Jonathan Zausmer

Israel and apartheid — don’t shoot the messenger

Ben-Dror Yemini is wrong. And while this statement does not vindicate Gideon Levy‘s article “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel,” Yemini is not doing his job. In his ToI op-ed, rather that tackle the issues raised, he writes as an “enlisted” journalist dabbling in hasbara for a regime that is leading the country into a danger zone of neo-apartheid that is very real indeed.

What is needed here is an honest discussion. In that he has failed. As an Israeli journalist it is incumbent upon him to examine this danger, and in the light of this, to look at the data and the research presented. This discussion – particularly at a time prior to elections – is a Zionist, Jewish imperative. It is one for Israelis and our Jewish partners in the Diaspora, one where there is choice: to wander into that minefield known today as apartheid, or to shout, kick, scream and rebel against the reality of our Jewish state mutating into a minority that rules a majority with attributes deeply reminiscent of South Africa’s dreaded system of domination by one people over another.

Let us examine the premise of Yemini’s argument:

The first is regarding the very worrying statistic derivative of the survey in question, that 69% of Israelis oppose the granting of voting rights to Palestinian Arabs if the territories are annexed. Rather than take on the issue at stake he brings us the analogy that says most Israelis don’t want violence but if attacked would use it, thus refuting the allegation of violence. Sadly the analogy highlights the relevance of this statistic and the serious nature of it.

Yemini, take note – Israelis are under attack. Most Israelis support a two-state solution in order to preserve the Jewish democratic state as we know it, and today the two-state solution is unequivocally under attack. It is under attack by the government of Israel, led by an ultra-nationalist ideology; by building illegal settlements in the area designated for a Palestinian state; by the pilgrimage by ministers in government to settlements on private (some say stolen) Palestinian land in order to bypass the courts; by committing to relocate illegal settlers to more illegal settlements yet to be built; by ratifying a university not by merit but by political desire for erasing the Green Line; by repudiating the basic rules of the Bush roadmap; by appointing a puppet  committee to give legal credence to the occupation by declaring it is not an occupation.

Yemini says that most Israelis oppose the annexation of the territories. What of it? That doesn’t define policy. What defines policy are the 20,000 settlers and their sympathizers who vote en-bloc in the Likud primaries, and who decide who will serve in the Knesset and who is in government. It is this machine that engineers our precious democracy into annexation, and ultimately, Israeli sovereignty over occupied territory.

Dani Dayan, the head of the Judaea and Samaria Council, flaunts his power and ideology openly in The New York Times, yet Yemini chooses to attack Levy and Haaretz. Yemini will not persuade one journalist in the Guardian. He will not weaken one small link in Apartheid Week on campus. His efforts are dust in the wind – less credible than those of Danny Ayalon’s YouTube propaganda clips.

Where is the discussion on the real issue here? With Dani Dayan, his Judea and Samaria Council and the Liberman-Netanyahu axis leading us into the apartheid abyss, we see that in this very possible scenario 69% of Israelis choose a form of political manipulation by denying the vote to Palestinians. If anything, this statistic clarifies how serious the situation is. Israel today has de facto annexed the territories. The Oslo accords with Areas A, B and C and the Wye agreement in fact now provide instruments of infinite rule. The thin red line is in the here and now. This is the issue. This is the danger. Not Gideon Levy and what Israel’s enemies use, think or verbalize.

The second tenet of Yemini’s article is a comparison with Europe regarding racism. He points out statistics relating to concerns in Western countries regarding a Muslim presence. Why is this relevant? Because, he says, it is a mark of credit that some Jewish Israelis don’t mind having Arab neighbors and support the rights of Arab Israelis. This, he says, is a badge of honor. Wow! Aren’t we just so great! We sit back while our government derails the peace process; we move into occupied territory beyond our international borders in flagrant violation of international law; we are silent in the face of hooliganism, abuse and settler violence; and we watch as the caravans roll into a full-blown Greater Israel. Europe is not a benchmark for Israel. They are not in danger – any danger – of denying the franchise to a majority of citizens, thereby compromising their democracies. We are. That is the issue — not France or Western democracies.

The third basic foundation for Yemini’s attack is a discussion about the Arabs citizens of Israel. Very much like the leaders of Apartheid South Africa who boasted that conditions were better for Black South Africans compared to the rest of Africa, he tells us how civil rights in Israel for Arabs are better than in Arab countries. True, but unfortunately irrelevant. Why? Because today Israeli Arabs are but a small number of a majority of Arab Palestinians between the sea and the Jordan River devoid of basic civil rights. The data is clear on this.

The final leg of the treatise ends with a definition of apartheid under the Rome Statute. A careful reading of this highlights further the risk Israel faces in its continued de facto annexation of occupied territory. Yemini is correct that “In a country where Arabs serve as doctors, professors, judges — in a country where they vote and are elected to the legislature – there is no apartheid.” But when we look at Greater Israel – the one beyond the Green Line, with its new university in Ariel and its settlement in East Jerusalem and its rogue outposts that dot the hills of Judea and Samaria — the question that arises is what exactly is the country he refers to? If the Green Line appears on the map of Israel, Yemini is quite right, but when it is erased – in textbooks, in school tours, in government-sponsored housing for Jews only, way beyond Israel’s internationally recognized borders, in the very ethos of modern Israel in general, unfortunately the clause “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” brings us dangerously close to joining that dreaded category. Change “racial” to “ethnic” and consider that the definition relates not necessarily to all crimes but to any one of them, and it is clear how we have exposed ourselves to the ire of nations — and dismay from Israel’s closest allies.

Gideon Levy is not the issue. Haaretz is not the issue. Our inaction is. Ben-Dror Yemini speaks for many, cranking out knee-jerk reactions, waving the national feel-good flag, and directing personal attacks at the harbinger of bad tidings. Rather than face the facts and act, we direct our rage at the messenger.

Israel is not an apartheid state. It is, however, in serious danger of becoming one — and that, we cannot allow.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.