Roll up, roll up for Israel Apartheid Week – a global, multimedia extravaganza devoted to cementing the comparison between the new international pariah, Israel, and the old racist regime in South Africa. And it’s coming to a campus near you.
Anyone who knows anything about Israel will tell you that the comparison is invidious and malicious. Israeli law does not discriminate against Arab citizens. Of course there is – there must be – plenty of room for improvement, but show me one liberal democracy where minorities do not claim to experience discrimination and prejudice.
Not only is the Israel Apartheid campaign a monumental lie of gobsmacking chutzpah, but the boot is on the Arab foot. You only have to witness the way that Arab host countries treat their Palestinians, who are denied citizenship. And not only Palestinians – Kuwait has 300,000 Bedoun residents denied citizenship and the right to vote. Thousands of children born in Arab countries are deprived of citizenship merely because their parents were not citizens. Immigrants from South Asia with no rights whatsoever help keep countries like Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates running.
Those who berate the West for its orientalism towards the Third World, quoting the late Edward Said‘s eponymous book, ignore the fact that much of society under Muslim domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews (and Christians) and blacks. Not only are all Arab countries strong contenders in the Apartheid Oscars, but Saudi Arabia would win hands down. At the bottom of its obscene pecking order are women, non-Muslims and slaves.
Every year, an unknown number of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia are victims of sexual abuses, maltreatment, unpaid salaries, and other malpractices. Wretched Filipina domestics are virtual prisoners with no rights, their passports confiscated.
Across Muslim Africa, blacks are routinely mistreated and abused. Some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600, 000 people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia law to justify a racist system where Arabs exploit the country’s black African population. Last week, one slave told the Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an alternative to what is laughingly called the UN Human Rights Council that – according to religious madrassahs – ‘slaves are the masters’ properties, who are passed along as inheritance and where the condition of slavery is transmitted from parent to child, where women slaves must submit their bodies to their masters.’
Before western colonial rule tempered their status, Jews were dhimmis, treated as inferiors and denied basic human rights – the ‘dogs’ of the Arabs. Each religious community ran its own affairs in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion – a de facto Apartheid. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach recalls his father telling him how humiliating it was to grow up in (Shi’a) Iran and have Islamic shop-keepers refuse to take money directly from his hand because as a Jew, he was impure. Other abuses in Muslim lands : the 19th century Moroccan Jew beaten to death for taking in a destitute Muslim woman as his housemaid (that would have been to overturn the natural order); 40 percent of Jews born in Egypt were not granted Egyptian nationality in the 1920s; Jews were denied justice, because Arabs were never called to account for abusing them.
Historian Georges Bensoussan has completed the most comprehensive study to-date of conditions for Jews in Yemen, Iraq and Morocco since 1850 until their mass exodus. He calls the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world the ‘colonised of the colonised’ – tolerated as long as they were useful to their Muslim masters.
Israel, where 75 percent of these Jews from Arab and Muslim lands sought refuge, is the place Jews, who predated the Arab and Muslim conquest by centuries, if not millennia, found freedom and self-determination. For millions of its citizens, Israel is the antithesis of colonialism and Apartheid. A thought to ponder in Israel Apartheid Week.