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Are Comparisons of South Africa and Israel Useful?

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Are Comparisons of South Africa and Israel Useful?

By Jon Soske and Sean Jacobs

This post is part of our project, Holot: Crossroads of Global Violence. It was originally published by Mondoweiss and is reprinted here with permission of the authors.

The South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee has a habit of speaking in rhetoricals. The effect, however, is that he makes his point quite clearly. This was the case recently at the Palestine Festival of Literature, which travels through Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Speaking on the festival’s last day, Coetzee noticed that “naturally people ask me what I see of South Africa in the present situation in Palestine.”

At first, Coetzee suggested that using the word apartheid to describe the occupation is not a productive step (“it diverts one into an inflamed semantic wrangle which cuts short the opportunities of analysis”). Coetzee then offered a definition of South African apartheid: “Apartheid was a system of enforced segregation based on race or ethnicity, put in place by an exclusive, self defined group in order to consolidate colonial conquest particular to cement its hold on the land and natural resources.” He continued, “In Jerusalem and the West Bank we see a system of …” and proceeded to read the same definition, ending to applause: “Draw your own conclusions.”

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