Israel: Lifeline for Apartheid

Against the Current No. 4-5, September-December 1986

Mark Dressler

Undercutting Sanctions:
Israel, the U.S. and South Africa
By Jane Hunter, edited by Jane Power
Washington Middle East Associates, (1986), 68 pages, $5.

THE PAST YEAR has witnessed an upsurge of activity in opposition to U.S. ties to South Africa. While anti-apartheid activists in Black and campus organizations have produced numerous explanatory materials on the U.S.-South Africa relationship, few books are widely available on the connection of other states with South Africa. In addition, the generalized defensiveness to discussing Israel within liberal circles has added to the absence of materials on the Israel-South Africa relationship.

Into this vacuum, Jane Hunter, a specialist in Israel’s international relations who also edits the Oakland-based newsletter Israeli Foreign Affairs has come out with Undercutting Sanctions: Israel, the U.S. and South Africa, a handbook detailing the corporate and military connections between Israel and South Africa.

By citing United Nations and other non­Israeli sources, for instance, Hunter challenges official Israeli statistics that it has only minimal trade with South Africa. Hunter also makes extensive use of South African radio and newspaper sources which frequently boast of Israel’s high level of investment in South Africa’s economy and military.

To be sure, during the past decade several books have been written about this relationship, notably Richard Stevens and Abdelwahab Elmessiri’s Israel and South Africa: The Progression of a Relationship (1976), Rosalynd Ainslee’s Israel and South Africa: An Unlikely Alliance (1981) and James Adams’ The Unnatural Alliance (1984). Thus, anyone who wishes to research this subject can locate a range of information about it.

But Hunter doesn’t see her book as yet documentation of Israel-South Africa ties, but rather as a call to action. Indeed, Hunter writes that her book is addressed to campus and community anti-apartheid activists who are concerned about Israel’s unique ability to render meaningless U.S. and international sanctions against South Africa (hence the title).

Hunter argues that Israel’s preferred trade status with both the European Economic Community and with the United States allows Israel to trade South African goods on both European and U.S. markets with a “Made in Israel” stamp. The formal basis for this process with the United States, she writes, was developed under the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement of 1984 in which duty-free entry will be accorded to virtually all of Israel’s industrial exports and which by the end of the decade will apply to all of Israel’s agricultural exports.

Hunter titles one chapter devoted to the possibilities of Israel engaging in backdoor trade for South Africa “The Trojan Horse,” noting that “anything Israeli that comes in a tin can is partly South African, because lskoor [a joint Israeli-South African steel company] operates the only tin can factory in Israel.” The list goes on, she says. All Israeli steel, timber, tobacco, hides, wood, sugar, foodstuffs and paper products sold on the U.S. market are suspect, since these comprise the major Israeli imports from South Africa.

Hunter also addresses the implications of Israeli-South African military collaboration. A 1979 nuclear explosion in the South Atlantic, widely believed to be a demonstration of South African nuclear weapons capability, is examined for Israel’s involvement. Israel’s efforts, with U.S. assistance, to build the Lavi combat jet, are scrutinized for any collaboration with South Africa.

The problem with such research (and the earliest books on the subject have noted such difficulty) is the highly-classified nature of military relationships, and the difficulty in obtaining first-hand information on military collaboration among the three states involved Israel, the U.S. and South Africa. Hence, Hunter constructs a case which combines strong circumstantial evidence with leaks from government officials. This admittedly, is the best that can be done, but the book raises more questions on the military connections than it definitely answers.

In many respects, this appears to the Hunter’s goal in the book: to detail the fairly certain (and more publicly available) economic ties among the three states, to compare the economic relationships with the more uncertain U.S.-Israel-South Africa military connection, and to allow the reader to judge whether the military ties are at least as extensive, if not more so, than the economic ones.

The book’s final chapter focuses Hunter’s call to action for anti-apartheid activists. “The question for Americans should be simply whether we are doing all that we can to end apartheid,” she writes. “If we find, therefore, that the ‘special relationship’ between the U.S. and Israel spills over into South Africa, then issues like the level of American aid to Israel, the role of U.S. firms in three-way trade, and U.S. diplomatic attempts to cover up this involvement cannot be ignored.”

Undercutting Sanctions may prove this year’s most valuable handbook for anti-apartheid activists who want to make the U.S. movement against South Africa as consistent and effective as possible. It is certain to generate debate and discussion in the anti-apartheid movement in the months ahead.

September-December 1986, ATC 4-5

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