26 February 2007 - Draft opening statement
I’ve written a draft opening statement for the debate on Tuesday. I only get five minutes at the beginning, and five at the end. The text below is about 625 words long, which should be exactly the right length, assuming a speaking rate of 125 words per minute. Any suggestions, corrections, comments and contrary arguments are eagerly sought and deeply appreciated. Remember, I’ve only got until Tuesday.
Is Israel an apartheid state? The answer is clearly “no.” Apartheid, as it was preached and practiced in South Africa, was a system of separation and discrimination based on skin color. There is no racial discrimination in Israel. Nor is there legal discrimination against Arabs in Israel. There are inequalities, but there is also progress. For example, Israel recently appointed a Muslim Arab to cabinet.
What about the Palestinians in the occupied territories? The difficulties they face are the result of an ongoing conflict, not an apartheid ideology. The security barrier, the checkpoints, and all the ugliness of life in the West Bank and Gaza today are there because of the ongoing attacks that Palestinian groups have launched against Israeli civilians. The settlements are a problem, but terror is a far greater problem.
The false Israel-apartheid analogy has a shameful history. Jimmy Carter did not invent it. The first world leader to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa was Idi Amin, the murderous dictator of Uganda. The Soviet Union and the Arab bloc then proposed the infamous UN resolution equating Zionism with racism in 1975. The debate at that time was almost exactly the same as the debate we are having today.
Arab states claimed that the “Israeli lobby” controlled the U.S. Congress. They paraded anti-Zionist Jews and highlighted critical clippings from the Israeli press as proof of their claims. They attacked Israel in every forum they could, crippling UN institutions that were supposed to be focusing their attention on other, worthy causes, such as women’s rights and the end of real apartheid in South Africa.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. at the time. He observed that the goal of the resolution was not to prove that Zionism actually was equivalent to racism or apartheid, but to destroy Israel’s very legitimacy. The same is true today. Those who compare Israel to apartheid South Africa are not trying to prove an intellectual point, but to isolate and undermine Israel’s right to exist.
I am not talking about those critics, including some Israelis, who make rhetorical comparisons to apartheid. None of those critics would ever try to argue that Israel or Israeli policies actually amount to apartheid. Even Jimmy Carter, who called his book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid, admits that Israel itself is not an apartheid state. The word “apartheid” only appears three times in Carter’s entire text.
No—I am talking about those who want sanctions against Israel, the way we once had sanctions against South Africa; those who want U.S. companies to divest from Israel, the way they once did from South Africa; those who want Israel to be treated as a global pariah, as the world once treated South Africa. These are the aims of those who claim Israel is an apartheid state. The facts are merely secondary.
The truth, of course, is that Israel is the freest country in the Middle East. The real apartheid states are its neighbors, which discriminate against Jews and other groups, and allow little or no political freedom. As the Muslim feminist Irshad Manji recently wrote: “Would an apartheid state have several Arab political parties, as Israel does? . . . Would an apartheid state award its top literary prize to an Arab?
“. . . . Would an apartheid state be home to universities where Arabs and Jews mingle at will, or apartment blocks where they live side by side? . . . Would human rights organizations operate openly in an apartheid state? They do in Israel. . . . Would an apartheid state ensure conditions for the freest Arabic press in the Middle East . . .?” The answer is no. The question then becomes: why ask in the first place?