Recently I returned from a mini break to Malta. There are so many wonderful things to say about this small Mediterranean nation only a short flight from Israel. The accommodation at the Iniala hotel, owned by Mark Weingard, was world class and truly remarkable. The azure ocean is fantastic for diving, the fascinating rich history combined with the warm people make Malta a top tourist destination. However, my glowing feelings were soured when I picked up a copy of the local Maltese English newspaper, “Times of Malta,” at the hotel.
The front page had a photo covering half the page of a funeral of a Palestinian killed in the “occupied West Bank” with no attempt to contextualize, or even a story about the photo. On page four, ahead of the major international news, was a half-page article titled “Activists want Netta out of Malta Europride. Singer’s support of Israeli apartheid make her unsuitable, NGOs say.”
The entire article was full of innuendo and language more suitable to the Nazi anti-Semitic newspaper “Der Stürmer” than a respected newspaper in the 21st century of an EU member country. There was no attempt to be objective. The article stated as “facts” old anti Semitic/anti Zionist canards by continuously quoting a “group of human rights NGO’s.” Here are just some of the quotes:
- “She (Netta) should not be at the Pride celebrations because of her support of the Israeli oppressive state.”
- “They did not want her to come to Malta on the grounds that that she was a supporter of the Israeli Apartheid state.”
- “Barzilai has regularly participated in the efforts of the Israeli state to cover the oppression, the killings and the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their own land, and project itself as a ‘free’ and ‘democratic state’ – all pinkwashing initiatives.”
- “The Gaza strip is bombarded regularly by the Israeli army…and there are violent seizures of Palestinian land and terrorization of Palestinian villages.”
- “Israel uses all the means at its disposal to choke the Palestinians, including cultural tools such as Netta “to wash away its blood stained image on the international stage.”
To call Israel Apartheid is as absurd as saying that there are equal rights to all peoples in any of the countries surrounding Israel. In the words of Colonel Richard Kemp, this is, “not only a blatant and unsubstantiated lie but also an insult to black South Africans who suffered so horrifically under a genuinely apartheid regime.”
South Africa was a brutally oppressive regime where State sanctioned racism was enshrined in the law. The colour of one’s skin was the sole factor as to whether one did or did not have rights. The contrast between Apartheid South Africa and the State of Israel is total. As Jeremy Leibler, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia wrote,
It makes a mockery of both objectivity and the victims of apartheid South Africa, who suffered under an evil regime that bears absolutely no resemblance to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
If one wants to find Apartheid in the Middle East, one doesn’t need to search far. Most of the regimes in Israel’s neighbourhood practice Gender Apartheid. The United Nations (no big friend of Israel) Human Development Report of 2002 (page 22) states that:
Women in Arab league countries suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements. Often evident in voting rights and legal codes and from inequality of opportunity evident in employment status, wages, and gender-based occupational segregation. Their political and economic participation remains the lowest in the world.
It is important to acknowledge that with all of Israel’s incredible successes in many fields since its creation, there are issues that Israel is grappling with as it continues to stride into the 21st century. One of the most pressing of these concerns is how to harmoniously co-exist with a minority population. Approximately 21%, one out of five, of Israel’s population consists of Israeli Arabs. The vast majority of Israeli Arabs are Muslim. However, about 8% are Druze, about 5% are Bedouin, and about 10% are Christian. Israeli Arabs have full democratic rights, parliamentary representation, state education and judiciary recourse.
Despite their full democratic rights, the resources given to Israeli Arabs are less than those given to the Jews. The current government, unfortunately, is exacerbating this situation with Minister Smotrich attempting to block funding earmarked for Arab municipalities. The majority of Israeli Arabs do not serve in the army. (The Druze, with mandatory male conscription, Bedouin and some Christians who can, and do, volunteer are the exception.). There is a movement to encourage national service for Israel’s Arab population as an alternative to military service. Israel’s Declaration of Independence enshrines equality for all her citizens by categorically stating:
The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…
In conclusion, whilst Israel continues to struggle and wrestle with its relationship to its minority population, it is imperative to remember that relative to any of the neighbouring countries in the region the situation is incomparably better, although there is certainly much room for improvement.
The major battlefield is not in Gaza, or Lebanon, it is in the media. The denigration, deligitimization, and singling out of Israel by the Times of Malta, and the exclusion of the host of totalitarian nations with appalling human rights records, is an example of gross anti-Semitism. When approached by a student who attacked Zionism, Dr. Martin Luther King responded: “When people criticize only Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”