The Middle East’s real apartheid
By EFRAIM KARSH
The Jewish State's supporters find it difficult to agree on the best response to Israel Apartheid Week.
In light of Israel Apartheid Week, which hit cities and campuses throughout the world recently, supporters of the Jewish state find it difficult to agree on the best response to this hate fest. Some suggest emphasizing Israel’s peacemaking efforts, others propose rebranding the country by highlighting its numerous achievements and success stories. Still others advocate reminding the world of “what Zionism is – a movement of Jewish national liberation – and what it isn’t – racist.” Each of these approaches has its merits yet none will do the trick.
Peace seeking and/or prosperity are no proof of domestic benevolence and equality. The most brutal regimes have peacefully coexisted with their neighbors while repressing their own populations; the most prosperous societies have discriminated against vulnerable minorities. South Africa was hardly impoverished and technologically backward; the United States, probably the most successful and affluent nation in recent times was largely segregated not that long ago.
Nor for that matter is the apartheid libel driven by forgetfulness of Zionism’s true nature. It is driven by rejection of Israel’s very existence. No sooner had the dust settled on the Nazi extermination camps than the Arabs and their western champions equated the Jewish victims with their tormentors.
“To the Arabs, indeed Zionism seems as hideous as anything the Nazis conceived in the way of racial expansion at the expense of others,” read a 1945 pamphlet by the Arab League, the representative body of all Arab states. A pamphlet published by the PLO shortly after its creation in 1964 stated: “The Zionist concept of the ‘final solution’ to the ‘Arab problem’ in Palestine, and the Nazi concept of the ‘final solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’ in Germany, consisted essentially of the same basic ingredient: the elimination of the unwanted human element in question.”
Indeed, it was the Palestinian terror organization that invented the apartheid canard in the mid-1960s, years before Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
This charge, of course, is not only completely false but the inverse of the truth. If apartheid is indeed a crime against humanity, Israel actually is the only apartheid-free state in the Middle East – a state whose Arab population enjoys full equality before the law and more prerogatives than most ethnic minorities in the free world, from the designation of Arabic as an official language to the recognition of non-Jewish religious holidays as legal days of rest.
By contrast, apartheid has been an integral part of the Middle East for over a millennium, and its Arab and Muslim nations continue to legally, politically and socially enforce this discriminatory practice against their hapless minorities.
Why then should an innocent party be under constant pressure to “come clean” while the real culprits are not only left unscathed but also given a worldwide platform to blame others for their own crimes? Rather than engage in incessant apologetics and protestations of innocence, something Jews have been doing for far too long, Israel should adopt a proactive strategy, call a spade a spade and target the real perpetrators of Middle East apartheid: the region’s Arab and Muslim nations.
Arab/Muslim apartheid comes in many forms, and some victims have been subjected to more than one.
• Religious intolerance:
Muslims historically viewed themselves as distinct from, and superior to, all others living under Muslim rule, known as “dhimmis.” They have been loath to give up this privileged status in modern times. Christians, Jews and Baha’is remain second-class citizens throughout the Arab/Muslim world, and even non-ruling Muslim factions have been oppressed by their dominant co-religionists (e.g. Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia, Sunnis in Syria).
• Ethnic inequality:
This historic legacy of intolerance extends well beyond the religious sphere. As longtime imperial masters, Arabs, Turks and Iranians continue to treat long-converted populations, notably Kurds and Berbers, that retained their language, culture and social customs, as inferior.
The Middle East has become the foremost purveyor of anti-Semitic incitement in the world with the medieval blood libel widely circulated alongside a string of modern canards (notably The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) depicting Jews as the source of all evil.
Likewise, Africans of sub-Saharan descent are held in deep contempt, a vestige of the region’s historic role as epicenter of the international slave trade.
• Gender discrimination:
Legal and social discrimination against women is pervasive throughout the Arab-Islamic world, accounting for rampant violence (for example domestic violence or spousal rape are not criminalized) and scores of executions every year, both legal and extra-judicial (i.e. honor killings). Discrimination against homosexuals is even worse.
• Denial of citizenship:
The withholding of citizenship and attendant rights from a large segment of the native-born population is common. Palestinian communities in the Arab states offer the starkest example of this discrimination (in Lebanon, for example, they cannot own property, be employed in many professions, move freely, etc.). The Bidun (stateless peoples) in the Gulf states, and hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Syria have been subjected to similar discrimination.
• Labor inequality:
Mistreatment of foreign workers (especially household servants), ranging from sexual abuse to virtual imprisonment and outright murder, is widely tolerated throughout the Middle East, especially in oil-exporting countries that host large expatriate labor forces.
