The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has hosted a series of webinars during October accusing Israel of being an apartheid state. So far not much to report. It is hard to buy into the Israeli apartheid notion when an Arab Member of Knesset is the one telling you apartheid exists (he would not be a member of the Knesset or even able to vote if there was apartheid).
What I find hard to digest is how anti-Israel campaigners refuse to acknowledge the history of the Jewish people and their need for a secure national homeland. The same argument was repeated: Israel is an apartheid state because they allow all Jews to immigrate and become citizens but not Palestinians and non-Jews (although the existing citizens of Israel, with full equal rights, include 25% non-Jews).
This misses the point and does more to erase the Jewish people’s history than act as a convincing argument about why Israel is a racist and apartheid state. For centuries Jewish people across the world have been victims of antisemitism but have had nowhere to go and no one to ensure our safety. However integrated into society Jewish people are, antisemitism has sadly always been around the corner. I doubt there is any Jew today who has not got a family story of their loved ones escaping or failing to escape Europe or being ethnically cleansed from the Middle East. Imagine if Israel had been around during any of these times. Israel would have been a safe haven to escape to. No one would have been turned away due to a White Paper banning immigration.
I too have a story. My maternal Grandfather was the only one from his immediate family who escaped Poland. His family did not survive. This is quite simply why I am a Zionist. I believe in the self-determination of the Jewish people so another atrocity on the same scale as the Holocaust cannot happen again. I know that Israel whenever I may need it will act as my refuge. I am grateful every day for Israel’s existence.
Israel’s policy to accept all Jewish people as citizens if they apply to be one is not racist, it is essential. This is the whole premise that led to Israel’s creation. It is a safety net and a home for Jews where our culture can flourish and we can control our own destiny as a people. it is a response to two millennia of racism that has finally put Jews on a level playing field with every other people that enjoys national self-determination and statehood. This is something which will not be given up on. For anti-Israel activists to lack empathy towards the Jewish people’s past does not give much hope for the future.
Conflict resolution relies on both sides to acknowledge the other. To understand that both have a history and a narrative. Returning to the negotiating table seems impossible without the recognition of not just history but what Israel stands for as a State and why it exists.
Using the argument that Israel is an apartheid state because it gives a home to Jews is extremely problematic. If you go down that slippery slope to the ‘one state solution’ it results in Israel ceasing to exist. If Israel lost its Jewish majority either by preventing Jews in the diaspora from applying for citizenship or allowing Jew or gentile to apply on the same basis, Israel will no longer be a safe haven for Jews. It will be like any other country and once again the Jewish people will have nowhere to call home in times of struggle.
The call to end ‘Israeli apartheid’ is smart politics. It covers up a demand that Israel stops existing by cloaking it in the language of the anti-apartheid struggle that rightly meant so much to people who were sickened by South Africa’s racist system. It is about removing the Jewish majority and the Jewish significance to the land, for the whole of the land pre- ‘48 to become a new Palestine. Denying Israel’s right to a Jewish majority denies Israel’s need to exist.
Making accusations of apartheid when Israel exercises democracy aims to ensure that Israel is seen as a pariah state, only capable of evil, to be boycotted not embraced. It is hard to get closer to peace with this narrative but the people promoting it do not care because this narrative does not serve to create peace with Israel but rather seeks Israel’s destruction.
As someone who cares about the future of Israel, I am under no illusion that peace is needed and both sides of the conflict need to do better and compromise in order to achieve two states for two peoples. One however cannot compromise nor even appear at the negotiating table without accepting the history and identity of the other side. Accusing Israel of being an ‘apartheid’ state because it is a state for the Jews – the reason Israel was created – is not singling them out because of an outrageous policy but because these campaigners do not want Israel to exist.