Israel and South Africa: The Racial Travel Bans of Apartheid

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Recently, Israel issued travel bans for Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. This is, yet again, another example of the country trying to silence its toughest critics. While many have rightly criticized the bans, largely absent has been a discussion on not just Israel’s attempt to suppress dissent from U.S politicians, but specifically from vocal Muslim/non-white political figures.

Representative Betty McCollum (MN-4) has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s occupation. One of her most well know pieces of legislation is the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act which would take away aid from Israel so long as it continues its policy of detaining children. In 2018, she denounced the country’s nation-state law, using the South African term “apartheid” to describe the direction of the government. Comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa are hardly new. Many individuals involved in the African National Congress’ freedom struggle against the apartheid South Africa government have observed this too.

The racial application of travel bans is one common tactic that both the apartheid South African and Israeli governments have used against their opponents. Representative McCollum, a white, Roman Catholic woman who is in no doubt an adversary to the interests of the Israeli government is not included in this travel ban. Yet Representatives Omar and Tlaib, two Muslim dissenters with the latter having direct family ties to Palestine, are straight away perceived as immediate threats to the security of Israel.

In the same light, during the years of apartheid South Africa the government similarly feared the entry non-white visitors let alone critics. From Māori rugby players to Reverend Jesse Jackson, whether just to play a game or offer a condemnation of the government, the state was quite committed to maintain its way of governance rooted in the exploitation of the majority of its population. Yet, in 1985, the same year Rev. Jackson was denied his visa to travel to South Africa, one major political figure was notably allowed to enter the country: longtime Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. A proud opponent of apartheid, the South African government had little qualms about letting one of the most influential politicians from the United States observe the brutality of the apartheid system and give speeches denouncing the government. Nonetheless, if you were not white, regardless if you had serious political power or not, the government saw you as a risk to the country’s stability.  

This is another alarming example of Israel replicating the policies of the one of the worst and shameful regimes of the twentieth century. Condemnation of the travel bans are welcomed, but without understanding the religious and racial aspects of the bans in addition to the given political reasons (support for BDS), it loses the fundamental danger of hyper-nationalism as an urgent peril to those who do not belong to the chosen demographic. 

Written by Jon Blum

Jon is an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studying economics. You can find more from him on Medium. Follow him Twitter @blumfest.

Jon is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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Israel and South Africa: The Racial Travel Bans of Apartheid