As “Israeli Apartheid Week” arrives at Western university campuses, Jewish students have decided they won’t take the slander lying down. Hundreds are now participating in the #Rethink2014 campaign by snapping pictures of themselves holding up messages explaining their opposition to the annual hate-fest. The tactic borrows from the hugely successful “I Need Feminism” campaign, in which students expressed their support for feminism through messages on a whiteboard.
Here are my personal top-ten favourites, in reverse order:
10. “Israeli Arabs have full civil rights…”
It hardly needs stating, but Israel is a vibrant, multi-ethnic democracy that extends full civil and political rights equally to all its citizens, regardless of race or religion: there are a dozen Arabs in the Knesset and an Arab on the Supreme Court. The situation beyond the Green Line is different (for reasons below), but Israel itself is a far cry from Apartheid South Africa, an institutionally racist regime that denied fundamental rights to the majority of its people based solely on the colour of their skin, with a view to perpetuating the permanent dominance of one race over another.
9. “… and the Palestinians have rejected offers of statehood in the past.”
Meanwhile, the situation beyond the Green Line is a temporary arrangement, pending the conclusion of a peace treaty establishing separate Palestinian statehood. Every Israeli government in the last twenty years has accepted the principle of the two-state solution, ever since Jordan abandoned its claims to the West Bank.
The Palestinians’ refusal to accept the 1947 UN Partition Plan goes down as one of the greatest missed opportunities in modern history. Even Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, admits this rejection was a “mistake”. If the Arabs had accepted the two-state solution from the get-go, there would have been no occupation; and if Arafat had accepted the deal at Camp David in 2000, the Palestinians would be celebrating their tenth independence day instead of the tenth “apartheid week”. Maybe that’s the point of the campaign: by delegitimising the Jewish state, the campaign’s organisers hope the Palestinians will be able to avoid a compromise after all, so will not have to face up to their own share of the blame.
8. “It belittles Israeli security concerns”
Student activists set up “Apartheid Walls” – replicas of the West Bank Barrier – on university campuses, hinting that Israel is somehow the bastard child of South Africa and East Germany. They completely decontextualise Israel’s decisions in order to impute them with malice: for the IAW campaign, the construction of the Barrier was a racist land grab rather than an attempt to protect innocent civilians from terrorism. Over a thousand Israelis were murdered in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, in the Second Intifada: and the erection of a physical barrier has reduced such attacks to zero.
7. “I want to be educated, not intimidated”
IAW creates a hostile atmosphere on campus for Jewish students. At Harvard last year, the Palestine Society nailed ‘eviction notices’ to the doors of the dorms of Jewish students. More generally, the hyperbolic rhetoric, which depicts Israel as a fundamentally illegitimate and racist state, prevents pro-Israel students from freely expressing their opinions. The campaign frames the conflict in terms of good-and-evil, and treats any sort of support for Israel as racist and illegitimate.
As Professor Alan Johnson of BICOM explains, the apartheid smear has its origins in attempts by Communist states to win Arab allies by employing a common anti-Semitic language, but with ‘Zionist’ as a fig-leaf for ‘Jew’; and the last big push for characterising Israel as an apartheid state was at the notorious and openly anti-Semitic Durban conference. Viewed as part of this insidious political tradition, it is impossible to impute IAW with more innocent motives.
6. “Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are not mutually exclusive”
“Our problem lies with the subtext of Israel Apartheid Week, which assigns those rights [of self-determination and political freedom] exclusively to Palestinians – but not to their Jewish neighbours,” explains an open letter from Israelis at Oxford University. “This is wrong: Jews, like Palestinians, have a right to a national home in the country with which they have strong historical, religious and cultural ties.”
5. “It’s abused to misinform the uninformed”
Students at Cambridge University were emailed this week with a notice that the “Palestine Society will be hosting a series of events held to raise awareness of Israel as an apartheid state“. The term ‘apartheid’ is thrown around so casually that those who don’t know any better are encouraged to take at face value the assertion that Israel is an apartheid state. The campaign works by normalising the use of the label with reference to Israel, without needing to make an argument. That’s a very sneaky tactic.
4. “If Abbas and Bibi can talk, so can we”
President Abbas has said: “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel… We do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition.” Israeli Apartheid Week makes no attempt to build a constructive dialogue: it seeks to delegitimise Israel entirely, so shuts out pro-Israel voices lest this “normalise” the Jewish state and introduce any nuance to the debate.
3. “Omar Barghouti is a graduate of Tel Aviv University”
Omar Barghouti, one of the leading advocates of the apartheid smear, holds a degree in Philosophy from Tel Aviv University. He calls his studies there “a personal matter”.
But it is a curious choice for a man who supports an academic boycott of Israel, and who compares Israel to a country that did not let blacks attend its “white-only” universities.
It also smacks of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.
2. “A week is too long to devote to a lie”
The allegation of apartheid is a lie, and shouldn’t take a week to debunk: a speed-read of BICOM’s new pamphlet can set the record straight in five minutes flat.
Wondering how Israel can be a ‘Jewish state’? Struggling to understand why Israel controls ‘Palestinian land’? Israel sure ain’t perfect, but it’s no apartheid state either. The situation is complicated, but the smear of apartheid is not.
1. “Somebody has to”
That somebody is you!
In one of his few lucid moments, Hitler said: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Don’t let the lie about apartheid go unchallenged. Join the #rethink2014 campaign: print off the picture (below), write your reason for opposing Israeli Apartheid Week, photograph yourself, send the image as a message to the campaign leaders on the Facebook page, and get sharing!
Update: As the campaign goes viral, here is a new, powerful favourite that would have made the list if it had come in earlier: “It reduces the conflict to a simple dichotomy: don’t make me choose between my heritage and my humanity.”