The Arabic-speaking countries remain the world’s foremost refuge of slavery, from child and sex trafficking in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to actual chattel slavery in Sudan and Mauritania. Indeed, Islamists throughout the Middle East have had no qualms advocating the legalization of slavery.
• Political Oppression:
Many Middle Eastern regimes are little more than elaborate repressive systems aimed at perpetuating apartheid-style domination by a small minority: Alawites in Syria; Tikritis in Saddam’s Iraq; the Saudi royal family; the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan.
Possibly the world’s most arresting anachronism, these endemic abuses have until now escaped scrutiny and condemnation. Western governments have been loath to antagonize their local authoritarian allies, while the educated classes have absolved Middle Easterners of responsibility for their actions in the patronizing tradition of the “white man’s burden,” dismissing regional players as half-witted creatures, too dim to be accountable for their own fate.
It is time to denounce these discriminatory practices and force Arab/Muslim regimes to abide by universally accepted principles of decency and accountability. This will not only expose the hollowness of the Israel delegitimization campaign but will also help promote regional peace and stability.
History has shown that gross and systemic discrimination is a threat not just to the oppressed minorities, but also to the political health of the societies that oppress them. Only when Arab and Muslim societies treat the “other” as equal will the Middle East, and the rest of the Islamic world, be able to transcend its malaise and look forward to a real political and social spring.
The writer is research professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, director of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia) and author, most recently, of Palestine Betrayed.
OnCampus Maclean's, Canada
By Emma Teitel |
March 5th, 2012 | 10:15 am
Students boycott Israel, but are blasé about Syria. Why?
March is upon us, which means the Oscars have been awarded, and that other harbinger of spring is around the corner: Israeli Apartheid Week.
Ordinarily, both events are masterpieces of predictability, with the Academy Awards ushering the usual suspects to the podium (Meryl Streep anyone?), and Israeli Apartheid Week featuring the usual anti-Zionist suspects on megaphones (among them the now famous IAW sub-group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which I’d argue is largely composed of gay Jewish girls who didn’t have fun at summer camp.)
This year the Oscars have come through in predictability, but Israeli Apartheid Week is shaping up quite differently. It’s traditional at Passover seders for the youngest member of Jewish families to ask the “four questions,” which inquire why “this night is different from all other nights.” This year it might be prudent to ask a fifth: why is this Israeli Apartheid Week different from all the others?
The answer is just northeast of Israel, in Syria. In the past 11 months, almost 9,000 civilian protesters and nearly 3,000 anti-government rebels have been murdered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’ath party dictatorship. Approximately 400 children have been imprisoned and tortured. Meanwhile, Assad’s government claims that 89.4 per cent of Syrians had approved a new constitution that could keep Bashar in power for another 16 years, along with the 12 years he’s already ruled, and the 29 years his father Hafez held power before him.
You’d think that anyone committed to the cause of justice in the Middle East would put the atrocities in Syria at the top of their to-do list. But the Canadian organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week—loudly devoted to ending oppression and achieving social justice for all—won’t be talking about Syria this year. Instead, they’ll spend March 5-9 railing exclusively against the “Zionist regime” at a university campus near you. Events will include slam poetry renditions, hip-hop shows, and an apartheid poster contest with a top prize of $400.
You could accurately call this tunnel vision activism. Most hopes for mainstream credibility IAW activists might have in their criticism of Israel tends to be destroyed by their singular abhorrence of the Jewish state. No country deserves a free pass because its crimes don’t add up to its neighbour’s, but to boycott one injustice and ignore the far bloodier one next door isn’t just odd: it’s a clear statement that those at the helm of Israeli Apartheid Week hate Israel more than they hate oppression itself.
This is a reality noted by even the anti-Zionist darling and American intellectual Norman Finkelstein, in an interview at Imperial College this month. Finkelstein, who has long been a supporter of the BDS movement, named for its focus on punishing Israel through boycotts, divestments, and sanctions, now claims, scathingly, that the BDS is doomed to irrelevancy by its gross “disingenuousness” on the subject of whether or not Israel should exist to begin with. “I support the BDS,” he says, “[but] their goal has to include the recognition of Israel, or it’s a non-starter.” Finkelstein is right. If you want to uproot a country’s policies, you should make it explicitly clear that you don’t want to uproot the country itself. Unless, of course, you do.
That the folks behind Israeli Apartheid Week wouldn’t mind if the country disappeared is evident in their blasé response to terrorism against Israelis. The movement’s promotional video features a series of cartoon slides about the conflict, one of which reads: “When a people fight the occupier / It is not terrorism / It is resistance.” But there is nothing noble or necessary about blowing up innocent civilians at a falafel stand. Such terrorism is not resistance. It’s murder—something IAW leaders have accused Israel of time and time again.
