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‘Israel not apartheid state’

Cape Town - Prominent anti-apartheid journalist Benjamin Pogrund says it is wrong to label Israel an “apartheid state”.

“It is not a perfect country. We do some stupid things, some awful things,” he told the Cape Town Press Club in Newlands on Thursday.

Pupils from Islamia College and their family members protest along Lansdowne Road against Israel's bombing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Photo: JEFFREY ABRAHAMS. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

“Israel’s depiction as a monster, as a rogue state, as being more evil than any other state in the world - is simply untrue.”

As a journalist in South Africa until 1986, he was prosecuted for exposing the abusive conditions in which black political and other prisoners were held.

Pogrund has been living in Israel for 16 years. His new book, Drawing Fire, examines criticisms of Israel. Pogrund said there had been too much suffering on the Israeli and Palestinian sides in the past few weeks. More than 1 845 people have died, most of them Palestinian civilians.

“The only way to resolve this is for both sides to back off and agree to peace.

Israel and Palestine need a Nelson Mandela or a King Solomon to work out this problem,” he said.

He had believed the South African government had a role to play in finding a peace settlement.

But “the atmosphere has become so poisoned here (in South Africa) against Israel that this country has probably counted itself out as a possible force there - and that is enormously regretful”.

In Israel an Arab minority of about 20 percent of the population had full citizenship rights. “There is some discrimination and the principal one is land. It comes down to about 13 percent of land that the Jewish National Fund is not allowed to rent or sell to them.

“That is the major discrimination and there are all sorts of knock-on effects. It is an anachronism and will be done away (with).” There was social discrimination against the Arab minority, but it was “not remotely apartheid”.

Pogrund said he was one of many Israelis who opposed the occupation of the West Bank.

He said this was “oppression” and “tyranny”, but “not the institutionalised racism that was the basis of apartheid”.

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