The sixth international Israeli Apartheid Week kicked off on Monday, promising 14 days of Israel-bashing in about 40 cities around the world, mostly on college campuses. Organizers say the events will “educate” about Israel’s so-called “apartheid system” and encourage BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against the Jewish state. Punishing Israel into submission will lead to the end of “colonization” of Arab land, the beginning of equal rights for Arab-Palestinians, the dismantling of the security barrier, and instituting the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Naomi Klein, the Jewish anti-globalization savant who has in recent years branched out to include demonizing Israel in her repertoire, pointed out in the opening speech of last year’s extravaganza that “serious movements have serious enemies,” arguing that the fierce opposition to Israeli Apartheid Week proved its importance. According to that reasoning, perhaps it would be better to simply ignore the festivities and allow the whole thing to blow over.

Problem is, if left unchallenged, proponents of the apartheid analogy are liable to stifle free speech and trample open debate on campuses by using intimidation and bullying tactics. They recently prevented Ambassador Michael Oren from finishing a speech at UC Irvine, and on the same day in Cambridge they interrupted Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, allegedly shouting in Arabic, “Slaughter the Jews.” Meanwhile, Cambridge University’s Israel Society bowed to pressure from Muslim students to cancel a speech by historian Benny Morris.


CONSIDERING ITS sordid historical roots, it is not surprising that Israel Apartheid Week’s proponents are hostile to free expression.

In his new book, A Lethal Obsession, Robert S. Wistrich shows that the intellectual roots of the apartheid libel can be traced to Soviet totalitarianism. Building on deep-seated anti-Semitism dating from the czarist era, the Soviet Union launched a ferocious anti-Israel campaign in the wake of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in an attempt to squash Zionism and with it other national liberation movements that threatened to challenge blind loyalty to the Soviet Republic. Equating Jerusalem with Pretoria also served the Soviets in gaining influence in Africa and aligning the Third World against the US and other western states that supported Israel. Interestingly, Trotskyists – with Jews prominent in their ranks – became the most enthusiastic propagators of the Zionist racist mythology, perhaps in an attempt to negate their Jewishness and prove their fidelity to the communist cause.

In the ’70s the PLO and Arab governments, recognizing the political efficacy of latching on to the Soviet-made analogy, joined forces with the USSR to spread lies about Israel. “The apartheid libel transformed Zionism (and by implication Jews and Judaism) into an inhuman ideology and the foundation of a state policy that supposedly divides the world into Jews (a chosen people) and goyim (inferior beings designated to be slaves),” writes Wistrich. Once this was accomplished, dismantling the Jewish state with the use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions could be justified. Even terrorist violence could be forgiven.

Sadly, Soviet propaganda has worked.

While rogue states such as Sudan commit horrendous crimes against humanity, and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other self-proclaimed Muslim states do not even attempt to hide their contempt for non-Muslims, only Israel is singled out for castigation. This is the Israel that translates hostile Palestinian authors into Hebrew; that maintains a Supreme Court that defends the human rights of Palestinians, including its recent ruling to open Route 443 to Palestinians despite real fears that this could lead to drive-by shootings; that keeps its universities open to Arab citizens and grants them the right to vote.

It’s not only Desmond Tutu and former US president Jimmy Carter who make the apartheid case. Even Defense Minister Ehud Barak has stumbled.

“As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic,” Barak said during a speech last month at the Herzliya Conference.

“If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state,” he added, playing into the hands of Israel’s most manipulative detractors and ignoring the facts that Israel is committed to seeking an accommodation with the Palestinians precisely to avoid any such state of affairs, and that it is those who would seek to deny the Jewish nation its only state who are guilty of apartheid attitudes.

Instead of adopting anti-Semitic newspeak, Israel’s representatives need to perfect the craft of hitting back diplomatically – “to delegitimize the delegitimizers,” in the memorable phrase of Canadian law professor and human rights activist Irwin Cotler. Part of that task is knowing the despicable history of the apartheid libel, understanding whose interests it serves and, most importantly, protecting free speech against those who would deny it.

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