, the South African Business Federation hosted Israeli war hero Gen. Moshe Dayan, who said that Israel’s greatest problem was its large number of Oriental Jews, urged greater white South African immigration to Israel,[64] visited leading Black apartheid collaborator Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, and stressed South Africa’s importance to Israel:

South Africa belongs to the free world. Israel is very interested in maintaining close relationship with the Government of South Africa. South Africa is a developed country; there are most impressive development schemes under way here, but it must take its military problems seriously.[65]

Other visits followed.[66] In September 1974, Gen. Amit arranged formation of a company jointly owned by the Israeli Koor Corporation (ISCOR) and the South African government-owned steel corporation, through which a new factory in E. London would produce South African steel for Israel.[67] In July 1975, Amit confirmed a South African-built railroad line in Israel, an Israeli-built desalination plant in South Africa, joint construction of a chemical plant in the Cape Province of South Africa, and a joint oil-storage tank farm in Israel.[68]

By 1974, South Africa played an important role in Israeli chemicals, textiles, rubber goods, pharmaceuticals, electronics, citrus fruit, machinery, cement, timber, sugar. Israel was importing South African steel (by 1975 sixty percent of South Africa’s steel exports went to Israel), and had plans to import South African coal and other raw materials in the near future.[69]

Between 1965-1974, bilateral annual trade soared tenfold from $7 million to $71.8 million,[70] and by 1977 reached $100 million.[71] Diamond cutting, which represents thirty-four percent of Israel’s total exports,[72] and is its second largest industry,[73] relies on South Africa for fifty percent of its raw diamonds, which are excluded from the overall trade figures above because Israel annually purchases $100 million worth from the London-based Central Selling Organization, owned by the giant South African mining conglomerate DeBeers.[74]

By 1977, South Africa further relaxed restrictions on annual capital exports to Israel.[75] Numerous joint investment projects have been launched since the 1973 war.[76] Tourism and cultural relations have also increased; musicians and artists participate in numerous exchange programs, and athletic teams compete in all-white sports.[77]

The 1973 war also brought joint military cooperation to a whole new level. In September 1974, Israel announced the sale of missiles to South Africa, while President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia charged that an Israeli major general was training South African troops in counterinsurgency warfare.[78] On July 14, 1975, New York Post writer Stanley Uys reported that, “Senior Israeli military officers visit South Africa regularly to lecture South African officers on modern warfare and counter-insurgency techniques.”[79] Gen. Amit admitted this training, and boasted that the South African Defense Force was benefiting from Israeli experience and expertise in military electronics. Knesset member Marcia Freeman has revealed that Israeli troops were participating in South African military maneuvers.[80]

On April 3, 1976, the Daily Telegraph reported that Israeli officers were closely involved with planning the South African invasion of Angola the previous fall, and that the South African military reported that its casualties had been reduced by Israeli evacuation and treatment techniques.[81]

VII. Vorster’s 1976 Visit to Israel

South African Prime Minister John Vorster’s official visit to Israel in April 1976 demonstrated how far bilateral ties have come since 1973.[82] Vorster declared that the two regimes enjoyed “similarities in many, many instances,” from “climatic conditions” to “threats of terrorism.”[83] Toasting Vorster, Israel’s Labor Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin expressed similar sentiments:

I believe both our countries share the problem of how to build regional dialogue, coexistence and stability in the face of foreign-inspired instability and recklessness. This is why we here follow with sympathy your own historic efforts to achieve detente on your continent, to build bridges for a secure and better future, to create coexistence that will guarantee a prosperous atmosphere of cooperation for all the African peoples, without outside interference and threat.[84]

Rabin’s message was echoed by the Israeli press, which praised Vorster as “that very rare creature — a political leader who had educated himself to the need of recharting his country’s racial and foreign policy in response to a changing reality.”[85]

In the coming days, Vorster, who had been imprisoned as a Nazi sympathizer during W.W. II, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, which he diplomatically called “remarkable.”[86] More practically, Vorster visited the Sharm E-Sheikh Naval Base, Israeli Air Force bases and the factory that produces Kfir jet fighters.[87]

Vorster’s visit provided a badly needed respite from growing international isolation of apartheid South Africa, particularly after its invasion of Angola had been repulsed.[88] As the Rand Daily Mail observed,

There is no gainsaying the signal nature of Mr. Vorster’s triumph this week. By achieving a publicly announced economic, scientific and industrial pact with Israel he has done far more than merely formalize bonds that have, in any case, been growing stronger. He has, in fact, acquired for South Africa a public friend, an avowed ally, at a time when this country confronts an increasingly hostile world and an increasingly aggressive Black Africa.[89]

The New York Times viewed the visit in the same light.

Whatever the actual details of the agreement, the visit underscored the deepening relationship between two countries that find themselves isolated diplomatically and surrounded by hostile states. It is a relationship built on both the similarity of their respective situations and practical economic, military and political considerations.[90]

Public declarations of mutual admiration during Vorster’s visit also helped South Africa break out of its isolation in concrete ways. For example, in June 1976, the Israeli ambassador advised Jews from around the world to visit South Africa and see the country for themselves.[91] Soon thereafter, American Jewish editors visited South Africa on a trip paid for by Pan Am and the South African Tourist Organization. The Israeli ambassador, who helped organize trip, asked the editors to give South Africa a positive review.

