27 February 2007 - Draft closing statement added
Thanks to all who have sent me comments and advice—I’m going to make use of your suggestions, perhaps in the opening or closing statements then certainly as ammunition in the arguments to follow. Today I revised my opening statement a bit and added on a closing statement. I’m going to keep revising both in advance of tomorrow evening’s debate; again, contributions and advice are eagerly welcomed.
I’ve insisted on drinking a Guinness onstage, because I want to illustrate a point. Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which all of us—Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, men and women—could sit together and have a free and open debate over a pint of stout. I should add that I am here as a South African Jew, with a deep concern for the moral character of Israel and a yearning for peace.
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 presented 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 fight against apartheid in South Africa.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan—a great Irish-American—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 racism, 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 Israel or undermine Israel’s right to exist.
I am not talking about those critics, including Israelis, who use the word “apartheid” as a rhetorical flourish. metaphor. Few of those argue that Israel or her policies actually amount to apartheid. Israeli peacenik Yossi Beilin, even called the idea “crazy”: “Only ignorant people, or people with malice, can say something like that. The ignorance is either about what apartheid was all about, or about Israel.”
I am talking about those who want sanctions against Israel, the way the world once imposed 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 a global pariah, as the world once treated South Africa. These are the aims of those who claim Israel is an apartheid state. To them, the facts are secondary.
Take John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, who last week repeated his claim that “elements of the occupation constitute forms of . . . apartheid.” Dugard, a South African, is often cited by supporters of the comparison. But by his own admission, his mandate “does not extend to human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority.” His only job is to criticize Israel.
Not surprisingly, Dugard is a critic of the two-state solution. He has gone on record saying that “consideration should be given to the establishment of a binational Palestinian State.” His reports are celebrated by Israel’s enemies—human rights abusers such as Libya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Last year Dugard even praised totalitarian Cuba for criticizing Israel. Does this help Palestine? Or human rights?
We have heard many accusations tonight. But the truth remains that Israel is the freest country in the Middle East. The real “apartheid states” are its neighbors, which discriminate and deny 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?
Back in the mid-1970s, Moynihan wrote, the Soviets hoped to use the “Zionism is racism” resolution to block any effort at achieving peace between Israel and Egypt. Today, the comparison between Israel and apartheid is used by those who want to block a two-state solution from taking root. They want to dispense with the peace process and pressure Israel to yield to the most extreme Palestinian demands.
The destructive goal of the Israel-apartheid analogy becomes clearer when you consider how opponents of Israel understand the South African experience. The rest of the world sees the new South Africa as a triumph of negotiation, reconciliation and human rights. But anti-Israel intellectuals tell Palestinian leaders that the South African case is a lesson in how not to compromise, and to go on fighting.
Tony Karon, an editor at TIME.com, a proponent of the single-state solution—and, like Dugard, a South African who left before the new government took over, wrote: “Nelson Mandela . . . agreed to end the armed struggle only when the white minority had conceded to the principle of democratic majority rule after decades of trying in vain to force the national liberation movement to settle for less.”
That is not true, of course. Mandela agreed to suspend the armed struggle six months after his release from prison in 1990, nearly four years before he took power. Mandela realized that violence had to be brought to an end if future negotiations were to be conducted in good faith. Had the Palestinians followed his example, we would be celebrating Palestinian independence instead of arguing.
The main obstacle to Palestinian statehood today is not Israel but the Palestinian leadership. The new unity government of Hamas and Fatah still refuses to recognize Israel or renounce terrorism. The result, ironically, is that it is the Palestinians who now live in an apartheid state, boycotted by the rest of the world, because their leaders care more about destroying Israel than building Palestine.
The Palestinian cause is still what Orwell called a “negative nationalism”—opposed to another nation, but not in favor of itself. Before Israel became a state, Jews in the Middle East and around the world prepared for sovereignty by creating political and social institutions, contributing money to buy land, even living on collective farms. Are there charities collecting donations to plant trees in Palestine? I’d buy one!
Some falsely accuse Israel of offering Palestinians mere “Bantustans.” Well, in 1937 Jewish leaders were prepared to accept a “Bantustan” of their own, roughly 20 percent smaller than the West Bank. Mandela, too, was prepared to accept sixty seats in Parliament as a temporary measure in the 1960s. Good leaders accept compromises. Calling Israel an “apartheid state” is just an old and deadly cop-out.
If there are any lessons the South African example offers for the Palestinians, they are: the need for realistic goals; the benefit of non-violent resistance; and the importance of negotiations. I am confident that there are enough people of good will on both sides to achieve peace. But trying to undermine Israel as an “apartheid state” blocks peace and puts the Palestinian cause on the path to self-destruction.