Israeli Apartheid Week: A Beginner's Guide

March 22, 2011
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As activists around the world take part in Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), Zionist lobby groups have swung into action, pushing a mixture of candy-coated distractions, lies, and trained hasbarists. Here are five commonly heard objections to IAW, unpacked. 1.
As activists around the world take part in Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), Zionist lobby groups have swung into action, pushing a mixture of candy-coated distractions, lies, and trained hasbarists. Here are five commonly heard objections to IAW, unpacked.

1. “Arabs in Israel shop in the same markets, attend the same hospitals, sit in the same parks, etc.”

This claim is sometimes supplemented by photos of Arabs cheerily – and no doubt gratefully – going about their everyday business or enjoying their leisure time in The Middle East’s Only Democracy™. However, Israel as a democratic, multicultural, shared space is undermined by examples such as – though not limited to – the following:

  • 'Selection committees’ decide who gains admission to small communities based on criteria like "social suitability," a setup that operates in hundreds of towns (their use as a tool to exclude Palestinians could well be reinforced with a new law). A number of these communities were only established in the first place as part of a plan based on “ethnic discrimination” and “demographic phobia”.
  • Palestinian 'permanent residents’ of East Jerusalem, despite living in the so-called 'unified capital’ of Israel, are unable to purchase property in most of West Jerusalem and a third of illegally-annexed East Jerusalem. That’s because “to qualify to purchase property on 'state land’ the purchaser must either be a citizen of Israel” or “legally entitled to citizenship under the law of return (i.e. Jewish)”.
  • Palestinians under military occupation are subject to a strict regime that controls their freedom of movement based on a 'permit’ system and enforced through checkpoints and physical obstacles. Jewish Israeli citizens may live in settlements in the West Bank and are free to come and go as they please; their Palestinian neighbours, however, are not.

2. “Arabs in Israel enjoy a standard of living and civil liberties that Arabs in the rest of the Middle East can only dream of.”

This kind of argument was routinely deployed by the Apartheid South Africa regime and its defenders. For example, the late US syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick wrote in 1971 that while black South African conditions may seem “appalling”, in fact, “South Africa has achieved for its nonwhite people the best education and the highest standard of living among all the blacks of Africa.” (Kilpatrick also went on to add that “encouragement and understanding” will enable “black and white” to “prosper”, not “force, bluster, and boycott” – which sounds familiar).

Of course, the accurate comparison is between Jewish Israelis and both Palestinian citizens and Palestinians under military occupation. In 2006, the per capita gross domestic product of Jewish Israelis was twice as high as that of Palestinians in Israel, and 15 times higher than that of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Jewish Israelis live almost 4 years longer than their Palestinian fellow citizens. The list goes on. 

3. “What about Iran, China, Burma, Sudan, Russia, etc etc.”

Despite this being such a manifestly poor tactic, it is still used with a wearying degree of regularity. Amusingly, in the context of the UC Berkeley debate on divestment in 2010, some Israel advocates advised against deploying this argument, since it “implies that Israel has committed war crimes”. Moreover, ask the Israel advocates if they would accuse a Tibetan activist of 'singling out’ China, or demand that pro-democracy Burmese activists commit themselves to tackling blood diamonds. No one would think to ask these kinds of questions, so why are Palestinians and those in solidarity with their rights treated differently, just because it’s Israel?

4. “Israel has Arab MKs, Arabs in the judiciary, Arab pop stars, etc.”

A position ably taken down here:

    In the era when American blacks were subject to Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial segregation, a number of blacks held prominent positions in the United States. Artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were sent on international goodwill tours by the U.S. State Department. Ralph Bunche served as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Yes, there is a Bedouin in Israel’s Foreign Service. No, that doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference to the reality of unrecognised villagesland lossdemolitions, and inequality in the Negev.

5. “Why don’t you talk about the real apartheid?”

At which point, cue hand-wringing and rage against injustices in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, etc. 'There is gender apartheid! Religious apartheid!’ – and so on.

In response, one could mention how Saudi Arabia, like Israel, is a key US ally, a regime lauded as “moderate” and “responsible” by – then Israeli PM Ehud Olmert. One could also agree that Palestinian refugees have been treated abysmally by numerous parties, including Arab governments, but one has to wonder why they are refugees in the first place.

Finally, it might be worthwhile to point out that 'apartheid’ doesn’t simply mean oppression or 'bad stuff’ – and you can’t just repeat it as much as possible in the hope that everyone might forget what you’re trying to hide.

Ben White is the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.


March 22, 2011
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