Hypocrisy aside, the movement’s reluctance to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist (they claim to be “agnostic” about Israel’s existence), coupled with its failure to stand up for any other oppressed or occupied peoples, is an open invitation for Jews to cry anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, anti-Zionists argue, but Israel’s unique distinction in their ideology as the very worst place in the entire world has most Jews begging to differ. In my final year of university, a friend of mine—who we’ll call Sandy Cohen—wanted to organize a non-aligned event to run alongside Israeli Apartheid Week, to educate uninformed students about the conflict from a neutral standpoint. Organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week were less than pleased with the idea—they were having a party, and she was trying to crash it. One organizer even compared her to a Nazi and claimed that, like “all Zionists,” she had a knack for “twisting her words.” Not once did Cohen declare herself a Zionist. The only thing her detractor knew about her was her name—which is, undeniably, Jewish.
If all people who criticized Israel were anti-Semites, I’d be an anti-Semite. But it’s this kind of nastiness and hypocrisy that makes you wonder if the week isn’t an indictment of so-called Israeli apartheid, but rather a morbid celebration of a problem none of the protesters really wants solved. Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston argues that peace isn’t the product of “freedom for one people at the expense of another, but freedom and independence for both.” Until the Israeli Apartheid Movement acknowledges this, it will remain nothing more than a thinly veiled anti-Semitic frosh week for the far, far left.
A response from the Progressive Zionist Club on campus
March 5, 2012
The Progressive Zionist Club feels deep empathy for the Palestinian people. We want to see an end to the Occupation. We want to see equality between Arab-Israelis and their Jewish neighbors. We want the Palestinian people to be free. In spite of this – because of this – we reject the goals, methods, and rhetoric of Israeli Apartheid Week and the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The realistic and moral path to Palestinian freedom requires a resolution to the conflict through a two-state solution. Palestinians deserve to live in dignity in their own state. So do the Jewish people. It is hypocritical and morally shortsighted for McGill students to advocate for Palestinians on the one hand and demonize Zionism on the other. To paint Israel purely as a “racist” and “colonial” endeavor is reductive and hateful.
Zionism was the movement for the national liberation of the Jewish people. Zionists should thus be empathetic towards the urgent need for Palestinian liberation, and advocates for Palestinian’s rights should likewise recognize Israel’s legitimacy.
It is not difficult to recognize that BDS’s target is not Israeli policies, but Israel itself. American political scientist Norman Finkelstein points out that BDS claims to be agnostic on Israel. However, as he also points out, their three goals only lead to one logical conclusion: the destruction of Israel. This campaign demonizes Israel through the slanderous accusation of apartheid. Israel is not an apartheid state. Israel’s Basic Laws guarantee equal treatment for all citizens, including Arab-Israeli citizens. The Occupation, in spite of its brutality, is the result of a long and complex territorial conflict in which neither Israel nor the Palestinians have been without blame. The “Wall” was built for security purposes, not to enforce racial segregation. While the construction of the “Wall” has hurt Palestinians, it has also reduced the number of Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens. This is the kind of nuance that the label “apartheid” obscures. Indeed, the word “apartheid” is not an accurate criticism of Israeli policies, but a weapon aimed at the very idea of Israel.
One of the most harmful effects of theʻ prominence of BDS on our campus is that it impedes the development of legitimate, nuanced criticism of Israel. There are many who have the moral integrity to recognize both Palestinian rights and Israelʼs right to exist. Furthermore, there are many who have a firm enough grasp on reality to realize that Israel does exist, and that the path to Palestinian freedom is through a peace process culminating in a two state solution. This is and always has been the only framework that is moral and realistic for addressing the conflict. If there were no Israeli Apartheid Week, we would be writing this editorial about the need to pressure Israel to end settlement construction to further the cause of peace. Instead, we find ourselves backed into a corner where we must defend the very idea of Israel, as though this issue was not resolved sixty-four years ago with the establishment of the state and its recognition by the UN. BDS catapults us backwards, encouraging us to see Israel and Palestine as irreconcilable enemies. Our role as North American students, not directly involved with the conflict itself, is not to “pick a side” but to demand peace.
Paradoxically, BDS’s inflammatory rhetoric and campaign for the delegitimization of Israel ultimately hurts Palestinians. BDS is a blessing for those Israeli hard-liners who justify brutal policies by pointing to existential threats. Many have accused BDS of anti-semitism. While we donʼt believe McGill students are consciously pursuing anti-semitic agendas when they support BDS, itʼs also difficult to defend the movement against such accusations. How else can one explain a movement that targets Israeli crimes while ignoring other pertinent human rights issues in the Middle East? The disproportionate singling out and demonization of Israel bring us uncomfortably close to the anti-semitic tropes that are such an ingrained part of our Western vocabulary. Meanwhile, the boycotting of Israeli institutions, including its universities, is little more than a collective punishment of Israel. Consequently, BDS hardens hawkish Israeli politicans, fueling the flames that ultimately hurt Palestinians themselves. If McGill students want to get serious about advocating for Palestinian rights, they should stop hosting Israeli Apartheid Week.
