Apartheid, genocide and the slander of Zionism

No, Israel does not sanction racism nor is it even remotely responsible for crimes against humanity. What we are guilty of, however, is at times being our own worst enemy.

Tayyip Erdogan 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Tayyip Erdogan 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
And the winner is... recently we had three from Ethiopia in a single week. The first was Yityish Titi Aynaw, a 21-year-old Ethiopian-born Israeli woman who was just crowned Miss Israel. Nine years ago she arrived here with her family and, at the tender age of 12, set out to surmount innumerable hurdles of culture, language and socialization on the way to her successful integration into Israeli society, exemplified by her serving as an officer during her stint in the Israel Defense Forces.
The other two were here as our guests. Abraham Kabeto Ketla and Mihiret Anamo Anotonios came in first place in the men’s and women’s categories, respectively, of the Jerusalem Marathon.
Literally in the midst of all this, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Zionism as a crime against humanity in his address before the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in Vienna. Ironically, the organization was established “to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions.” Yet remarkably, no one present protested the outrageous statement, though the body’s self-proclaimed aim is “to counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.” The acquiescence of silence.
Erdogan’s despicable characterization of the Jewish people’s noble movement for national liberation, and the shameful calm with which it was met, are only the latest manifestation of an interminable struggle to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state. It affects not only we who live here, but also our brethren and supporters abroad who find themselves on the front lines of our defense, particularly now, during the annual International Apartheid Week currently coming to a campus near you.
This well-orchestrated campaign that aims to bring about the boycott of, divestment from and sanctions against Israel (BDS) began in earnest with the 1975 United Nations resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism. That this infamous declaration was repealed in 1991 has done little to prevent Israel’s detractors from continuing to defame the Jewish state with impunity. Nor has the phenomenon been checked by Israel’s proud record in the public domain.
A fine example of our diversity and the public’s favorable reception of it: The three finalists in the latest episode of Israel’s immensely popular MasterChef reality show typify the heterogeneity of our society and the popular magnanimity with which it is accepted.
The winner of the competition was Tom Franz, a 39- year-old convert to Judaism who was born a German Catholic and is now a lawyer living in Tel Aviv. Runner-up was 27-year-old Salma Fiomy-Farij, a devout hijab-shrouded Muslim Arab nurse from Kafr Kasim. Third place went to Jackie Azoulay, a 29-year-old religious woman from the haredi city of Elad and the second of 14 children.
The spirit of camaraderie among the three was infectious and the mutual affection, particularly between the two women, evident in their hug of consolation, was genuine. Given that this was a cooking contest, it is appropriate to note that the audience – the largest ever of any Israeli TV broadcast – ate it up, devouring every morsel of the feel-good democracy and tolerance that went into that embrace.
Throw into this recipe of tolerance and harmony that 10 percent of our Knesset members are Arab and it is self-evident that Israel is not an apartheid state. Nor are we the country that presents the single greatest threat to world peace. We don’t even bear primary responsibility for our ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. What we sometimes are guilty of, however, is being our own worst enemy.
Which means I can’t end this column here as I had intended. I’d planned on offering a few more examples of the enlightened society that we are, alongside instances of our neighbors’ state-sponsored abuses of human rights (not to mention outright slaughter) before asking Prime Minister Erdogan who was calling the kettle black. The recent rash of attacks against Arabs perpetrated by Jews here at home, however, scuttled that idea.
THIS LATEST wave of violent bigotry began some two months ago with the virulently racist protests by Beitar Jerusalem fans against the decision of the football team’s management to sign two Muslim players from Chechnya. “Beitar Forever Pure” read the sign held aloft at the game played on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
That four of the squad’s supporters were later indicted for harassing the non-Jewish players, and that the team itself was fined NIS 50,000 because of the racist epithets hurled at the field during the game, offers some consolation, but very little. Particularly given the number of physical assaults since then.
The list is becoming hard to keep up with. Earlier this month, an Israeli citizen was accosted and ordered “Arab, out of the Kinneret,” before being beaten by four youths and hospitalized with a fractured jawbone. Two of those arrested for the incident were also implicated in an earlier attack on an Arab municipal worker in Tel Aviv. In a separate case, an Arab woman waiting at a light rail station in Jerusalem was allegedly harassed and punched in the face by three teenage girls. That was followed by stones being thrown at and shattering the windows of a car in which two teachers, one Arab and one Jewish, were making their way to a condolence call. Later that week, in Upper Nazareth, an Arab woman resident was spat at by teens and told to move out of the neighborhood.
Indeed all of this constitutes a “despicable and criminal” phenomenon, as it has been labeled by Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. But it is also more than that. It is a challenge to our collective resolve to fulfill the promise of 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.”
Meeting that challenge is not the responsibility only of the police officers whom the commissioner charged with apprehending those responsible for these dastardly, nationalistically motivated crimes; it is the responsibility of us all. For it is not only our fellow human beings who are being threatened but also those values that are so fundamental to what we set out to build here. And they can be protected only through education and the establishment of acceptable social norms.
In this regard, it would be doing no one any favor to ignore that a large majority of those who have been apprehended in connection with this wave of nationalistically motivated violence have been described as religiously observant, a good number of them yeshiva students.
Should we take all this as a “wake-up call”? It is too late for that. The alarm was already sounded last August when a Palestinian was severely beaten by Jewish teens in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. Then someone apparently hit the snooze button, and we all drifted off to sleep again. Now it is time to open our eyes. These displays of racism may be isolated and anomalous. They may reflect only the aberrant behavior of a tiny minority. They may be antithetical to the legal and moral foundations on which our justice system rests. But they are no less unconscionable for being so and cannot be ignored.
If we have any right to expect that the world shout down the Turkish prime minister’s loathsome condemnation of Zionism, if we expect students on campuses around the world to counter the propaganda of Apartheid Week, we must first speak out vociferously and resolutely against the shameful displays of xenophobia to which we have recently borne witness.
A step in the right direction was taken this week by the Education Ministry, which instructed all schools to hold discussions on the matter in honor of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (One can only hope the directive was also noted by those religious educational institutions operating outside the authority of the ministry.) But while commendable, the message will be internalized by our youngsters only if reinforced by their parents. In addition, then, to raising our voices loudly in the public domain, we must also speak quietly with our children at home.
The author is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.