/ 10 November 2023

South Africans split on ‘apartheid Israel’

Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally outside Downing Street in support of the Palestinian population of Gaza on 14th October 2023 in London, United Kingdom. A new survey finds just under 40% of voters believe Israel’s government practises apartheid against the Palestinian people. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

A new survey by the Social Research Foundation (SRF) has found that less than 40% of South African voters believe that the Israeli government is practising apartheid policies against Palestinians.

According to the survey, conducted during October among 1 400 registered voters, 29% of all South Africans strongly agreed with the statement that Israel practised apartheid.

A further 8% somewhat agreed with the statement. Of those surveyed, 24% strongly disagreed, while 1% somewhat disagreed, with black and Indian respondents (37%) the least critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The survey was carried out both before and after the 7 October Hamas attack on Israeli settlements in which 1 400 people were killed. SRF said that the question of Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people would have carried an unusual degree of prominence.

Israeli forces have been shelling and bombing Gaza since the attack, killing nearly 11 000 Palestinians trapped by the 16-year Israeli blockade and targeting schools, hospitals and UN facilities.

South Africa has been highly critical of Israel’s policies, withdrawing its ambassador in 2018 and recently recalling its diplomatic liaison team which had remained in Tel Aviv since then.

The survey found that 60% of coloured South Africans strongly believed Israel practised apartheid, compared with 42% of white respondents, 22% of blacks and 14% of Indians.

English-speaking South Africans (35%) were far more critical of that country’s policies than Afrikaans speakers (10%). Israel’s strongest defenders were among Afrikaans speakers (36%), followed by Xhosa speakers 33%.

Nearly one quarter of Zulu speakers (24%) supported the assertion that Israel practised apartheid, followed by 19% of the Xhosa-speaking respondents surveyed by the SRF.

The SRF said that although a significant share of registered voters surveyed had not formed a view either way, less than one in four voters believed Israel was an apartheid state.

The survey found that 37% of those earning more than R20 000 a month supported the statement, as did a total of 48% of those paid from R5 000 to R8 000.

But respondents earning R8 000 to R20 000 were the most supportive of Israel, strongly disagreeing with those who backed the statement.

The survey’s findings will be watched with interest by South Africa’s political parties going into next year’s elections, where their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will undoubtedly come under the spotlight.

The conflict has already cost the former Democratic Alliance representative for social development, Ghaleb Cachalia, his job for failing to toe the party line and continuing to make public comments characterising Israel’s actions as genocide.

The party will view the findings among coloured voters with concern, as will the Patriotic Alliance, which draws most of its support from that group.