Reclaiming ridiculousness: The advocate’s guide to Israel Apartheid Week

If you hear something enough times, you will believe it. This is not speculation as much as it is a function of the human condition.

In the political realm, ideas may start off as unpalatable – but if they are asserted enough times, by virtue of their repetition alone, they are eventually believed. Walter Langer, author of The Mind of Adolf Hitler, wrote that “people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

What started off as an unpalatable idea – an insidious, outrageously-untrue claim that Israel is an Apartheid State – at some stage, somehow, became palatable. We tolerated its bitter taste not because we agreed with its premises or underlying assumptions, but because it was sufficiently prominent; whether we liked it or not, it was out there, it existed in the world.

That initial transition was the first victory for the proponents of this idea, and was in turn used to springboard subsequent stages of the idea’s trajectory into academia, politics and culture.  The repetition continued –ad nauseam – until by virtue of the basic fact that it had been said enough times, it was allowed to become accepted. Today, regrettably, it is in many parts of the world, believed.

The BDS campaign (ironically started by an Arab student at Tel Aviv University), responsible for driving the idea of Israeli Apartheid, can attribute its success to a simple and deadly-effective strategy: Under the self-proclaimed label of human-rights activism, they incessantly repeated a short, emotive claim of Israeli Apartheid so many times that it was believed – not because it rightfully triumphed due to the merit of its truth, but because it had simply been sufficiently repeated.

While this was happening, the pro-Israel activist was responding with myriad facts and counter-arguments, attempting to dispel the myth of Israeli Apartheid – blissfully unaware that by engaging in the nonsensical debate at all, he was actually legitimising it.

In a world that is becoming increasingly surface-oriented in its approach to knowledge, in which the quest for depth and complexity of knowledge has been displaced by instant news-feeds and tweets, this campaign – which relies on short, simple and emotive slogans – inevitably gained more traction than pro-Israel attempts to subdue it.  We attempted to fight below-the-belt, cheap and impassioned slogans with fact-based, lengthy and complex arguments- and regardless of the moral merit of so doing, this reactive Israel advocacy was from the onset, doomed to fail.

Thus, a new approach is called for: one which attacks, as opposed to reacts to – the very foundation of the Apartheid accusation. The argument needs to be reframed – from one which defends against accusations, to one which makes accusations.

The arsenal at our disposal is abundant: After all, all doctrines of human rights feature the right to life – a right which logically supersedes and enables other rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion (incidentally, two rights upheld in Israel). As such, when something is statistically proven to uphold the right to life – such as the Security Wall (which from the height of the Second Intifada to midway through its construction decreased Israeli fatalities by more than 80%) – it should be incumbent upon human rights activists to support it.

We should accuse self-proclaimed human rights activists, due to their failure to support the Security Wall and checkpoints, of corrupting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which advocates the right to life.

We should accuse them of bigotry for implying that Israelis are sub-human in their alleged failure to qualify for fundamental human rights such as security; accuse them of discrimination for implying that Palestinians are more deserving of rights than Israelis.

Ask them why, in levelling a campaign against Israel (not its borders, its policies or a particular political party – but rather Israel full stop) they generalise much the same way that racists generalise.

Ask them if they would prefer their children to be searched at checkpoints and circumvent a giant concrete wall, or if instead they would prefer them to be blown to pieces – because walls and checkpoints weren’t put in place to prevent the explosion from happening in the first place.

If they contest that walls and checkpoints are forms of collective punishment, ask them how suicide bombings and rocket fire are not.

Ask them how they can, on one hand, claim to despise Apartheid, while on the other hand relish in such a black-and-white conceptualisation of the Middle East Conflict.

South African students should ask BDS-activists how they can preach morality when their own organisation sang ‘Shoot the Jew’ at a protest at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2013. Ask them why a German freelance journalist, Janis Just, was physically assaulted at the Russell “Tribunal” in Cape Town in 2012 for merely having the audacity to question an utterly one-sided panel.

Because the idea of Israeli Apartheid has been said enough times, we ourselves have forgotten the ludicrousness of it all. Subsequently, we have forgotten our right to be outraged by something outrageous; in this process we ourselves have been lured seductively to believe parts, albeit subconsciously, of an incipient lie. We have defended against a nonsensical, emotive claim of Apartheid, with cold, collected and rational facts – and it simply hasn’t worked.

By adopting the attitude of defence, instead of attacking the very validity of the framework from which the accusation is made, we have aided the overall process:  A process which has seen an idea morph from its humble beginnings as a petty absurdity, to a widely-endorsed global campaign.

If you hear something enough times, you will believe it. The BDS Movement’s malicious and untrue campaign will succeed unless the idea of Israeli Apartheid is vigorously and rightfully reframed as one which is utterly preposterous.

Only once the current, absurd framework has been discarded through offensive advocacy, can we then create our own framework: A framework of truth, fairness and rationality which will ultimately strive for peace instead of blame.  But before that happens, we must pro-actively remind ourselves and those around us, that absurdity has no place in the civilised world.



About the Author
Josh is the former Chairman of SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) Cape Town; and former Board Member of the SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) Cape Council; and Tikvah Fellow