Various facts point toward Israel being an apartheid state. While such comparisons can be constructive for those focused on solutions, commentaries on Israel’s latest challenges rarely fall into this category.

For the 99% of people who are neither Israelis nor South Africans, labelling Israel as an apartheid state conjures up simplistic black-white, good-bad comparisons. This further encourages those who, while ignoring core questions and myriad complexities, were already quick to judge.

Should Gazan people welcome efforts to hold Israel primarily, if not exclusively, responsible for their innocent neighbours and family members being killed? Or should they see such views as playing into Hamas’s hands? Can there be a lasting peace between Gazans and Israelis which doesn’t begin with Hamas being forcibly ousted? Would Hamas’s martyrdom-embracing leaders not have foreseen the civilian casualties in Palestine that they provoked? Would Hamas leaders, and their patrons, not be thrilled with the anti-semitism now on display across the globe?

Protests and polling show that many, particularly young adults in affluent countries, have little empathy for the Israeli government’s need to defend its citizens. Associating today’s Israel with apartheid South Africa makes it easier for them to vilify Israel. Conversely, if the conversations explored solution paths, the apartheid comparisons would illustrate similarities alongside stark differences. 

This article follows from my hearing a relatively young South African adult assert that either the Israelis or the Gazans must leave. Such views might be implausible or dangerous but at least they show interest in exploring solutions. 

Older South Africans, who remember, say, the 1992 referendum, are realists in ways foreign to today’s students, faculty and administrators at elite Western universities. Those who are protected from, or are obsessed with, microaggressions are poorly prepared to confront solutions that require managing tradeoffs provoked by ruthless provocateurs.

Live in harmony

Our 1990s political transition was likened to a miracle, and the ANC was internationally feted. There was no need for whites to depart, everyone was to live in harmony. There were genuine efforts to pursue understanding and cooperation.  

However, despite endless proposals and debates, an effective economic plan never arrived. Nor did the rest of the world stand still waiting for South Africa to catch up. Instead, the Cold War ended, leading to massive poverty reduction through intense globalisation. Our post-1994 leaders initially toyed with balancing redistribution and global integration, but patronage prevailed.

South Africa and Gaza share an ongoing ‘apartheid’ system through policies that enforce separateness from the global economy. We travelled from explicit racial apartheid to the apartheid of patronage-induced ‘localisation’. Our current level of youth unemployment has become entrenched at a level only found amid conflict-ravaged regions, such as Gaza and Djibouti.

Our volume of jobs and pace of job creation is consistent with our economy’s size and trajectory. Localisation is therefore as debilitating for a large majority of young black South Africans as apartheid was.

The interests of the ruled and the rulers tend to align in most countries. Conversely, rulers of richly resource-endowed countries can live lavishly without having to rely on taxing productive citizens. They simply skim from commodity exports. 

As thwarting aspirations tempts revolutions, rulers of commodity-exporting countries often restrict education while dependency on government increases. Narratives are then sculpted to attribute the resulting entrenched poverty and unemployment to a third party. 

Western colonisation

As such third parties should be powerful, the West is the top candidate. The ANC still attributes our economic malaise to Western colonization, while aligning itself with Russia, Iran, China and Hamas.

Another ‘SA’, Saudi Arabia, expounded such narratives for decades until their support for anti-Western proxies culminated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This watershed event led to much greater scrutiny of Saudis supporting extremist groups.

The bigger shift among Saudi rulers, and those of other hydrocarbon-exporting Arab nations, has been to accept the need to develop their economies through greater global integration. The signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, which included Bahrain, Sudan, the UAE and Morocco, was a truly historic breakthrough towards normalising Arab-Israeli relations. 

Asia’s integration with the West was to be followed by the Middle East becoming well integrated with both. Israeli-Palestinian relations declined in importance – but not for Palestinians or Iranian proxies.

The fact that university students today are well versed in colonial oppression shouldn’t stop them appreciating how vital trading has become to development. Nor should they ignore how otherwise highly ineffective governments are often adept at exploiting colonial narratives.

The world’s extreme poverty is mostly concentrated in isolated, resource-endowed African countries. They need to transition their economies away from over-reliance on commodity exports, but their rulers tend to rely on patronage and tribalism for political support. These political economies are similar in Middle Eastern countries, but frequently their commodity exports are more lucrative, while their politics are supported by religion.

Expand options

Technological progress will continue to expand options. Electric vehicles fueled by nuclear power are already competitive, with hydrocarbon-powered vehicles and advances in renewables and batteries further undermining the competitiveness of hydrocarbon-based power – irrespective of ecological considerations.

Commodity wealth retards development, whereas integrating with the wealthy West accelerates it. The economic advantages of Arab nations trading with Israel outweigh the political advantages of exploiting oppression narratives.

Israeli efforts to protect its people have often seemed excessive, if not excessively harsh. Conversely, its leaders have developed the most sophisticated economy in the world’s least-developed and overly resource-dependent region, which extends from the north of the Middle East to the southern tip of Africa. And they have done this while seeking regional and global integration and developing workable solutions to formidable challenges, such as desalination to address water shortages.

Living conditions in Gaza have long reflected apartheid-like decisions by Israeli leaders. For those that are quick to judge, that is more than sufficient to hold the Israelis up for censure. For others, it is significant that they are so much more affluent than their neighbours. 

But those South Africans who were old enough to vote in 1994 have been taught too many lessons about the costs of horrific governance. It is the policies and practices of the ANC and Hamas which separate their citizens from the opportunities which lead to prosperity.  

[Photo of Gazan market]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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For 20 years, Shawn Hagedorn has been regularly writing articles in leading SA publications, focusing primarily on economic development. For over two years, he wrote a biweekly column titled “Myths and Misunderstandings” without ever lacking subject material. Visit, and follow him on Twitter @shawnhagedorn