Israel and the “Apartheid” Slur

Earlier this month Louis Farrakhan, leader of The Nation of Islam, argued in a speech that the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were carried out by “Israelis and Zionist Jews”.  Even more remarkable than the inanity of his tirade was the rapt attention of hundreds of his followers.   Watch the video link here.  You will see that while many in the spellbound audience voice enthusiastic approval, not a one seems to express any objection to his preposterous theories.  He presumably would have gotten the same response by blaming the Jews for climate change, or the evils of Astroturf.

How can we explain this?  Were Mr. Farrakhan’s followers hearing something they so wanted to hear that they were wired to embrace it, irrespective of the truth?  How many went home that day and repeated these reprehensible and hateful lies to their children?

In February there was flooding in Gaza following heavy rainfall.  A story spread that Israelis had maliciously “opened the dams” to flood Gaza.  Several media outlets ran the story, replete with video images of the “victims” wading through flooded streets.   But there are, in fact, no dams in the region.  The entire story was a lie which, like the Farrakhan speech, many were ready to embrace and spread, no matter how absurd.

Some called that incident the “flood libel,” a facetious reference to the old “blood libel” of the Middle Ages: rumors spread that Jews murdered non-Jews–particularly children–to use their blood for ritual purposes, such as an ingredient in making unleavened bread for Passover.  Many people believed it, and for centuries it was a major cause not only of anti-Semitism, but of mob violence, pogroms, and decimation of entire Jewish communities.

Today’s Israel-bashers borrow from this tradition when they call Israel an “apartheid” state.   It is an almost trendy epithet among pseudo-intellectuals and anti-Semites on college campuses and elsewhere, who can find no more compelling social justice cause than to promote “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” campaigns against Israel.

Let’s separate the facts from the vacuous propaganda. Over a million Arabs (mostly Muslim) live as citizens in Israel, comprising some 20% of the population.  They have far more civil liberties than Arabs in any other Middle Eastern country.  They enjoy the privileges of a democracy, and, as all Israeli citizens do, the protections of Basic Laws that function as a constitution.  They own land, work in a thriving capitalist economy, vote, run for political office, and hold prominent positions in the private and public sector.  Arabs serve as representatives in the Israeli Knesset.  For more than a decade, Salim Joubran has been a Justice on Israel’s Supreme Court; he is in fact the second Arab who has served his country in this capacity.  The valedictorian of the most recent medical school class at Israel’s prestigious Technion University was a Muslim woman.  An Israeli Druze was recently appointed commander of the elite IDF Golani Brigade unit.

And what are the rights of Jews in the neighboring Arab states? Out of a combined population of some 175 million in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, you would be hard pressed to find any Jews in these countries.  If there are a few they number in the hundreds and are practicing their religion out of the public view.

Less than a century ago there were thriving Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey.  Persecution drove almost every single one of them out.  Jews are unwelcome, and in some cases expressly forbidden to live in the Arab countries of the Middle East.

Israel protects the rights of its minorities irrespective of ethnicity or religion.  Women enjoy equal rights, as do gays.  Israel has a thriving free press, and a court system that prosecutes corruption, even if within the ruling party.   Ask Israel’s critics if they can name another county in the Middle East where there is democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of press, gender equality, and protection of the rights of ethnic minorities.

Israel is not without its faults, but who is calling who “apartheid?”  And why is it that Israel is singled out for this faux criticism, when so many countries in the region (and elsewhere) are dictatorships or monarchies which severely constrain personal freedom, and impose inequalities among people of different ethnicities, genders, religions, and sexual orientation?  Where are the campaigns to “boycott” these countries?

Saudi Arabia has roads for “Muslims only.”  Christians cannot practice their religion openly there, and Jews, of course, do not even have the right to breathe as citizens.  Saudi women are forbidden from traveling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians.

Jordan criminalizes speech deemed critical of the king, government officials, and institutions, as well as Islam.  Marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslims are not recognized under Jordanian law, and a woman separated from a Muslim husband forfeits her custodial rights after her child reaches the age of seven.  Jews cannot own land or be citizens in Jordan.

While “honor killings” of women are recognized as a cultural practice in a number of Arab Muslim countries, and women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive a car, women in Israel fly F-15’s and enjoy full and equal rights in all aspects of government and society.

It is challenging to even begin to discuss the human rights crisis in Syria.  The cruel and widespread abuses of the Assad regime have led to one of the most dire humanitarian crises in recent history.  As oppressive as the this regime has been to its own citizens, life would be worse under the control of some of the opposition groups (such as ISIS) who oppose Assad in the civil war.

Turkey has a democracy in the sense that there are elections (and there are in fact several thousand Jews living among some 74 million Turks), but what is a democracy where freedom of expression is curbed?  Journalists and citizens who “insult” political leaders and religious institutions are frequently prosecuted as criminals.  Turkey’s government has at times blocked its citizens’ access to social media such as Twitter and YouTube.  It is, in other words, a “democracy” where access to information, knowledge, and public discourse is restricted.

The persecution and prosecution of gays is widespread among the Arab countries of the Middle East.  In Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen homosexual acts can be punished by execution.  In Israel, gays enjoy full and equal civil and constitutional rights, including the right to serve in the military.

While it is true that difficult problems remain to be resolved in the West Bank, one can only wonder how different it might be today had the Palestinian leadership accepted the offers of statehood extended to them in 1947, 2000, and 2008.  One can only wonder how different things might be today had Israel not had to defend itself from a war of extinction in 1967.  And, one can only wonder how much better life would be for Palestinians were it not for the sworn goal of Hamas to oppose all peace initiatives, and obliterate Israel and spread terrorism from Gaza and elsewhere.

They who promote and perpetrate suicide bombings of buses and restaurants have no basis to cry “apartheid” when security walls are erected. Notably, the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank was no better when Jordan controlled the territory from 1949-1967.  Did anyone accuse the Jordanians of “apartheid”?

Israel is an oasis of freedom, democracy, opportunity, and innovation, surrounded by a vast desert of human rights.  The “apartheid” name-calling makes about as much sense as blaming Israel as the “perpetrator” of the 9/11 attacks, blaming Israel for releasing non-existent floodgates on Gazans,  and accusing the Jews of the Middle Ages of murdering gentile children to use their blood in mysterious ethnic rituals.  But you can’t reason with hatred any more than you can argue with ignorance.

About the Author
John C. Landa, Jr. is an attorney, entrepreneur, and writer in Houston, Texas. He spends weekends on a farm in the Texas countryside. He is a frequent presenter on Israel, and a devoted advocate of its right to exist in peace.