The 'Apartheid' Israel Charge Began with the Soviet Union
The history of the false analogy between "apartheid" and Israel is a rather dismal one. It was promoted by the Soviet Union in the 1970s as a way to isolate Israel and cultivate communist allies in the Arab world. This was the era of the infamous "Zionism is racism" UN resolution--rescinded in 1991--and the effort to associate Israel with apartheid and colonialism was a systematic one, aimed at harming not only Israel but also the U.S.
Among the first to use the analogy at the United Nations was Idi Amin, the bloody dictator of Uganda, who compared Israel to apartheid South Africa in a speech to the UN General Assembly. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the American ambassador to the UN at the time, recognized that the Soviet-backed effort was a direct threat to American strategic interests and marshaled the support of the Ford administration- to come to Israel's defense.
The "apartheid" analogy was revived in 2001, in the run-up to the UN World Conference Against racism in the South African city of Durban. That conference collapsed into an orgiastic festival of antisemitic hatred, with activists disseminating cartoons featuring crude Jewish stereotypes and breaking up meetings held by Jewish organizations. (The Obama administration tried to revive sequels to Durban but soon abandoned the effort.)
For the past 13 years, activists have persisted in their use of the "apartheid" analogy, and received a boost in 2007 from former President Jimmy Carter with his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book, roundly condemned for its apparent defense of suicide bombing--for which Carter later apologized--gave the analogy a legitimacy it did not deserve, though Carter's own standing within his Democratic Party declined somewhat.
Those who actually know what "apartheid" was, however, have continued to resist the use of the term. Benjamin Pogrund, for example, a pathbreaking South African journalist widely considered a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, has since moved to Israel and worked on reconciliation efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. He has debunked the analogy: “Apartheid … comes easily to hand: it is a lazy label for the complexities of the Middle East conflict. It is also used because, if it can be made to stick, then Israel can be made to appear to be as vile as was apartheid SA and seeking its destruction can be presented to the world as an equally moral cause.”
That is the grim context in which Secretary of State John Kerry invoked the term "apartheid" last week. How ironic that his comment comes as Russia asserts increasing control over the remnants of the old Soviet empire.