It might be worth bearing in mind these days, as the international community launches yet another investigation against alleged Israeli war crimes, that in times of political isolation, Israel has occasionally resorted to desperate, even reckless measures. That’s one of the themes explored in The Unspoken Alliance (Pantheon), a hugely impressive book by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who probes in groundbreaking detail the illicit relationship Israel maintained with South Africa throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and concludes that military ties and nuclear cooperation ran much deeper than previously known.
In the background lurks Israel’s 1973 Yom Kippur war. In the 1950s and ’60s, Polakow-Suransky reminds us, Israel didn’t just rely on special ties with Western countries like France (the intimate bond with the U.S. would evolve later); it also maintained relationships with many of Africa’s newly independent countries, having in common the shared experience of throwing out their colonial masters. Though it’s hard to imagine these days, for the first two decades of its existence Israel was largely embraced by the international left, including anti-imperialist movements and black American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. On the question of apartheid, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and other members of the founding generation did not equivocate. “A Jew can’t be for discrimination,” Ben-Gurion said on one occasion, after Israel supported a 1961 U.N. vote de… >>>