Pursuant to this PR effort, Jewish-American columnist Phineas Stone warned that equality between “a primitive but overwhelming Black majority” and “an advanced white ruling minority” would lead to expulsion of the whites and then to “years, and perhaps decades of mutual slaughter” by South Africa’s “rival Black tribes. . . [and that the] group of Jewish editors [who] visited South Africa just some weeks ago . . . were, on the whole, impressed with the logic and sincerity of the ‘Separate Development’ [apartheid] program.” Just a few weeks after South Africa massacred hundreds of protesting Black students in Soweto, Jesse Lurie wrote in Hadassah that “South Africa is a beautiful country, a fascinating one. There is no reason to boycott it.”[92]

Vorster’s visit also established a joint cabinet committee to meet twice a year to “discuss investment, increased trade, scientific and industrial cooperation, and joint projects to exploit Israeli manpower and South African raw material.”[93] It was the first such committee for either country, and a few months later, South Africa and Israel signed an economic, scientific and cultural pact.[94]

The visit also concluded plans for a jointly built railroad, steel rolling mill and hydro-electric plant for the Dead Sea,[95] and a pact for export of South African coal to Israel.[96] Thus, the broad economic contours of South African-Israeli relations had become clear: In exchange for raw materials, South Africa received Israeli technical expertise and a favorable trade balance. Pursuant to this symbiotic relationship, South Africa circumvented European tariffs and Black African boycotts by shipping semi-finished textiles, chemicals and fertilizers to Israel, thereby qualifying for an Israeli certificate of origin. The potential for the South African-Israeli economic relationship was succinctly expressed by the former Israeli Consul-General to South Africa, who said that, “[w]ith South Africa’s abundance of raw materials, and Israel’s know-how, we can really go places if we join forces.”[97]

The most important result of Vorster’s trip, however, was military. Despite vehement South African and Israeli denial of such arms deals,[98] numerous sources report Israel’s promise to manufacture twenty-four Kfir fighters for the South African Air Force. Because of the shroud of secrecy, it is unknown whether these planes, which are equipped with U.S.-made engines, have actually been delivered. The reported deals also include Israeli production of at least two Reshef class long-range gunboats equipped with sea-to-sea missiles, along with necessary training for fifty South African naval personnel in Tel Aviv.[99] In exchange for these fighters, boats and other advanced electronic military equipment, the South African government offered to provide a large shipment of coal for production of Israeli steel, financial aid for the Israeli arms industry and supplies of uranium.[100]

In September 1977, Newsweek reported that Israel had delivered, or agreed to provide South Africa with rifles, mortars, electronic equipment, license to produce the Uzi submachine gun and the 65-foot Dabur class patrol boat, twelve Reshef class gunboats, Kfir fighters and British Centurion tanks.[101]

In August 1976, the South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO) charged that South African was using Israeli and British mercenaries to patrol the 20-mile strip at the Namibian border with Angola and Zambia, and that Israelis were also serving there as experts in desert warfare. Israel denied the charges.[102] Moreover, the recently- documented South African atomic bomb may have been produced by Israel. This too has been denied by Israel, although the South African government had “no comment.”[103]


As this paper has shown, relations between South Africa and Zionist colonialism date to the early 20th century. Despite brief interludes, political, economic and military links between the two have steadily grown.

These relations have always been rooted in a shared self-conception of South Africa and Zionism as “civilized” European minorities, fulfilling the “White Man’s Burden” and protecting western capitalism against creeping “communism.” Today, at its height, this relationship is increasingly central to the perspectives and survival of both regimes, particularly as they face growing internal and external challenge. Israel is one of the few countries today that will openly defend the South African apartheid regime, which finds itself increasingly isolated as a result its brutal response to Black resistance.

This relationship will continue to grow as indigenous uprisings increasingly challenge the remaining settler states in the Middle East and southern Africa.


1. Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri, “Zionist Apologetics and the White Man’s Burden,” (hereafter “Burden,”) in Israel and South Africa, The Progression of a Re1ationship, by Richard P. Stevens and Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri (hereafter “I&SA“), New York, 1976, p. 9.

2. Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri, “Israel and South Africa: A Link,” I&SA, (hereafter “Link”), p. 62.

3. Burden, p. 9.

4. Richard P. Stevens, “Smuts and Weizmann,” I&SA, p. 24.

5. Ibid., p. 23.

6. Ibid., p. 23.

7. Ibid., pps, 22-24.

8. Ibid., pps. 26-27.

9. Weizmann to Smuts, 2/26/43, I&SA, pps. 91-92.

10. I&SA, pps. 30-32.

11. “Report on the Relations Between Israel and South Africa, August 19, 1976,” United Nations Report (hereafter, “U.N.”), I&SA, p. 200.

