It has been 60 years since the apartheid state was established in South Africa. In March 1951, a few years after the racist National Party came to power, racial segregation was anchored in law. As was common in other countries that adopted racist laws in the 20th century, those in South Africa were accompanied by "laundered" explanations.

Hitler declared after the Nuremberg Race Laws were passed in 1935 that they would create a suitable basis for a separate but worthy existence for Jews in Germany alongside German society. The race laws in South Africa established that people of different colors cannot exist when mixed with each other - only in separate, protected spaces.

The tsunami of racist laws passed by the Knesset in recent months is also being explained by reasoned and worthy arguments: the right of small communities to preserve their own character (the Acceptance Committees Law ); the state's right to prevent hostile use of the funds it allocates to education and culture (the Nakba Law ); and the right to deny citizenship to persons convicted of espionage or treason (the Citizenship Law ). But I believe that as in other historical instances, the aim of this legislation is the gradual establishment of an apartheid state in Israel, and the future separation on a racial basis of Jews and non-Jews.

An apartheid state is not created in the blink of an eye. What was created in Germany in 1935 was the outcome of a long and sometimes violent debate, which had been ongoing since the middle of the 19th century, about the place of Jews in modern Germany and Europe. Indeed, the desire to isolate and distance the Jews from society - legally and socially - was part of the belief system of anti-Semites in Europe for decades before Hitler came into power.

In this respect the Nazi regime, along with other regimes that passed racial separation laws (among them those in Romania, Hungary, Italy and Vichy France in 1940 ), only anchored in legislation a reality that had already been enthusiastically received by the populace. Of course, when such laws were enacted, the regimes involved did not support or imagine that at the end of the road, a "final solution" was waiting in its Nazi format. However, once the seeds were sown, no one was able to figure out what fruit they would bear.

The historical background of the Israeli apartheid state-in-the-making that is emerging before our eyes should be sought in 1967. It is part of a process that has been going on for about 44 years: What started as rule over another people has gradually ripened - especially since the latter part of the 1970s - into a colonialism that is nurturing a regime of oppression and discrimination with regard to the Palestinian population. It is robbing that population of its land and of its basic civil rights, and is encouraging a minority group (the settlers ) to develop a crude, violent attitude toward the Arabs in the territories. This was exactly the reality that, after many years, led to the establishment of the apartheid state in South Africa.

In her book "The Origins of Totalitarianism," Hannah Arendt draws a sharp picture of the process of the development of the society of racial segregation in South Africa, from the start of the Dutch Boer colonialist settlement there. Assumption of racial superiority - the subordination of the black population - was the only way the "whites" could adjust to life in the midst of that race. The nurturance of feelings of racial supremacy, to which were added the belief in cultural superiority and the justification for economic exploitation - these are what, in a decades-long process, gave rise to the need to anchor this situation in proper legislation.

Thus, the dehumanization of the blacks, who at the start of the colonization period were perceived as no more than enhanced work animals, led to the establishment of a regime of racial separation 60 years ago in South Africa, which for decades left tens of millions of black people mired in a situation of harsh poverty, exploitation and atrophy.

It is not hard to identify this sort of worldview developing - with respect to Arabs - among widening circles of settlers in the territories and among their supporters within the (pre-Six Day War ) Green Line. It also has quite a number of supporters in the Knesset, even if they will not admit this outright.

Israeli racism, whose natural "hothouse" is the colonialist project in the territories, has long since spilled over into Israeli society and has been legitimized in the series of laws recently passed in the Knesset. Only people who avoid looking at the broad historical context of such a process are still able to believe it is possible to stop the emergence of an Israeli apartheid state without getting rid of the colonialist-racist grip on the territories.

 

Prof. Blatman is a Holocaust researcher and head of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.