Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Apartheid Label

Re: “A Boycott could save Israel,” Neve Gordon, August 22 2009

Neve Gordon cleverly publicizes his Israeli and Jewish identity to lend credibility to his baseless opinions. Israel is a diverse and pluralistic society. 20% of Israel’s citizens are Arab Christians and Muslims, and they have full rights, including voting, serving in the government, attending universities, freedom of speech and religion. While Israel, like America, is not a perfect society, Israeli Arabs have by far the most rights of any Arabs in the Middle East.

Anti-Israel activists claim that Israel is an apartheid state because Palestinian Arabs don’t have the same rights as Israelis. They fail to distinguish between Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank and Gaza, who are citizens of the Palestinian Authority. They are not citizens of Israel and therefore they do not enjoy the same rights and privileges. This would seem to be an obvious point, but people like Neve Gordon often conveniently neglect this fact. Citizens of Israel enjoy the same rights whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Israel cannot demand the Palestinian Authority grant its own citizens democratic rights and freedoms, just like Canada cannot control America’s actions.

Gordon’s use of the word “apartheid” is a cheap escape mechanism to label a highly complex conflict, and this label limits civil discourse by vilifying Israel. Why, out of all the countries in the world in which national, religious or ethnic minorities claim discrimination, is Israel selected for the “apartheid” label?

Benjamin Pogrund, a South African-born Jew who was active in the anti-apartheid movement and now lives in Israel, notes: “Apartheid” is used in this case and elsewhere because it comes easily to hand…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 South Africa and seeking its destruction can be presented to the world as an equally moral cause.”

Gordon’s so-called “moral” solutions to this problem involve destroying the State of Israel through the creation of a bi-national state. At its most basic level, the one-state solution denies the right of Jews to self-determination in their historical homeland and calls into question the very legitimacy of Israel as a state. I hardly find it moral to destroy a democratic state and a haven for the Jewish people.

Gordon refuses to give examples of the ways in which Israel is practicing apartheid, only stating that Palestinians “are subject to totally different legal systems.” The differences between apartheid South Africa and modern day Israel should be obvious and the contrasts should not even have to be stated. For example, the South African state was extraordinarily repressive, regulating every detail of the lives of its subjects on the basis of their skin color. By contrast, Israel is a democracy which encourages vibrant debate, which has a flourishing free press and which shares with other liberal democracies a core value: the equality of all its citizens before the law. Unlike Blacks in apartheid South Africa, Arab citizens of Israel have full political rights. It is not “apartheid” that Arab and Jewish Israeli citizens are generally subject to a different set of laws than West Bank Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens. Israelis of all races, ethnicities and religions are governed by the same legal system.

Gordon’s attack on Israel is extremely one sided – he does not even mention the countless peace plans Israel has proposed that the Palestinians have rejected (1947, 1970, 1979, 1993 and 2005 are just some of the dates Israel offered land for peace and was rejected). The measures Israel undertakes for her own security are the ones Gordon calls “apartheid” like checkpoints and the security fence. These measures are the consequence of a campaign of terror by Palestinian groups such as Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, which, in deliberately targeting civilians, have claimed over 1,000 innocent Israeli lives. The Palestinians could have a state exactly like the one Gordon is advocating for, had they accepted Israel’s peace negotiations rather than retaliate with violence.

The importance of Israel’s security was noted by Nelson Mandela, the symbol of the struggle against apartheid, who remarked, in 1999, that he could not conceive of Israeli withdrawal “if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”

Israel understandably believes that without a peace agreement, let alone negotiations, it would be irresponsible and even dangerous to withdraw from the West Bank. This lesson was all-too-painfully reinforced by the country’s experience after withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon, when it was attacked from the very territories from which it unilaterally withdrew.

Gordon’s Op-Ed is not merely illogical. It delegitimizes Israel’s very existence by promoting the apartheid canard and calling for a boycott, with the purpose of forcing Israel to immediately concede to Palestinian demands without consideration of the safety of its own citizens.