For the 8th year on campuses around the world, the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement is organizing for Israel Apartheid Week to take place during the next several weeks.
Israel Apartheid Week is part of an international delegitimization campaign against the state of Israel led by the international Palestinian solidarity movement. The delegitimizers equate the racist apartheid regime of the former South Africa with Israel in its policies towards Palestinians living in Israel and the West Bank. However, even a cursory comparison between the old South African apartheid regime and the democratic State of Israel negates the equivalence.
In “An open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu” by Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, published in the International Jerusalem Post (November 12-18, 2010), Rabbi Goldstein wrote:
“…Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws or any of the myriad apartheid laws. To the contrary, Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its more than one million Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, and judge at every level, including that of the Supreme Court. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multiparty elections. There are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals and malls, buses, cinemas and parks, universities and cultural [venues]”.
Rabbi Goldstein’s claims are true, but this is not to say that Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the same benefits and rights that Israeli Jews enjoy such as equal access to government funds and services, and the right to live anywhere in the state of Israel. The reality in which Israel’s own Arab citizens live coupled with the injustices experienced by Palestinians living in the West Bank must be addressed if Israel is to maintain its democratic institutions and traditions.
Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank have a different status from Israeli Arab citizens and are treated accordingly. They are not Israeli citizens and they do not enjoy the same protections as do those living in Israel. For them, their fight is and has always been one against occupation. We Jews may not like that claim, but it is a legitimate one born of a century of neglect by Arab and world powers who callously used the local Arab population as game pieces on a shifting board of changing geopolitical aims. While the case can be made that Israel’s strong and often harsh security measures imposed on Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are a necessary evil in light of terrorism, we cannot ignore the fact that holding this territory for more than 44 years and keeping the residents there under occupation has had a corrupting moral influence on Israeli troops who have served in the West Bank and upon Israel as a whole. Even David Ben Gurion recognized the dangers of occupation when he said in 1967: “Return [the captured territory] immediately, even if no one wants it back; return it.”
The foundational Zionist dream as reflected in Israel’s Declaration of Independence did not envision the Jewish people becoming military occupiers nor did they anticipate the corrosive effects that occupation would have both upon the Arabs and the Jews. However, this truth does not equate to apartheid.
Relative to Israel Apartheid Week I recommend the following piece by Brad Burston that appeared yesterday in Haaretz (“It’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Just tell the truth.”) http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/a-special-place-in-hell/it-s-israeli-apartheid-week-just-tell-the-truth-1.414182