The diplomatic war against Israel shows few signs of abating. On the contrary, it is gathering strength within mainstream sections of the media, the church and academic circles. The tone of the anti-Zionist narrative is increasingly twisted and hysterical, the language used ever more vicious and inflammatory. Judging by some of the charges levelled against the Jewish state, there are few levels of depravity to which the hatemongers will not willingly descend.
There is no better example of this than Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual series of events held on university campuses which, according to their organisers, ‘educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system’. In reality, IAW is a globally orchestrated outpouring of hate directed towards Israel, Zionism and the Jewish community.
One such event took place this week on a university campus in London. A trio of speakers delivered a malevolent tirade against the Jewish state that was worthy of the most extreme Islamist. Baroness Jenny Tonge, best remembered for her remark that she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she were a Palestinian, declared that “Israel [was] not going to be here forever”. She warned her audience to be wary of the power of the “Israel lobby” for “they will go for you” and never stop.
Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian now living in London, said that Israel treated Palestinians like “a sub human species” and that in its desperation to ensure that the country remained non Arab, went “fishing” for Jews in any part of the world. In her words, “You can be any sort of person. You can call yourself ‘a Jew’. As long as you’re not an Arab, it’s alright”.
The worst of the rhetoric came from Ken O’Keefe, an American activist who was on board the Turkish flotilla which tried to break the Gaza blockade in 2009. In shrieking tones, he openly compared Jews to Germans living under the Nazi regime, arguing that they both had a “special obligation” to stand up to fascistic tyranny. The inflammatory comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany was met with thunderous applause, particularly when he declared that the “genocidal, apartheid” Jewish state “had to be destroyed’.
Judging by the panel, it was already clear that the university’s Palestinian society had lost all credibility before the event had even started. This was not a serious debate but a festival of hatemongering with an intention to stir up the audience’s basest instincts.
Of course, the absurdity of labelling Israel as an apartheid state should be evident from the outset. Under the iniquitous system of apartheid in South Africa, a minority of white people seized control of the country’s political system, denying voting rights to the black majority. Black people were forbidden from marrying whites or even fraternizing with them. They were also confined to native areas called Bantustans.
By contrast, Israeli Arabs enjoy an array of political and economic rights. They can vote in the country’s elections, have sexual relationships with Jews and own businesses like any other citizen. Jews and Arabs attend schools and universities together, work in the same hospitals and frequent the same public places. In recent years, Israel has had an acting Arab President, an Arab judge has served on the Supreme Court and Israeli Arabs have been represented in the Cabinet. Thus the comparison of Israel and South Africa shows contempt, not only for Israelis, but for black people who experienced legally sanctioned degradation under the apartheid system.
But if apartheid is a malevolent description of Israeli policy towards Arabs, is it a fair description of the country’s policy towards Palestinians? The IAW’s organisers point out that Palestinians cannot vote in Israel despite the IDF’s presence in ‘occupied’ territory, that they are restricted from travelling into Israel and that they are hemmed in by the security fence. These are regarded as forms of discrimination akin to those of apartheid South Africa.
Again, these are baseless charges. While the IDF maintains a military presence in the West Bank, this area is under the overall control of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has responsibility for the civic and economic life of Palestinian Arabs and it organises elections for its population.
Certainly, the Israeli military restrictions do have an impact on the lives of ordinary civilians and that point should not be overlooked. But these restrictions, including the fence, are a vital component of Israel’s security, following a repugnant wave of terrorism that has killed and injured thousands of civilians. By contrast, black people never threatened the white minority government in South Africa.
Naturally there are some forms of discrimination that exist in Israel, as with any country in the world. In a nation which has been at war with much of the Arab world since day one, it would hardly be surprising if anti-Arab prejudice persisted in places, even if it is less prevalent than some people might imagine. Israel has taken many strides to improve the lot of her non-Jewish citizens and no doubt, there is more that can and should be done.
The point is that the discrimination which does exist is institutional, not constitutional. Israel’s laws, including the Declaration of Independence, guarantee equality for all her citizens, regardless of religion, race or sexual orientation. Thus the apartheid label amounts to nothing more than outright demonization, a blatant attempt to cast Israel as a pariah among the nations.
The irony is that apartheid is a very real phenomenon in the Middle East, that is within the Arab and Muslim world. In Sudan, the native black Sudanese have been persecuted and enslaved by Muslim Arabs for some three decades, resulting in massacres and exile for more than 2 million people. The Kurds have suffered systematic repression in Syria where they have been dispossessed and denied citizenship since the 1960s.
In Saudi Arabia’s system of religious apartheid, Christians cannot openly practise their religion and the distribution of Bibles is illegal. Indeed the relentless persecution of Christians in Muslim lands is one of the sadder aspects of recent Middle East history. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has stated that his proposed Palestinian state should be free of both Jews and gays. In classic Freudian terms, the charge of apartheid is a form of projection, an attempt to blame others for your own sins. It is a truly despicable tactic.
With this in mind, Israelis should go on the attack and expose their critics’ double standards and blatant disregard for the truth. They must force their critics to explain, and apologise for, the evils which they so readily ascribe to others. It is only then that the anti-Zionists will be revealed for the charlatans they are.