The Football, South Africa and Israel
Elvis Costello cancelled his Israel bookings as “a matter of instinct and conscience”: “There are occasions” he said “when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.”
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Isabel Kershner agreed: “For many [in Israel] such concerts were never just about the music. The more high-profile the artist, the more Israel felt like a normal country, less defined by conflict; each performance was taken as a sign of global acceptance that Israelis so crave.”
One wonders how Israelis felt, watching the high-spirited World Cup kick-off concert from Orlando Stadium in Soweto: a conscious celebration from start to finish that South Africa had achieved not only democracy, an end of apartheid, and the approval and admiration of the world, but also sheer pride and happiness. “I think I’m dreaming” Desmond Tutu sang out to an ecstatic multi-racial crowd.
Yet, apparently, Israel lives in mortal dread of landing up in the same happy place. No, no, we’re nothing like South Africa even if we did offer them nukes in a choice of three handy sizes, and please don’t use that horrid apartheid word about us. (Tutu again: “I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid.”)
Israel’s Establishment, with its massive international financial back-up, fears not so much that sanctions and boycotts will bring poverty but that they will bring isolation, low national self-esteem and poor morale, pariah status and finally a change of heart such as happened in South Africa.
Yes, there are the differences. The biggest is that in South Africa, five million whites voted themselves out of racial dominance when they decided to hand the franchise to 20 million blacks. By contrast in Israel/Palestine, if every Palestinian exile came back to a single democratic state, their total votes would only slightly outnumber those of Jewish Israelis, assuming that everyone voted in racial blocks rather than in criss-crossing alliances and coalitions.
But there are enough similarities with South Africa, and the comparison will not go away. Palestine will find its Mandela, and potential De Klerks are coming out of Israel’s woodwork. Two senior Likud grandees have stepped forward in favour of total or partial franchise for Palestinians. There will be more.
South Africa had its last-ditch die-hard Afrikaners armed against the savage hordes who were said to want to throw them into the sea. It had the bluster and bravado, the growing repression and extremism, the elaborate systems of divide and rule, the death threats and murders and desperate lashing out against the inevitable sea-change. In the end they were heavily outnumbered by the rest of the whites who had had enough.
Twenty years ago a World Cup in a stable South Africa seemed unthinkable. How many years before we see such scenes in Israel or Palestine or whatever its people decide to be called?
Israel certainly knows all about football, having spent the last twenty years of the Two State “process” moving the goalposts. Now it’s the time for the One State answer to remove the goalposts altogether.
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