My Word: Not black and white

To describe Israel as an apartheid state is a lie of historic proportions.

March 7, 2010 05:54
Liat Collins

liat collins 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The picture says it all. A two-year-old Palestinian girl lies sad-eyed in a hospital bed. You just need to know how to interpret the information in the picture. Because it’s not what you might think.

Toddler Razan Naaim is in an Israeli hospital, not as the result of some dastardly attack by IDF soldiers on her young life, but following cardiac surgery performed by the Israeli “Save a Child’s Heart” program at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, near Tel Aviv.

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Last week, EU Ambassador in Israel Andrew Standley visited little Razan as he learned more about the work of the humanitarian organization, and launched a new project to provide cardiac treatment for at least 150 Palestinian children, and post-graduate training in pediatric cardiac care for eight Palestinian physicians.

The Save a Child’s Heart program also recently successfully operated on Woodley Elysee, a six-year-old boy who returned from Haiti with the Israeli rescue team.

I thought I’d share that with you, in case you want a different picture of Israel to carry around with you during Israel Apartheid Week.

For it is that time of year again – the annual two-week, anti-Israel campaign on university campuses around the globe. Not that the world’s institutes of higher education are home to a pro-Israel love fest the rest of the year. Just ask Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, or any of the many other prominent Israelis who have tried to address students at prestigious universities in the UK, US or Canada lately.

Israel Apartheid Week first appeared in 2005 in Toronto, but spread faster than a rumor on Facebook. Last year, it was held on campuses in 27 cities. This year, Apartheid Week is being hosted in 40 cities – from Beirut to Cape Town, where they should know better.

It’s easy to dismiss Apartheid Week as just one more Israel-bashing event spearheaded by Palestinian students. But it is not academic.

Israel Apartheid Week is about many things, but peace, human rights and freedom of speech are not among them.

Its obvious aim is to tie the terms “Israel” and “apartheid” inseparably together in the minds of the next generation of opinion makers and leaders – a generation that did not witness apartheid firsthand and cannot, in fact, remember those pre-1967 days when Israel was recognized as the David rather than the Goliath.

It is the Big Lie technique – the more frequently an untruth is repeated, the more likely it is to be believed. The closer the mental association between Israel and apartheid South Africa, the easier to push for divestment, boycotts, sanctions and everything else that goes with delegitimization, the way a hooked nose goes with the caricature of a Jew.

Israel Apartheid Week is a theater of the absurd. Just look at one of its actors. MK Jamal Zahalka heads Balad, one of the two Arab parties in the Israeli parliament. Zahalka’s itinerary includes a lecture sponsored by Oxford University’s Arab Cultural Society before a talk at Cambridge ahead of speeches in New York City and at the University of Ottawa and McGill University in Canada.

Evidently he didn’t feel that he would be missing much in the way of parliamentary duties as he travels the globe blasting the very country whose taxpayers pay his salary, and of which he is a democratically elected official. Note that word “democratically.”

You would have thought that Zahalka’s position in the Knesset would itself belie the myth of Israel as an apartheid state.

Israel does not, of course, have a perfect record on human rights. No country does. Not the US, not Australia, not Canada, and certainly not Libya, even though it chaired the UN Human Rights Commission.

Nonetheless, it is not a segregated society. Israel’s flaws do not include deliberate discrimination based   on gender, race, religion or color.

There are Arab parliamentarians, judges, doctors and professors, and an even greater number of students who freely speak their mind on campuses in places ranging from Haifa to Beersheba and even Ariel, the country’s newest accredited university which is located over the Green Line. Yes, there are Arab university students in the “settlement” city.

As my South African-born friend and colleague Steve Linde points out, anybody who accuses Israel of apartheid doesn’t know what the term means. The way he pronounces apartheid, incidentally, it rhymes  with “hate.”

“You never hear Nelson Mandela comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa,” says Linde. “Anyone who does make the comparison has clearly never lived in apartheid South Africa. It was institutionalized racism, legislated by dozens of laws separating whites from non-whites, and restricting the movement of blacks via the ugly system of ‘passes’ and ‘homelands.’

“It’s nothing like that here. Israel is a democracy, allowing all its citizens freedom of movement.

“Every citizen is permitted to vote, travel and worship freely, and live wherever they want. When you think about it, that’s the opposite of apartheid.”

But the generation on campus being exposed to the Israel=Apartheid canard has been exposed to such vitriol almost from birth. They drank it unwittingly with their earliest milk, while the Jews drank the blood of Palestinian children (or so the libel goes).

Anti-Semitic/anti-Israeli sentiment is running so strong (or is so strongly organized) in Spain, for example, that this week Israel formally protested to the Spanish ambassador in Tel Aviv that schoolchildren are sending dozens of postcards to our man in Madrid carrying messages such as “Why do you kill children?” “Jews kill for money” and “Leave the country for the Palestinians.”

What hope is there that children being raised in this environment will suddenly accept Israel’s legitimacy when they become university students?

Today’s students do not know that the “occupation” stems from a war Israel neither started nor wanted. They don’t realize that it is the other countries in the Middle East that trample on all those values they so passionately profess. They don’t understand that the “children” held in Israeli prisons weren’t arrested for playing soccer in someone’s backyard but for throwing Molotov cocktails. There are Palestinian teenagers who were caught before they could set off the explosives strapped to their walking-bomb bodies. There are adults evil enough to have sent them.

The “Apartheid Wall” was a response to the wave of suicide bombings that took the lives of hundreds – Jews and Arabs, traveling on the same buses, eating at the same restaurants, walking down the same streets.

And perhaps they don’t know that there is only one IDF soldier in Gaza. Gilad Schalit. Nobody wants him out of there more than Israel.

Clearly a major result of the apartheid campaign is to split the student body – Jews and Muslims, Left and Right – when anyone who really cared about peace and justice should be in favor of meeting and talking. It should, after all, be easier to make peace on a North American campus than in Middle Eastern political corridors.

If anyone wants a reminder of why it’s really important, look again at Razan’s picture.

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