Signed by the Progressive Zionist Club on campus
March 5, 2012
We, McGill Students for Israel, strongly condemn Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) and the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a whole. Though IAW’s stated intent is to advocate for Palestinian human rights, their actions end up serving to demonize and delegitimize Israel
First and foremost, the idea that Israel is an “apartheid state” is not grounded in reality. In Apartheid South Africa, South African citizens of colour were completely – and legally – excluded from the civil services afforded to whites. They did not have access to the same medical care. They could not attend the same schools, visit the same beaches, or even use the same public restrooms. Needless to say, they also could not vote or run for public office.
Israel is a modern democracy that, under its Basic Laws, affords equal rights to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, et cetera. This includes Arab Israelis, who possess the exact same rights and privileges as Jewish Israelis. There is no legal distinction between the two. Arab Israelis can vote, they can run for government, and are, in fact, frequently elected to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Since the state’s inception, Arab women have had full civil liberties in Israel, unlike in some Arab countries, where they, legally, cannot vote, cannot run for public office, and, in at least one case, cannot even travel without male accompaniment.
Those living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are not citizens of Israel, and as such, the comparison of modern-day Israel to Apartheid-era South Africa lacks integrity – it either ignores what Israel is today, what South Africa was then, or perhaps both.
Beyond its factual ignorance, IAW further outrages us for its insincerity. At a recent event at Imperial College in London, Norman Finkelstein, a prominent critic of Israel, berated the BDS movement for its “disingenuousness”, saying its leaders “think they’re being very clever” for their “three-tier [plan]” which includes “the end of the occupation…the right of return…and equal rights for [Palestinians] in Israel”, knowing full-well that “the result of implementing all three is…no Israel”.
Society cannot afford to accept that goal. Rather, we must strive for peace and a two state solution, two things that Israel has done and continues to do.
Israel has twice attempted to help establish a Palestinian state, once in 2000 and again in 2008. In August 2005, Israel enacted a unilateral withdrawal plan from Gaza. Since the Gaza War, which ended on January 24, 2009, there are no remaining Israeli settlements or soldiers on Gazan soil. In 2006, Palestinians had the chance to elect a democratic government that would strive for peace with their neighbours; instead, they elected Hamas, who immediately targeted rival Palestinian political party Fatah, and began encouraging other groups to carry out attacks against Israel.
IAW and the BDS movement are an impediment to peace. Their fight to delegitimize Israel precludes discussion, serving only to further divide the two sides. In 2010, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario unanimously condemned the movement, and at the national level, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP have all denounced it.
IAW’s efforts are not progressive, and are based on a dangerously distorted reality. Even as Zionists, we would never call Israel perfect. We believe that, like any nation, it does need to be held accountable. However, as a society, we must do better than Israel Apartheid Week.
Signed by the McGill Students for Israel.
Economic Mapping of Apartheid - Israeli Apartheid Week
Opening night of the 8th annual Israeli Apartheid Week.
Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is being held in 80 cities around Canada and throughout the world, occurring in multiple venues in Toronto from March 5th to March 10th 2012.
IAW will feature lectures, film screenings, and a cultural event, all aimed at raising awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies toward Palestinians and to gather support for the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
The opening night, Economic Mappings of Apartheid, will feature Dalit Baum and Justin Podur.
Dalit Baum Ph.D., is a co-founder of Who Profits from the Occupation, an activist research initiative of the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel. During the last five years, Who Profits has become a vital resource for dozens of campaigns around the world, providing information about corporate complicity in the occupation of Palestine. Dalit is a feminist scholar and teacher in Israel, who has been teaching about militarism and about the global economy from a feminist perspective in Israeli universities. As a feminist/ queer activist, she has been active with various groups in the Israeli anti-occupation and democratization movement, including Black Laundry, Boycott from Within, Zochrot, Anarchists against the Wall and Women in Black.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and editor. He writes on political conflicts and social movements, primarily for Z Communications (www.zcommunications.org). He has reported from Palestine, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Pakistan, and India. He is the author of the upcoming book Haiti's New Dictatorship: From the Overthrow of Aristide to the 2010 Earthquake (Pluto Press 2012). He is also contributor to Empire's Ally: Canadian Foreign Policy and the War in Afghanistan (University of Toronto Press 2012) and Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century (AK Press 2008). His blog is www.killingtrain.com.