George Washington University, Washington D.C., USA—
I never imagined myself living in a world where I’d walk through my university’s central plaza to Palestinian student-activist groups chanting, “Israelis commit genocide and ethnic cleansing! 2, 4, 6, 8, Israel’s an apartheid state!” I stride through quickly weaving behind the crowds with feelings of disgust and anger.
As I exited the plaza gates, I was trying to comprehend the rhetoric that sent shock waves through my every nerve. I contemplate the term ‘apartheid:’ A system of racial segregation, characterized by discrimination and restriction under law. Nowhere does the apartheid definition mention the security needs of a nation. As it relates to Israel, the ‘apartheid’ label seems irrational.
I’ve sought to dissect this apartheid accusation, seeking concrete rationale behind human-rights organizations like Amnesty International who bash Israel for crimes of “oppression” and “domination” rendered as “apartheid under international law.” On a recent trip to Israel this past summer, I visited some of the Occupied Territories to gain an on-the-ground perspective of the conflict. Through my observations of propaganda and my conversations with local Palestinians, it all clicked. As Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbles infamously said, “if you repeat a lie enough times people will eventually believe it to be true.” I now understand how such vile, intoxicating myths are injected into minds around the world and manifest themselves in the West.
Back in school at George Washington University, Chabad’s founder and director, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, invited Dr. Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, to discuss the vexing subject with students from D.C. and Israel. The conference was attended by Congressman Ted Deutch and President of the International March of the Living, Phyllis Heideman. Dr. Goldstein is South-African born, was raised during apartheid in the 1980s, and spoke at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. From his first-hand experience and expertise in both Constitutional Law and Human Rights, Goldstein provided keen insight into the Israeli-apartheid myth and ways to debunk its false allegations. His dire warnings were alarming: “If the apartheid label sticks it will destroy the State of Israel,” he declared, “It is a nuclear weapon:” Indeed, a nuclear weapon not only to Israel but to all Jewish people around the world as it perpetuates widespread anti-Semitic hate.
Dr. Goldstein told the story of South Africans growing up under apartheid. “We felt what it was like to carry the shame of a South African passport” – a type of shame that an Israeli should never feel while belonging to a country that promotes a harmonious coexistence among Jews, Christians, Arab-Muslims, and Druze citizens. Israel is also a country cultivated from the ashes of race-based persecution, whose allegiance to ‘never again’ is firmly rooted in its population. However, Israel’s demographics and history have been skewed, somehow successfully, into propaganda amongst Israel-haters: “The victims became the oppressors of their own crime,” a Palestinian I spoke to in Bethlehem said referring to the Holocaust. The irrationality of this claim and the audacity to conjure up this falsehood is sickening. But through the grapevines of rhetoric, such accusations are highly contagious– and they stick.
But how is it that Israel has the mightiest military in the Middle East and the world, yet is repeatedly defeated in the battlefield of misinformation? Palestinian campaigns like BDS and Arab propaganda have produced raging success. Dr. Goldstein expressed that winning the battle against missiles is not enough because Iron Dome, referring to Israel’s air-defense system, cannot intercept words. Merely dismissing information as anti-Semitism, while true, falls short. Goldstein explained that to the enemy, the anti-Jew claim is an excuse to avoid tackling real issues. Rather, we must study the issues and launch combined intellectual efforts to discuss them.
Our words must carry a rational, factual weight. Rebuttals to the apartheid accusation must carry undeniable evidence to debunk this heinous myth. Goldstein takes it a step further, calling on Israel’s government to pull the same resources invested in its military into defense against the apartheid accusation and misinformation campaigns. He explains that there should have been an Israeli affidavit of hundreds of pages in response to the Amnesty International report from the onset. “Israelis don’t understand the dangers of this to the Western world,” said the Chief Rabbi, “Words create worlds and we cannot underestimate the potency of it.”
Student leaders at the event sought tools to refute the accusations of Israeli apartheid on campus. The Chief Rabbi preached studying the legal and historical ramifications of the conflict: One would realize that putting Israel and apartheid in the same sentence is an anathema.
First off, Israel is a free democracy unlike South Africa under apartheid from 1948-1994 – in fact, the only democratic state in the Middle East. Within Israel’s borders, there is equality among its citizenry under law and state services, regardless of skin color or ethnicity. In fact, nowhere does Israeli Law state that Palestinians and Israelis constitute separate races. Goldstein explained that Israel’s current government coalition, made up of Arab Parties, could have never happened in apartheid South Africa.
Next, he discussed the hot-topic of territorial disputes– unrelated to race, but solely for purposes of self-defense. Black people in South Africa posed no security threat. The security barrier in Palestinian Area A– the source from which accusers cry apartheid– was built after the second Intifada which took 1,000 Israeli lives by suicide bombings. How is a country to protect its citizenry in the face of unabated aggression?
Throughout its 74-year history, successive Israeli governments have bent over backwards to find a solution through negotiations to stop the violence: It was flatly rejected each and every time. Palestinians have been unabashed about their demands, seeking the demise of the Jewish State.
Goldstein discussed that unfortunately, you cannot make peace alone. Mandela couldn’t make peace with the South African government because he had no partner: His armed struggle was one against racism, twenty-seven years of waiting for the government to face the repercussions of sanctions and overcome its white superiority ideals. Instead, Israel has been clamoring for peace since its inception as a young nation, but rampant anti-semitism in the Middle East is killing its partner. “If there is a willing partner for peace on the Palestinian side there will be peace tomorrow, because that is what Israel wants,” the Chief Rabbi asserted.
Like no human is ever perfect, no country can be perfect either. But a nation’s security comes first and foremost. We can criticize and amend policy, but the infamous “Israel is an apartheid state” holds no factual bearing.
Thrusting this accusation on Israel is an utter misuse and abuse of the term. It all starts on college campuses: Students are learning that Israel today compares to South Africa under apartheid. But then, most alarmingly, is that world leaders, ignorant of the facts, are blabbering the rhetoric; further, human rights organizations are adopting it to fund policy against Israel. This accusation is thus not intended to leverage constructive critique, but to eradicate the Jewish State– precisely the ultimate Palestinian agenda. As a member of this recent generation who can identify the patterns of hate and understand the consequences of these twisted lies, I urge all to harness intellectual prowess and execute it firmly: For Israel’s preservation and the safety of the Jewish people, this nuclear bomb must be eradicated. ♦