In his rather bizarre post yesterday, the Hasbara Buster argued that:
“if Israel is demonized because people don’t focus on far worse human rights abusers, then Apartheid was also demonized for exactly the same reason. Which calls into question the whole concept of demonization.”
I disagree. I’ve spent some time clarifying my thoughts on this issue. I’d like to outline below why I think the ANC got the support it deserved and why, despite there being undoubtedly some fringe hysteria, the South African issue received the attention it did. In short, support for the struggle against Apartheid was the product of the hard work, astute thinking and genuine bona fides on the part of the ANC leadership.
The ANC managed to galvanise world opinion and enlist many to its cause for a number of reasons: reasons that should be instructive for any nascent liberation movement today.
(1) They had a clear vision of the society they wanted to create. They articulated this vision expertly and tailored their demands in equally clear and simple terms, showing how these would achieve this vision.
(2) The ANC leadership behaved in a statesmanlike manner – as a government in waiting.
(3) They paid sufficient attention to grassroots support, ensuring that their vision wasn’t lost. The principle vehicle for this was The Freedom Charter. This was the struggle bible, the struggle constitution, held by the people in no less regard than Americans hold their Constitution. It was no co-incidence that the Freedom Charter shared the same opening line as the US Constitution: “We the people…”
We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know, that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people
(4) They showed a willingness to engage and listen to supporters abroad and became a part of a wider progressive network. The original Charter spoke of equality for all “regardless of race, colour or sex”, but by the time this had evolved into the new South African Constitution, a progressive evolution had extended the understanding of equality to include, but not limited to, “race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth”.
Who could not get behind this political programme?
(5) Their demands of the National Party government were equally clear and reasonable: Scrap discriminatory laws and give every citizen a vote.
And who could not support these simple – yet fundamental – demands?
To summarise: The ANC had a clearly articulated vision for the future of the country and clear and tangible demands of the government. What the government of the time had to do to satisfy those demands was equally clear and fairly straightforward: end discrimination based on race and open up universal franchise.
It was a neat package.
Of course, coupled with that package was a non-dogmatic approach to public relations and the tailoring of tactics with this in mind – as well as tempering tactics with reference to a clear moral framework. That is why, in almost half a century of struggle, so few people (civilians especially) actually died. As a revolutionary organisation, the ANC has remarkably little blood on its hands. Let us not forget that the transition between Presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela was peaceful and constitutional.
The ANC worked for international support and got all the support it deserved. If there was proportionally more focus on South Africa than other trouble-spots and conflicts around the world, it is because the protagonists in those conflicts did not articulate their vision or demands as well as the ANC did.
By way of analogy. Two products might be equally tasty and nutritious, but one out-sells the other two-to-one. It is not hard to accept that better marketing, public relations and packaging account for the discrepancy. It’s the same reason why VHS beat Betamax, a superior format in the VCR wars.
But today this cannot be said for Hamas. We cannot explain the attention given to Israel on the basis of the neat packaging of an impressive political vision and a clear set of demands.
In contrast to the ANC’s Freedom Charter, the Hamas charter is a chilling document that anyone would be mad to support and insane to enable. Worse, few can agree on what Hamas actually wants from Israel and much less from its own citizens. It apparently wants an end to “the occupation” but so do a lot of people, myself included. We all mean different things, of course. There’s a lot of second-guessing going on.
The ANC’s actions were all designed to bring the apartheid regime to the negotiating table, but does Hamas want to negotiate. Yes. No. Maybe. It depends who you ask.
What are we meant to be demanding Israel does? Who knows! Again, it depends who you ask. The answer might be, retreat to its 1967 borders, or it might be “move to New York”. Or Auschwitz. Who knows?
“Who knows?” is inevitably followed by “who cares?”. And this is why I’ve arrived, like many others, at the conclusion that antisemitism is at the root of the obsession with Israel. No one really seems to care what sort of organisation Hamas is. Nobody seems to care what the realisation of the ambitions would mean, both for Israelis and Palestinians, Arab and Jew.
What is obvious is that the secular democratic state after which Israel is modeled cannot incorporate the Political Islamist ambitions of Hamas. A single state solution is thus an unreasonable demand unless you’re willing to accept the destruction of Israel as a modern secular state. But ‘progressives’ line up in solidarity with Hamas anyway, and promote their nebulous and shifting demands anyway. And the grievances against Israel? Again no one is ever sure what we’re talking about here: a ‘disproportionate’ response to rocket attacks? Existing at all?
Hamas has no political programme that ought to be palatable to progressives or acceptable to liberals. Their tactics should outrage sane and humane people: fathers grooming their sons to be suicide bombers, women blowing themselves up, bombs on school buses, twisting their children’s minds with Hamas Mouse the Martyr. Nazi imagery gets drafted in and accidentally finds its way onto ‘progressive’ discussion lists. Holocaust deniers are humoured. It’s repugnant. And when Israel asks what it should do, these same people shrug their shoulders.
Who knows… who cares?
All around the world, terrible atrocities are committed and ignored. Real genocides occur, hundreds of thousands starve, dictators and despots abuse their citizens with impunity and warlords terrorise nations. But there are no Jews involved.
So nobody wants to know and few care.
The ANC offered an attractive, easily-digestible ready-meal. Hamas offers a food fight.