10 February 2007

10 February 2007 - The apartheid hoax

Jimmy Carter’s new book has apparently legitimized the use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel and Israeli policies. In an op-ed in today’s Chicago Tribune, former congressman and long-time anti-Israel polemicist Paul Findley claims Israel’s supporters never contest the substance of Carter’s comparison: “They do not prove him wrong with facts. They seek to discredit him with innuendo.”

That is untrue. Carter’s claims are not new, and have been debated for the past several years, especially in South Africa, where the term and policy of “apartheid” originated. The debate began shortly after the outbreak of the new intifada in September 2000, when critics of Israel began invoking the term to defend Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the Israeli peace proposals at Camp David and Taba.

The comparison was pushed especially hard in the run-up to the disastrous UN World Conference Against Racism in South Africa in August 2001, and is still being argued. In the course of this debate, the Israel-apartheid analogy has been thoroughly debunked. The most convincing refutation came from Benjamin Pogrund, former deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, who was jailed by the apartheid regime.

In an article published in 2005, Pogrund considered the analogy carefully. First, he looked at Israel inside the Green Line, and found: “In Israel, discrimination occurs despite equality in law; it is extensive, it is buttressed by custom, but it is not remotely comparable with the South African panoply of discrimination enforced by parliamentary legislation. The difference is fundamental.”

Next, Pogrund turned to the occupied territories, and observed: “No occupation can be benign. . . . . But it is not apartheid. Palestinians are not oppressed on racial grounds as Arabs, but, rather, as competitors — until now, at the losing end — in a national/religious conflict for land . . . the root causes — and even more, the intentions — are different.”

Even Carter’s supporters have denounced the comparison. Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo peace process and the chair of the left-wing Meretz-Yahad party in Israel, said in 2001 that comparisons between Israel and apartheid were “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.”

Beilin has defended Carter’s book, with one key reservation: “Where I disagreed [with Carter],” he wrote last month, “was mostly with the choice of language, including his choice of the word ‘apartheid.’” Beilin added, in Carter’s defense, that “Carter’s use of the word ‘apartheid’ is first and foremost metaphorical.” But he noted that the use of the term to describe Israel’s policies was “simply unacceptable.”

I have read Carter’s book, and it actually says almost nothing about apartheid. The word only appears three times in the entire volume. Carter even admits that Israel’s policy is not one of racial segregation, as apartheid was in South Africa. But he does not defend the apartheid analogy, proclaimed so provocatively in the title. A review in the Washington Post justly accused Carter of using “bait-and-switch” tactics.

Since then, Carter has actually attempted to defend the comparison with apartheid, though he claims he is only referring to the occupied territories and acknowledges that Israel’s policy is not based on race. In his address at Brandeis University, Carter cited several other people who had made the same claim, including former South African president and Nobel Peace laureate Nelson Mandela.

But Mandela has never compared Israel to apartheid South Africa. Either Carter was exaggerating, or else he was referring to a made-up quote, attributed to Mandela, that has been circulating on the Internet since 2001. The quote was invented by Arjan El-Fassed, the founder of The Electronic Intifada, in a mock letter to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It is a hoax.

Carter’s use of this quote reinforces his critics’ claim that his research is poor and draws on biased sources. But why make the claim in the first place? Aside from selling books—and the controversy over Carter’s title has certainly pushed it up the bestseller lists—why compare Israel or Israeli policies to apartheid South Africa, if the comparison is intellectually indefensible and arouses so much hostility?

Pogrund provides an answer: “‘Apartheid’ is used in this case and elsewhere because it comes easily to hand: it is a lazy label for the complexities of the Middle East conflict. It is also used because, if it can be made to stick, then Israel can be made to appear to be as vile as was apartheid South Africa and seeking its destruction can be presented to the world as an equally moral cause.”

Carter would claim that he has used the Israel-apartheid analogy to apply pressure to Israel to change its policy in the occupied territories, not to destroy the state itself. However, the analogy is more frequently invoked by people who are opposed to the two-state solution. For example, Marwan Bishara—from whom Carter seems to have borrowed his title—invokes the term “apartheid” in arguing for a single state.

The irony—and it is one in which I take no pleasure—is that today it is the nascent Palestinian polity that is treated as an apartheid state. Since the election of Hamas last year, the Palestinians have been subjected to an international aid embargo—since no one wants to fund a government of terrorists—and have been cut off from trade and employment opportunities in Israel, which Hamas still seeks to destroy.

By comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, Israel’s critics have actually contributed to this dismal situation. They have encouraged Palestinians to believe that by resorting to terror instead of negotiating, they have roused international sympathy for their cause and international condemnation of Israel. For a while, that was actually true, but the world drew the line at supporting Hamas.

These critics would deny responsibility, and would argue that it is Israeli policy that encourages Palestinian terror. But the Palestinian leadership understands the apartheid analogy in a peculiar fashion. Where the rest of the world sees the end of apartheid in South Africa as a triumph of reconciliation and human rights, many Palestinians have instead drawn the lesson that it pays not to compromise.

Edward Said, for example, in calling for a “mass movement against Israeli apartheid (similar to the South African variety)” in 2000, added that a new Palestinian peace plan should be based on “No return to the Oslo framework; no compromise on the original UN resolutions . . .” (though these were resolutions that Israel accepted and that the Palestinian leadership originally rejected).

Tony Karon, an editor of TIME.com, a South African and a strident proponent of a single-state solution, wrote: “. . . Nelson Mandela did not significantly compromise on the ANC’s core demand—he 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. Mandela agreed to suspend the armed struggle six months after his release from prison in 1990, nearly four years before he was to take power, as a precondition for negotiations with the apartheid government. The ANC had not yet achieved all of its political demands, but Mandela realized that violence had to be brought to an end if future negotiations were to be conducted in good faith.

Indeed, if there are any useful comparisons to be made between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, they are those that contrast Palestinian tactics with Mandela’s preference for non-violence, his universal vision, and his willingness to compromise. Those who hurl the “apartheid” label at Israel merely effect the opposite of what they intend to achieve.


At 6:33 PM, Blogger Thermblog said...

I'm here to argue.

There's nothing technically wrong with what you say but I believe it's completely ineffective. For every Pogrund, the other side brings out its Tony Koran, Desmond Tutu, John Dugard and Allister Sparks.

I believe Carter should simply be called a Nazi.

This approach puts the other side on the defensive. It is then justified by pointing out that Carter himself has legitimized name-calling.

Further, there are similarities between Nazi propaganda that demonized Jews and what he is saying about Israel. He admits Israel is not an Apartheid state and applies it to the "the territories" in the full knowledge that it will be misconstrued. He ignores the reasons the Israelis apply the methods they do.

The Nazis used the same tactics to unite Germans against Jews and then. against the world.

At least, this has a chance of bringing the discussion back to reality rather than, "my facts are better than yours".


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