Opinion

The Difference Between Two Apartheid States

The leaders of Israel and South Africa both wanted a newspaper that would glorify their policies. But only one of the countries forced its leader to resign over the matter.

Amos Biderman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs the Sheldon Adelson-funded Israel Hayom newspaper to defend his government and protect the apartheid state he has established. Israel Hayom helps him brainwash millions of Israelis, who are convinced they have to support him and his settlements-and-apartheid policy in order to protect themselves. They learn daily from Israel Hayom that if Netanyahu falls and a Palestinian state is established, missiles will rain down and kill them. Israel Hayom teaches them to be Jewish-nationalist extremists and racist toward Arabs.

Netanyahu didn’t invent apartheid. Nor did he invent the idea of using a newspaper to shape public opinion. He didn’t even invent the big money-government-newspaper entanglement that could lead to his downfall. It’s all been done before.

In the mid-1970s, South African Prime Minister B.J. Vorster decided that protection of the apartheid state required the elimination of the Rand Daily Mail. Printed in the English language (as opposed to Afrikaans, the language of the Aryan racists), the newspaper had spearheaded the media battle against apartheid. Enter Louis Luyt, the Adelson of this story. Luyt was a local Afrikaner tycoon, conservative and racist. Vorster approved the secret transfer of public money to Luyt so he could purchase the Rand and silence it forever.

The Rand was experiencing financial difficulties; opposition to apartheid was not especially popular in South Africa 40 years ago. But the Rand refused to sell to Luyt. In modern Israeli terms, it’s the moment Netanyahu when despaired of being able to take control of Yedioth Ahronoth and bend its editorial line from the inside, so decided to establish a newspaper of his own. And that’s precisely what Vorster resolved to do when he found himself at the same juncture, facing the same dilemma.

Vorster ordered that a newspaper be founded, which it duly was. It was called The Citizen and was written in English, because it was intended to brainwash millions of English-speaking white people (the government didn’t have a problem with Afrikaans speakers) and English readers worldwide. The publisher was Luyt, and he got the money secretly from the government. (Not everyone is rich like Adelson and able to absorb losses of 730 million shekels – $190 million – over seven years.)

And The Citizen did lose money. When it emerged in 1979 that it was funded from the public purse, Vorster was forced to resign the presidency (he had retired as premier the previous year). Even the racist Afrikaners couldn’t tolerate that their leader had secretly founded a newspaper whose sole purpose was to glorify him and his government’s policies, a newspaper that posed as a legitimate media outlet.

So far, racist Israelis aren’t bothered by this. And even now, when Netanyahu’s taped conversations with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes make clear the prime minister’s deep involvement in Israel Hayom, they aren’t calling for his head.

Like Netanyahu, Vorster also found it important to influence public opinion in Washington. He secretly transferred public funds to John McGoff, a right-wing conservative media baron with business interests in South Africa. Another little Sheldon. McGoff tried to buy the conservative Washington Star for Vorster. The latter fanaticized about newspaper articles and features that would praise South Africa as a bastion of anti-communism. That’s like praising Israel as an anti-ISIS stronghold in order to convince Americans to support the settlements.

Netanyahu is following in Vorster’s footsteps. And Israel is following in South Africa’s. Vorster was succeeded by P. W. Botha, another apartheidist. This shows us that after Netanyahu falls, his successor won’t wipe out apartheid: Netanyahu will fall, apartheid will stay.