reading boycott 521.
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Feeling confused and disoriented? Suffering from a heightened sense of anxiety?
No wonder. It’s March, and the seasonal outbreak of Israeli Apartheid Week
(IAW), now extended to a full month by popular demand, is manifesting itself in
college towns everywhere. Eventually it will subside of its own accord, but in
the meantime, to alleviate symptoms, keep reading.
Bewilderment caused by misrepresentation of Israel as a racist
Therapeutic activity: These words will have no effect on the
extremists behind this annual hate-fest, but may act as a powerful antidote to
their insidious campaign of misinformation that infects thousands of others far
more moderate in their politics and genuinely wellmeaning in their
Dosage: An ounce of truth may prevent the unsuspecting from
lending their support to a movement whose values are antithetical to their
Warnings: I am sympathetic to the plight of the innocent
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who have for far too long been deprived
of statehood. I don’t exonerate our own government of some culpability in their
plight. I do hold their leadership far more accountable than ours for the
prolongation of the conflict. I emphatically deny that there is any comparison
between Israeli policy and South African apartheid. I charge both Hamas and
Fatah with repressing their own people in ways far more severe than anything of
which Israel might be fairly accused.
Avoid poisoning: Suspension of
civil liberties, subjugation of women, intolerance of homosexuality, religious
fundamentalism and perpetuation of ignorance continue to be the official rule –
not the exception – in Hamasdominated Gaza, and characterize the climate in the
West Bank, even under the more moderate Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, the
long-standing rejection of the legitimate aspirations of the Jewish people and
the perpetuation of hatred of Jews have created a society unprepared to live
alongside us in peace.
A case in point is the story reported in this
paper just last week that “Palestinians vow to prevent Holocaust education in
UNRWA-run schools,” which they claimed would be a “provocative act” and a
“challenge to the feelings of the Palestinians.” The intention to teach the
topic to sensitize Arab children to the issue of human rights was further
rebuffed by the Hamas government “because it would pave the way for
normalization with Israel” and by a Fatah official who insisted the Holocaust
was a “big lie.”
MEANWHILE, THE Hamas rejection of democratic principles
was again evidenced when early in March it forcibly dispersed Palestinian
demonstrators in Gaza City whose gathering was inspired by the popular uprisings
sweeping the Arab world.
Diagnosis: While these actions undermine the
credibility of those reproaching Israel for practices of apartheid, the
accusations themselves are entirely without basis. According to the
International Convention on Apartheid ratified by the UN, the practice involves
“establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group... over any other
racial group... and systematically oppressing them” by “denial to... the right
to life and liberty; imposition... of living conditions calculated to cause
its... physical destruction; measures calculated to prevent... participation in
the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country... by
denying... basic human rights and freedoms...; measures... designed to divide
the population along racial lines; exploitation of the labor of members of a
racial group... in particular by submitting them to forced labor.”
situation here is so absolutely remote from this that it is hard to imagine how
confronting IAW supporters with reality could have any effect other than
embarrassing them into silence.
First of all, there is our Declaration of
Independence, unequivocally calling for “the development of the country for the
benefit of all its inhabitants,” and explicitly ensuring “complete equality...
irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
These are not mere words. Through
six conflict- ridden decades, we have held tenaciously to the sacred pursuit of
“freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel” to which the
state was committed at its founding, never resorting either to the repression or
expulsion of our Arab population. At every level, the facts belie any possible
characterization of Israel as practicing state-sanctioned racism: • Arab
citizens enjoy full and equal voting rights (women as well as men, something
still denied them in other Middle Eastern countries).
• Arabs currently
hold 14 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
• Arabs have routinely served at
the highest echelon of the civil, legislative and judicial authorities, filling
such positions as minister, deputy speaker of the Knesset, ambassador and
Supreme Court justice.
• Laws of compulsory education apply equally to
Arabs and Jews and universities are open equally to all citizens.
can be found in every sector of the economy, working alongside their Jewish
colleagues as doctors, professors, filmmakers, hitech executives and lawyers,
with their membership in labor unions taken for granted.
• There are no
legal restrictions as to where Arabs may live, and neither religion nor
ethnicity may be applied as a basis for denying purchase of land.
the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank, some 97 percent live under the autonomous
administrations of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that they elected.
Indeed, they don’t have the privilege of voting in Israeli elections, nor the
automatic right to live and work in Israel proper, for they are not Israeli
citizens, a status that might be conferred upon them only if the territories
they live in were to be annexed. As the declared intention of successive
governments has been to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state, this
is obviously out of the question.
MEANWHILE, MEETING the needs of the
Palestinian people in such fields as health, education and welfare, as well as
guaranteeing them their civil liberties, has become the responsibility of their
While Israel, to maintain the security of its own
residents, has imposed restrictions on movement in those areas it still controls
and, in doing so, has at times erred on the side of caution, a vigilant Supreme
Court and a variety of NGOs have upheld the human rights of the Palestinians in
a manner that can only be the envy of all those now rising up against repressive
regimes across the Arab world.
Against this background, it is evident
that the analogy of apartheid is both hideous and ridiculous. Still, it is not
my intention to whitewash Israel. We are a society guilty of harboring bigotry,
demonstrating insensitivity and acting callously. It is not an act of disloyalty
to say so. President Shimon Peres himself recently acknowledged the
manifestation of racism when speaking to a group of highschool students. But the
difference with apartheid is that in the same breath he declared it to be
“completely unacceptable that in Israel there are those who attempt to
discriminate against others.”
Prognosis: We must strive to create the
conditions that will allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state, calling
unceasingly upon our government to seek peace earnestly. The unrest that is
reshaping the Middle East, like the social networks fueling it, knows no
We must do all we can to eliminate any cause for demonstrations
against us, from without and within, affirming the vow made in our Declaration
of Independence: “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples
in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish
bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in
its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort
for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”
Side effects: We can only
hope that those who are sincere about securing the rights of the Palestinian
people might be prepared to do the same. IAW is as good a time as any to
challenge them to invest their energies in working with us toward that end
rather than clamoring for boycott, divestment and sanctions. In the meantime,
How to contribute to the success of the treatment: If all
this makes sense to you, pass it on to someone for whom things might not be so
self-evident. Perhaps we might contain the rampant virus of IAW by going viral
ourselves.The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization
and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed in this
column are his own.