What’s happening under the Netanyahu coalition has former South- Africans in Israel worried.

By Larry Butchins

We are under dire threat. Whether many people are ready to accept and believe or not, we are on the brink of becoming what all our detractors and enemies have claimed for decades – an apartheid state. With laws that call for discrimination against Arab Israelis – yes, when funds are held back from Arab communities, that is discrimination; when law makers on the right talk about “giving job preference” to Jews over Arabs, that is racism; when women are told to “cover up” and sit at the back of the bus, that is prejudice – whether we like it or not, and it doesn’t matter if that is “official policy” or not , it is this government which is enabling that type of thuggish, racist, discriminatory behavior. Empowering those who do believe it, to act it out.

I believe that as a former South African, who grew up and then lived under the apartheid regime all my life until making Aliyah, it is my moral duty to raise a red flag and wave it vigorously, to warn what could happen here. It is my moral duty to caution that while I have fervently defended Israel against those who condemn it as an apartheid state, we are rapidly heading in that direction, to hell in a handbasket, and I am horrified by that possibility.

Shades of Shame. Visual imagery of South Africa past that the writer never wanted to revisit elsewhere.

Allow me to hark back to the days of apartheid in South Africa, as a reminder of what life under doctrinaire and dogmatic rule, was really like back then.

One of my earliest memories of apartheid was when I was probably around 10-years-old. Late one night, my parents insisted I accompany my father to take our black maid Mavis to the central train station in Durban. I had to sit in front of the car and Mavis had to sit in the back seat. When on the drive home, I asked my father why I had to go with him, he replied that he had to have proof (me, his white little boy) that he and Mavis were not contravening the Immorality Act. Had he been stopped by the police, driving alone with a black woman, they both would have been arrested on charges under that “immoral” act. He would have copped a large fine (because he was white), and she would have been thrown in jail (because she was black), processed in the system, and not seen the light of day for weeks, possibly even months. I couldn’t quite internalize the message at that age, but it followed me the rest of my life in SA, always looking over my shoulder to check that the dreaded security service, BOSS (Bureau of State Security) wasn’t following me or checking everything I had written, said or done.

Disturbing Developments. At a change of command ceremony on Wednesday night, outgoing Binyamin Regional Brigade commander Eliav Elbaz, said in reference to increasing settler violence that “It should be said in a loud clear voice, that actions of this type are not ethical, not Jewish, and do not contribute to security.” (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

I will quote from a chapter of my book, “Train in the Distance” in which the protagonist, Adam Marks, a reporter on a weekly newspaper in the 1970s – the height of apartheid – laments about his so-called “privileged freedom”.

“Do you think I’m free?

“When I write and publish the word ‘Amandla (Freedom in Zulu) under my name in the columns of a widely circulated newspaper, do you believe that I will not be condemned for that? Do you not understand that I am putting my freedom – and the welfare of my family – at risk? I cannot express my opinions freely, I cannot associate with whom I please: if I wish to invite Black friends to my home for dinner, I will be watched and under suspicion. If I meet Black friends for a day at the beach…well, that’s not going to happen, because we can’t even go to the same beach! I cannot even meet them for a picnic in a public park – unless my Black friends are seen to be my servants – haulers of wood and drawers of water for my benefit.

“Do you not understand that I cannot read, or view or listen to what I want? If I wish to read ‘The Communist Manifesto’, or ‘Lolita’, or ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, or hundreds of other banned books, magazines; or see certain films; listen to music by certain musicians – can you believe Maria Callas singing Lucia di Lammermoor fell under the censors obliterating red pencil? Fats Domino, The Beatles, Rodriguez…how many more?

“Radical new ideas, by writers, artists, musicians and committed, passionate people, are influencing and shaping dynamic new thinking throughout the world…and here we sit, under the yolk of an evil system with evil intent, all because of our ‘privilege’.

“I am not free; my ideas are not free; my life is not free – despite all my privileges, I am still a white victim of apartheid. YOU are white victims of apartheid; and I don’t know when or if it is ever going to end…”

Separate entrances in post offices and banks, stairwells in train stations, trains reserved for different races; busses – those which allowed blacks on board in the first place, insisting they sat at the back – the last three rows reserved for blacks; Christian National Education – indoctrination of school children about the “right” of the white man to conquer the land and confine others to “homelands” or “locations”; the imposition of the morals and religious authority over what we could read, or view, or listen to, or even discuss…

Back of the Bus. Some of the hundreds of Israelis demonstrating against the segregation of men and women on buses in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where the women must sit in the back. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

I could write volumes on the apartheid regime, its beginnings, middle and end… and how White South Africans enjoyed a multitude of benefits, lifestyle choices and preferential treatment. About how the Afrikaner-led government set itself up as the highest authority in the land – except for the Supreme Court and a group of courageous justices. Despite virulent government opposition, criticism and the possibility of arrest, banning orders, 90- or 180-days imprisonment, they were a light of sanity in a very dark nation.

Under the General Law Amendment Act, the Special Branch was allowed to arrest anyone they suspected of being engaged or involved in any act against the State and to hold them incommunicado for 90 days (and later 180 days) at a time. The Special Branch could interrogate and extract information, and the public was not entitled to any information including even the identity or whereabouts of people being detained. Detainees could literally and effectively “disappear”. If no charges were to be laid, the Special Branch had to release the individual or individuals after 90 (or 180) days. At the time, Prime Minister John Vorster boasted that this was repeatable “until this side of eternity.” A perfect example of the absolute need for an authority higher than the government.[1]

Am I suggesting that bleak Kafkaesque scenario could happen here in Israel? Not exactly, but there are certain resonant and frightening parallels. I do believe that former South Africans, those who came to this beautiful land of ours to flee discrimination and mind control, who came here to a democratic homeland; who came to work for and build a beacon of freedom and enlightenment – albeit somewhat flawed – should now stand up and cry out:

 “We are NOT an apartheid country – and NEVER WILL BE: IT CANNOT HAPPEN.”

[1] South Africa, Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy – Detentions Without Trial During the Apartheid Era

About the Writer:

Larry Butchins – I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and started my journalistic career as a cub reporter on Durban’s morning newspaper, The Natal Mercury, covering fires, accidents, shipping and beach news. I then moved to the Sunday Tribune’s Johannesburg branch office, covering everything from visiting celebrities to political scandals and student anti-apartheid riots. At a protest at Wits University, I was arrested along with student protesters and spent the weekend in a cell in Johannesburg’s notorious John Vorster Square.

Eventually lured into Public Relations, I opened my own PR firm in Durban. On moving to Israel with my family in 1987, I branched from classical PR into Marketing Communication, running a small English-language agency promoting Israeli products abroad, working with Israeli hi-tech enterprises. Five years ago, I self-published my novel Train in the Distance based on my actual experiences as a journalist working under (and often against) apartheid’s rules and regulations.

In addition to professional writing, I write articles and stories, travel blogs – The Offbeat Traveller – and children’s books, two of which have been published in the US and South Africa. I am now entering my third career as a screenwriter and producer for an international TV series based on my novel.

My wife, Marlyn, and I live in Tzur Yitzhak , north of Kfar Saba; have three grown children and four  grandchildren who all live in Mitzpe Ramon.

Contact Details:


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


  1. Excellent article Larry. I sadly agree that there are already signs of an Apartheid presence in our society although it is not nearly as endemic as it was in South Africa.
    Nevertheless we need to be on our guard that this does not slowly and methodically happen.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.