Anti-Israel organizations are mobilising again in an attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish state. In universities throughout the world, Israel Apartheid Week has begun. Under the guise of legitimate criticism and empathy for the underdog, liberal students are protesting Israel’s so-called apartheid policy. But the reality in the West Bank is far more complex: Israeli policy may often be oppressive, but apartheid it certainly isn’t.
Racism exists in Israel; to say otherwise is to be blind or just Ashkenazi. Racism in Israel should be condemned — often more virulently than it is. But to describe the situation of the Palestinians in the same terms as the situation of the blacks of South Africa during apartheid is to belittle the struggle for liberation of that country’s black majority. In that regard, Desmond Tutu’s recent rantings seem to undermine and trivialise his own struggle.
The “apartheid” label is an attempt to criminalize and demonize Israel. Criticism of Israeli policy is fair but by comparing it to South Africa brings the country’s very existence into question.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fundamentally different from the situation that once existed in South Africa. Israel is seeking to create a two-state solution as a resolution to the conflict between two peoples. In South Africa, the white minority sought to dominate the black majority. In Israel, the Jewish Majority is seeking a divorce from the Palestinians.
It is useful to distinguish between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank and to emphasize that Arabs in Israel have full civil rights — unlike the black majority in apartheid South Africa — to vote, study and participate in society; a far cry form South Africa
Israel has Arab members of Knesset, judges and professors. Their position is complicated. As one young Israeli Arab said to me, “our country is at war with our nation.” These challenges are unique, and to cry “apartheid” is to impose a different reality on the complexity of the Middle East
The situation of Palestinians in the West Bank is more complicated. It is important to note that they are not citizens of the state. Much of the alleged discrimination results from preferential rights given to citizens of the state versus non-citizens. Israel’s mistaken policy of settlement-building exasperates the situation by pitting Israelis against Palestinians in a battle for land. Rather than moving towards a two-state solution, settlements complicate the situation by entwining two populations rather than separating them.
Is this apartheid? Far from it. Checkpoints are not apartheid, nor are security barriers or small areas of Palestinian self rule. They are scars on the land, a thin crust over the bloody gashes of unresolved conflict.
True liberals should reject the use of the word “apartheid” in the rhetorical battle against Israel. It trivializes the meaning of the word. Rather than continuing to shout and point fingers, progressives should work toward true reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. They should reject calls for boycott and strive for dialogue.
The following video of a violent confrontation this week between Jewish and Palestinian students at the London School of Economics shows that time has come for a week of peace— not a week of continued hatred.