25 March 2007

24 March 2007 - A debate about a debate

In last week’s Harvard Law School Record, I wrote an article (“JFP Stands Against Real Justice For Palestine”) criticizing an event held by the law school’s pro-Palestinian group, Justice For Palestine, about the Israel-apartheid analogy. This past week, JFP’s co-chairs responded with an article of their own (“Real Justice Requires Honest Reflection"). I leave it to readers of this blog to judge between them.

One thing that really annoyed me was being referred to as an “uncritical supporter of Israeli policy” in the opening paragraph. Usually I ignore such criticism, but when I read JFP’s article I got quite irritated and fired off an e-mail to one of the authors. He wrote a vitriolic reply, and I responded in kind. Eventually I decided that an e-mail argument served no one, and I invited him to coffee next month.

I have, however, worked on a response. I include an excerpt below, for comment.

***

Those who have used the Israel-apartheid analogy fall into roughly three categories. First, there are those who use the label “apartheid” as a weapon against Israel, such as South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils. The co-chairs of Justice For Palestine cite Kasrils with approval; perhaps they are unaware that he is propping up Robert Mugabe’s tyranny in Zimbabwe, a far greater human rights atrocity.

Second, there are those who believe that using the term “apartheid” will motivate the international community to intervene in the conflict. These include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, and UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard, all referenced by JFP. What these well-meaning critics overlook is the deadly and determined role Palestinian terror plays in preventing negotiations.

Dugard, for example, introduced his most recent report on human rights in the occupied territories by declaring: “I shall not consider the violation of human rights caused by Palestinian suicide bombers. Nor shall I consider the violation of human rights caused by the political conflict between Fatah and Hamas.” Such bias gives Palestinian extremists license to continue attacks, and discourages negotiations.

Finally, there are Israelis who compare their country’s policies with apartheid in a metaphorical send, in order to create alarm. Few of these would actually claim that Israel is guilty of apartheid. Beilin, for example, recently defended President Carter’s use of the term “apartheid” as “first and foremost metaphorical,” but noted that he found the comparison to apartheid to be “simply unacceptable.”

I once visited the West Bank with B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group that is cited by JFP for its use of the term “apartheid.” B’Tselem operates freely in Israel; in apartheid South Africa, it would have been banned. And, according to B’Tselem, that is exactly how human rights activists are treated by the Palestinian Authority when they try to investigate Palestinian prisons or torture by Palestinian police.

The Israel-apartheid analogy, in sum, is not an intellectual comparison. At best, it is a rhetorical flourish. At worst, it is a propaganda ploy used by Israel’s enemies to undermine its right to exist. It is the reincarnation of the UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1975, which was designed by the Soviets and the Arab bloc to destroy Israel’s legitimacy and prevent the peace process from moving forward.

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