12. Zionist Record, 5/22/59, I&SA, p. 95.

13. I&SA, pps. 38-39.

14. Richard P. Stevens, “Zionism, South Africa and Apartheid: The Paradoxical Triangle,” I&SA, pps. 48-49 (hereafter “Triangle“).

15. Link, p. 64.

16. Stevens, “Smuts and Weizmann,” op cit., p. 40.

17. Alex Callinicos and John Rogers, Southern Africa After Soweto, London, 1977, p. 36; Triangle, p. 45.

18. Callinicos and Rogers, ibid., pps. 51-64.

19. Triangle, p. 47.

20. Ibid., pps. 48-49.

21. Ibid., p. 47.

22. Louis Hotz in South African Jewry 1965, I&SA, p. 77.

23. Ibid., p. 72.

24. Ibid., pps. 80-84; Triangle, p. 46.

25. Stevens, “Smuts and Weizmann,” pps. 25-26.

26. Triangle, pps. 50-51.

27. Ibid., p. 51.

28. U.N., p. 195.

29. Triangle, p. 57.

30. Link, p. 66.

31. Triangle, pps. 52-53.

32. Ibid., p. 51.

33. Ibid., p. 50.

34. Burden, p. 11.

35. Triangle, p. 53.

36. Ibid., p. 54.

37. Jewish Affairs, 11/61, I&SA, pps. 108-111.

38. Triangle, p. 55.

39. Ibid., p. 55.

40. Maurice L. Perlzweig to Friz Flesch, Ibid, p. 99.

41. Triangle, p. 56.

42. Jewish Affairs, 9/66, I&SA, p. 111.

43. Triangle, p. 58.

44. Ibid., p. 58.

45. U.N., p. 200.

46. Link, p. 66.

47. Jewish Affairs 6/67, I&SA, p. 117.

48. Ibid., 6/67.

49. U.N., pps. 196-197.

50. Link, p, 68.

51. U.N., p. 204.

52. Triangle, p. 58.

53. Jewish Affairs, 11/70, I&SA, pps. 124-126.

54. New York Times, 4/28/71, I&SA, pps, 131-133.

55. U.N., p. 201.

56. Link, p. 66.

57. U.N., p. 197.

58. South African Digest, 10/19/73, I&SA, p. 132.

59. U.N., p. 200.

60. South African Digest, p. 133.

61. Jewish Affairs, 11/73, I&SA, p. 135.

62. New York Times, 5/21/77; U.N., p. 197.

63. U.N., p. 198.

64. Third World Report, 9/74, p. 64.

65. Southern Africa, 9/15/74; I&SA, p. 138.

66. U.N., p. 199-200.

67. Third World Report, p. 141.

68. New York Post, 7/14/75, I&SA, p. 142.

69. U.N., p. 203, Jewish Press, 6/18/76, I&SA. p. 171; Los Angeles Times, 10/31/76.

70. Link, p. 65.

71. Newsweek, 5/21/77.

72. Link, p. 65.

73. Contrast, 10/20/72, I&SA, p. 130.

74. U.N., p. 203.

75. Ibid., p. 205.

76. See lists in U.N., pps. 206-208.

77. Ibid., pps. 210-211.

78. Third World Report, p. 140.

79. New York Post, p. 141.

80. Link, p. 68.

81. U.N., p. 202.

82. South African Digest, 4/16/76, 4/23/76; I&SA, pps. 148-150.

83. New York Times, 4/11/76, I&SA, p. 150; Link, p. 63.

84. Jerusalem Post Wkly, 4/13/76, I&SA, p. 152.

85. South African Digest, 4/16/76, p. 148.

86. Jerusalem Post Weekly, p. 153.

87. Ibid.

88. Jerusalem Post, 4/20/76, I&SA, pps. 154-156.

89. U.N., p. 199.

90. New York Times, 4/18/76, I&SA, p. 151.

91. Jewish Press, 6/18/76, I&SA, pps. 172-173.

92. Palestine!, July-August 1976, I&SA, pps. 169-70, 174-175.

93. Link, p. 64.

94. South African Digest, 4/27/76, I&SA, p. 150.

95. Link, p. 66.

96. Los Angeles Times, 10/31/76.

97. Link, p. 66, U.N.; p. 194, 205-206.

98. Jewish Press, 6/18/76, I&SA, pps. 172-173; U.N., p. 198.

99. New York Times, 8/18/76; Jewish Telegraphic Agency Daily News Bulletin, 8/10/76, in Link, p. 66.

100. U.N. Report, p. 202.

101. Newsweek, 9/12/77.

102. Guardian, 8/23/76; New York Times, 8/23/76, I&SA, p. 167.

103. Newsweek, 9/12/77.

1978.05.00: Background to Soweto Uprising (UCLA)

1-1978.04.XX -- Background to Soweto Uprisings, M. Letwin Presentation at UCLA_Page_1 2-1978.04.XX -- Background to Soweto Uprisings, M. Letwin Presentation at UCLA_Page_2