Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government, infamously said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” These words best capture the efforts of the anti-Israel activists who routinely accuse the Jewish state of perpetrating apartheid policies against Palestinians.
Over the years, these glorified propagandists have relentlessly repeated the great apartheid lie across multiple platforms. One of the most pernicious of these is the so-called “Israel Apartheid Week,” which took place during the past two weeks, and which whips up hate across campuses and cities throughout the world, as the Israel apartheid lie is repeated again and again.
Indeed, the lie has now been repeated so many times, that, as Goebbels predicted, people who are otherwise decent and well-intentioned are starting to believe it.
The apartheid lie is more than “big enough” – in one word it falsely, outrageously accuses the Jewish state of the one of the worst crimes against humanity. Yet even Goebbels, the grand master of hateful propaganda who regularly repeated many defamatory lies against Jews, would have been awestruck by the sheer scale and enormity of the lies propagated globally by the anti-Israel activists.
Goebbels would have to humbly acknowledge how his modern-day protégés have been able to completely invert the narrative and cast Israel as the primary villain.
He would be impressed, for instance, at the perverse genius of successfully redefining a security fence, set up by Israel to prevent bombings that killed thousands of its civilians – attacks which have now all but ceased as a result - as an “apartheid wall.” He would take pleasure in seeing how every defensive action taken by Israel to protect its citizens is recast as the war mongering of an apartheid regime.
Goebbels would also be proud of the bald audacity of his protégés who peddle a lie that is so utterly bereft of any factual basis. Within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel live one and a half million Arab citizens who are the equal of their Jewish compatriots in every conceivable way. They participate together in elections with all votes being of equal import, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity. Arabs hold high-ranking positions throughout the various levels of government, including parliament and the Supreme Court; in fact, it was an Arab judge who convicted and sentenced Moshe Katsav, the former president of the State of Israel. There are none and have never been separate facilities for Jews and Arabs; all across Israel, schools and universities, benches and beaches, buses and hospitals, are unsegregated in any way, and every Israeli citizen, no matter his or her ethnic or religious origin, has complete and full legal rights.
Beyond the borders of the State of Israel, the areas known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip are the subject of an ongoing dispute with complex territorial, historical and religious facets.
These territories belonged respectively to Jordan and Egypt until Israel conquered them in the defensive Six Day War of 1967. While the dispute has never been definitively resolved one way or the other, Israel has always resolved to relinquish its claims on the territories for the sake of peace – with the only question being, how and where to draw the borders.
At the heart of the apartheid lie is the assumption that Israel can somehow dramatically and unilaterally bring about an end to the conflict as President F.W. de Klerk did in South Africa in his historic 1990 speech to parliament. The problem with this assumption is glaringly obvious. There is no apartheid legal or political system for an Israeli prime minister to dismantle. There is not a single apartheid law to abrogate. They simply do not exist.
The only action that can honestly be asked of Israel is to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which involves demarcating borders, powers and a constitution.
But Israel cannot do this alone; such a state, if it is to offer a sustainable solution and bring about lasting peace, can only be achieved through negotiations with Palestinians. Recent history has born this out. Prime minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza led to the establishment of a militant theocracy under Hamas, which, since 2005, has fired more thousands of rockets on Israeli citizens.
Clearly, the only path to a Palestinian state is through bilateral negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. There is nothing Israel can do alone. And over the decades it has been the Arab world that have refused to create a Palestinian state.
Since 1947, when the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine laid down a workable two-state solution to the conflict while it was still in its infancy, through to a succession of unprecedented, all-encompassing offers put forward by Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak, Sharon and Ehud Olmert in recent years, all opportunities to establish a workable two-state solution have been welcomed by Israel and thwarted by the Palestinian leadership – yet Israel is being blamed for the continued absence of such a state.
Goebbels would be rubbing his hands in surprised delight.
The apartheid lie is a threat to the peace process because it implies that unilateral Israeli action can solve the conflict. By unfairly and falsely placing the sole responsibility on Israel to bring the conflict to an end, the lie discourages Palestinians from negotiating with Israel for the creation of their state. Indeed, why should Palestinians negotiate in good faith when they can simply wait for the world to sanction and boycott Israel for its nonexistent apartheid policies? The apartheid lie places Israel in the vice-grip of a Catch-22. It demands that Israel ends the conflict by dismantling its nonexistent apartheid policies, whilst at the same time, making the only true path to peace – good-faith bilateral negotiations – all but impossible.
The end result – there is no end to the conflict, and Israel is saddled with the blame.
The great apartheid lie is one filled with malice – and danger. Boycotts, divestments and sanctions, the actions intertwined with the apartheid lie, pose an existential threat to Israel. The lies Goebbels told about Jews proved to be lethal; by dehumanizing Jews and destroying any natural human empathy others may have had for them, these lies paved the way for the Holocaust.
The apartheid lie seeks to delegitimize and dehumanize Israel, to prepare the way for the complete destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. It is a lie that must be exposed – and rejected with the moral outrage it deserves.
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.