European states are lining up like eager lemmings to endorse a new apartheid state. How to explain it? One thought apartheid fell under that short list of items long declared evil by consensus. Slavery? Always wrong. Genocide? Likewise. Child soldiers? Beyond the pale. Yet a rush of states – Sweden, Britain and the upper house in Ireland – are now rushing to recognize an apartheid state. For by any definition, with “Palestine,” they are midwifing the apartheid state out the fetal stage.
No doubt you’ve read writers and critics who try to paste the apartheid label at Israel. All you need is a dictionary and cursory examination of Israel’s actual policy to refute this very suggestion. According to the OED, apartheid refers to any government policy that enforces racial separations or maintains different race-based laws. Think the Jim Crow South. Or British Catholics denied basic civil rights until the early 19th century merely for the “crime” of membership of the Roman Church. The distinction isn’t subtle: discrimination, no matter how heinous, isn’t apartheid without legal codification. Thus I may deplore the disparity between schools in Detroit and nearby suburban Gross Point. I may decry the obvious racial distinction between the two school systems. Without that racial disparity being written into law, however, it is not apartheid. Discrimination, of course, does exist. Immigrants to Sweden report receiving substandard healthcare in a nation that boasts one of the world’s great healthcare systems. British citizens of African ancestry suffer serious discrimination in employment. Businesses owned by Parisian Jews have been firebombed. All of this is deplorable. None of it is apartheid.
In the case of the Jewish state those trying to slap on the scarlet “A” fall into two broad arguments (though these are often muddled). Some points to policies in the West Bank and Gaza. The other decries the treatment of non-Jewish Israeli citizens. Examination demonstrates that neither charge holds water? Does Israeli law base different “rights” for citizens on race or religion? The answer is no. This is not opinion. It is a plain fact. All Israeli adults possess an equal franchise. Any Israeli earning enough vote can sit in Knesset. Non-Jewish Israelis head cultural institutions as well as holding high rank in the IDF and the diplomatic corps. Non-Jewish Israelis have passed judgment on their fellow citizens from the Israeli Supreme Court and even served as Speaker of the Knesset. Any similar service in apartheid South Africa was simply unthinkable. It would be antithetical to the terms very meaning.
Not that Israel is perfect. Minorities in Israel, like minorities everywhere, have legitimate complaints against the state. Israel could and should do better. Israeli Muslim and Israeli Christian (and indeed minority Israeli Jews like those of Ethiopian origin) all have legitimate grievances. Like any state, Israel should aspire to its highest ideals. But if not exemplifying ideals of equality qualifies a country as practicing “apartheid,” then near every country must be likewise guilty. Unless apartheid is rampant the world over, Israel can’t be forced to wear that most hated brand.
Proof lies in the specifics. Consider Israel’s marriage laws (ironically, a system constructed by those just justice loving Brits). Yes, interfaith marriage is impossible in Israel. That however is not the result of discrimination. Israel has no Civil Marriage Law. Instead, marriage is entirely under the control of various religious authorities. Since rabbis, imams, and priests refuse to preform interfaith marriages, interfaith couples are left with few options. Some caught in that screwed up boat marry abroad. Others convert. Unlike lots of nations in the region – where converts are punishable by death – Israel maintains religious freedom. Nothing forbids an Israeli from changing their faith. Actually, since Judaism places such an onerous burden on converts, Jewish halves of interfaith couples are more likely to convert into Islam or Christianity than vice versa. You may think this system unfair. You may believe (as I do) that it should be changed. Yet every Israeli under the system is equal. Therefore it isn’t apartheid.
The same can be said of the Law of Return. Put aside the obvious fact: this law, by its very nature, applies to no Israeli citizen but only those wishing to become Israeli. Such policies just aren’t particularly uncommon. The nation state being what it is, many states consider ethnicity in matters of immigration. Greece grants a preference to those of Greek extraction – even if their ancestors haven’t lived in Greece for centuries – but excludes the descendants of those Greek Muslims who fled to Turkey in the Greco-Turkish War. Germany rolled out the welcome mat for ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (many of whom, likewise, could claim no ancestor who had lived in Germany since long before that state was formed). Ireland grants a preference to members of the vast Irish diaspora. In a reverse example, Iraq welcomes all members of the Iraqi diaspora, save more than a million Jews of Iraqi origin, who are specifically excluded. . Any, all, or none of these examples may seem unfair. As with marriage, if such unfairness rises to the level of apartheid, then we are suffering a world-wide epidemic.
