George Mason University‘s Emet for Israel group, Israel Student Association (ISA), recently hosted an event focussed on answering allegations surrounding whether or not Israel has replaced South Africa as an Apartheid state. The intention was to get to the root of this bothersome question and to tackle it head on through education.
Benjamin Pogrund, who was jailed for acting out against Apartheid in his native South Africa, spoke of his experiences growing up there, and witnessing Apartheid first hand against Black citizens. He went on to discuss his relationship with Nelson Mandela and how they used to meet secretly and quite often to defeat the Apartheid norm that plagued South African society. This activist had tight ties with some of the most influential figures in the anti-Apartheid movement that took place in South Africa throughout the 1980s and 1990s. When Mandela had been arrested and was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government, Pogrund and his wife were actually the first non-family members to visit him on Robben Island.
After sharing a number of horrifying stories, he directed the audience’s attention to the question of Israel and whether it treats Arabs as the Whites treated Blacks. He posed the questions, “how does Israeli life compare with the old South Africa?” He went on to point out that, “under Apartheid, every detail of life was subject to discrimination by law. Black South Africans did not have the right to vote. Skin color ultimately determined where you were born and lived, your job, school, which bus, train, taxi ambulance, which park bench, lavatory, and beach you were permitted to use, whom you could marry, and in which cemetery you were buried.” He firmly showed how no such things happen in Israel.
Once his goal to outlaw Apartheid in South Africa were achieved, Pogrund moved to Jerusalem and began to see how misinformation has been spreading about the Jewish state. He claims that by accusing Israel of Apartheid action, people take away from the great suffering of the Blacks of his home country. The injustices they went through are incomparable to what Arabs experience in Israel. There is no segregation, Israeli Arabs have rights to health care, voting, to move about freely and receive an education alongside Jewish Israelis. His new mission in life is to actively fight these comparisons and dangerous claims.
Recently, Mr. Pogrund published a book called “Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel,” throughout which he goes through the positions of the other side and refutes them through facts and historical knowledge. He writes that, “Yes, Israel’s Arab minority does suffer discrimination, but their lot is not remotely comparable with blacks under apartheid. To claim they are the same is to stretch, bend, twist and contort truth.” Clearly, the author is aware of the situations of both countries, thereby giving him the ability to undermine falsehoods within this debate.
The speaker went on to answer each question posed by the students in the audience, as they were intrigued by his life and admired his activism. ISA was pleased that in total, the event attracted forty students and two staff members. Everyone involved seemed to learn a new perspective on the Apartheid myth.
This event was co-sponsored by CAMERA on Campus, StandWithUs, The David Project, and Hillel.