Combatting Claims of Israeli Apartheid
Dressed in keffiyehs — the traditional checkered scarves popularized by Yasser Arafat — members of Students for Justice in Palestine stood in the cold on Monday outside Bobst Library. They distributed pamphlets in front of a giant sign disparaging Israel, accusing it of being an apartheid state. In response, a group of Israel supporters set up their own sign across the street the next day bearing the hashtag #IsraelPrideWeek. Ironically, this tag originally referred to Israel’s Gay Pride Week, a luxury that Arabs living under the Palestinian Authority cannot afford.
SJP describes itself as a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist organization. In addition to condemning Israel, the group expresses its support of black rights, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and anti fossil-fuel movements. Lacking in SJP’s cache of support, however, is justice and human rights for Palestinians living under Palestinian rule.
SJP is devoting this entire week to promoting the slander of Israeli apartheid while skillfully ignoring the apartheid practiced by Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and many oppressive governments throughout the world. “Apartheid,” the Afrikaans word that refers to the brutal system of racial segregation in pre-1994 South Africa, recalls a time when blacks were relegated to slums, not allowed to vote, hold political office, use white toilets or even stroll through white neighborhoods without a pass.
Israel is factually, morally and historically not an apartheid state. Arabs — about 20 percent of Israel’s population — are an active part of Israeli government, culture and economics. They vote, have political parties represented in the Knesset and occupy seats in the Supreme Court. Just last year an Arab judge, Selim Joubran, headed the appeal that sentenced Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to six years in prison for corruption. In last week’s elections, the United Arab List became Israel’s third largest party. In 2007, Israel had an interim Muslim Arab president, Majalli Wahaba. All Israelis – regardless of race, creed or orientation – are accorded equal rights under the law. Arabs lie alongside Jews in Israeli hospitals and are professors and students at top Israeli universities. Even F.W. De Klerk, South Africa’s reformer, decried the Israel apartheid analogy as slander. When it comes to religious pluralism, Israel is more accepting than any other country in the Middle East and many Christian countries worldwide.
Proponents of the Israel apartheid myth will point to what they call the “apartheid wall” that separates Israel proper from the West Bank. It is really a security barrier similar to the fence that separates Mexico from the United States. To call the barrier an “apartheid wall” is to distort the truth. SJP neglects to mention that prior to the completion of the barrier in 2006, members of the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were murdering Jews in pizzerias, buses, bars and nightclubs. Before the construction of the barrier there were 452 fatalities from terrorist attacks in 2002 alone. By 2010 the number of deaths fell to nine.
Last year SJP distributed slips of paper accusing the Israeli government of “Judaization” even though Article 5 of the Palestinian Permanent Constitution draft explicitly states that Islam will be the official religion of Palestine. They lambaste Israel’s law of return while ignoring other Arab countries that have similar laws allowing the naturalization of foreign Arabs. Instead of seeing Israel as a genuine place of refuge for Jews, more than 800,000 of whom fled from antisemitic Arab countries, SJP views Israel as nothing more than a malign social experiment.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent remarks rejecting the potential for Palestinian statehood were no doubt politically opportunistic, they reflect the reality that Israel has faced over the past 66 years of its existence: the Palestinians have been rejecting land-for-peace deals since 1937. In 2000, the Palestinians rejected an offer of statehood that would have given them 97 percent of the West Bank, a capital in Jerusalem and a $35 billion compensation package for refugees.
If SJP really cared about the condition of the Palestinian people, it would be calling for elections in the West Bank, where PA president Mahmoud Abbas is in his 11th year of what should have been a four-year term, or protesting the barbaric practices of Hamas. Until these issues are resolved, no peaceful accord can be strung between Israel and the Palestinians. By solely focusing on a one-sided rebuke of Israel, SJP is ignorant at best and antisemitic at worst.
David Zonshayn is an undergraduate at NYU’s Stern School of Business. He will be working at JPMorgan this summer. This article was originally published by the Washington Square News.