What about Israel’s policies towards Palestinians living in the territories possessed before 1967 by Egypt and Jordan? Yes, their lives can be difficult in the extreme. It isn’t easy to be stateless, nor is it easy to live in a war zone. That doesn’t, however, equal apartheid. Consider the often raised question of “Israeli” only roads. Israelis of any ethnicity or race can speed between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on the 443. Muslims and Christians no less than Jews prefer and take the most direct route. Therefore the term simply doesn’t imply. Like many, I pray for peace. I pray that Palestinians may prefer that their children live to build their state rather than die as martyrs. The fact remains that in this war, there are non-Jews on both sides.
The great George Orwell worried about whether objective truth was “fading out of the world” and that “lies would pass into history.” In corrupting language solely for the pleasure of slandering the Jewish state, the “apartheid lie” is passing into history. Such slander against Jews, of course, is nothing new. What is new, however, what makes this charge the very zenith of hypocrisy, is that in spewing this defamation, these states have moved to recognize “Palestine,” a nation seeped in apartheid.
The facts again speak for themselves. Under the PA’s rules, any person selling land in the West Bank or Jerusalem to a Jew is a criminal. The penalty? A life time of hard labor. Consider that for a moment. Imagine an Irish American who wants to go live in Silwan. He is welcome to write a check and the seller is welcome to the cash. Yet if that Irish American turns out to be a Jew, the seller risks a lifetime breaking rocks. This crime, directly rooted in race, is apartheid.
Likewise, the PA insists that their new state must be free of Jews as part of any deal (and in another fine example of hypocrisy raised to high art, the Europeans endorse this goal of ethnic cleansing). Interestingly, some of the West Bank at issue were once populated by Jews forced to flee in 1948 at gunpoint. That fact however is held to be irrelevant; as if by holy writ, Jews must be banished so that “Palestine” may be born in a “Jew-free” state of grace — Judenrein in the name of peace. These are discriminatory policies and expectations. They are based solely on race and religion. This is apartheid.
In the name of ethno-religious supremacy, Palestinians insist on just such exclusivity on the Temple Mount. Jews and Muslims praying side by side, offends their sensibilities. Indeed, one can hardly decide which is worse: Palestinian leaders warping the Quran’s monotheistic message by responding to the very notion of Jews and Muslims in prayer together to the one God with calls for bloodshed or secular Europeans kowtowing in support of such a perversity. So holy do the Palestinians consider such discrimination, that President Abbas wrote in praise of the would be assassin of a rabbi who endorsed just such shared prayer. As for Jewish holy places that fall under Palestinian control, they are bulldozed. Europeans, of course, either just yawn or they agree with such wanton discrimination and destruction. This too, is apartheid.
For Europeans, hypocrisy is like syphilis in a brothel – a thing everyone decries and yet races to catch. Still there remains something extraordinary about supposedly civilized states rushing to recognize a new apartheid state. Not that I expect them to stop, let alone slow down. Some offer explanations or excuses. Many Europeans, some say, imbibe the hatred of Jews along with their mother’s milk. After all, centuries of considering Jews the very metaphor for evil is sure to leave an indelible impression. Others argue that this is really about the migration of colonialism to the Left. Once Europeans thought non-whites “too inferior” to rule themselves. Europeans were required to take up the burden of their rule. Now some Europeans seem to imagine that because of such “inferiority,” it is unfair to hold non-whites accountable for prejudice, or perversity, or corruption. Yet such attitudes are just as obscene as apartheid. Whether motivated by animus towards Jews or an infantilizing racism, I pray that Europe changes course. I pray that they reconsider. The last thing the world needs is a new apartheid regime.