Saturday, January 28th | 6 Shevat 5783

December 24, 2021 6:26 am

Hit Piece Masquerading as Book Review: The Latest Apartheid Libel

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avatar by Charles Bybelezer


An Israeli ‘Apartheid Wall’ at Duke University in 2019. Photo: Amy Rosenthal.

With a title like “The State of Israel vs The Jews review: fierce indictment of a rightward lurch,” it is reasonable to think that The Guardian’s December 19th review of Sylvain Cypel’s new book was written with the aim of shedding light on the development of Israeli political thought.

However, this is how the piece opens:

Sylvain Cypel’s new book is a violent indictment of the Jewish homeland, its growing embrace of apartheid and its closeness to some of the worst autocratic and similarly ethnocentric regimes around the world, including Hungary, Brazil and the Philippines. … Cypel argues that the country originally seen as an embattled David menaced by a constellation of Goliaths has evolved since the Six-Day War, into something “no idealist could stomach: a racist, bullying little superpower.”

Indeed, the review of “The State of Israel vs The Jews,” is but the latest in a long list of articles published by The Guardian this year that have attempted to smear Israel as an apartheid state.

An HonestReporting analysis of the media giant’s reporting on Israel shows that The Guardian has published just over 60 articles this year alone in which it has seemingly given credence to the utterly baseless idea that apartheid — the system of racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 until 1994 — exists in Israel (see here, here, here, here, and here).

Writer Charles Kaiser leans heavily on the background of the book’s author to justify the apartheid charge. Sylvain Cypel — who is the son of a respected French Zionist, lived in Israel, and served in the IDF — is cast as an authoritative figure on the issue.

The Guardian also cites the author’s sources as being beyond reproach: “[Cypel’s] accusations carry particular power because of the nationality of his sources: nearly all are Israeli journalists, intellectuals and activists.”

But this characterization of Israelis accepting the notion that there is apartheid in their country is grossly misleading. Kaiser fails to explain how the opinion of those cited is representative in any meaningful way of the majority of Israeli citizens.

Meanwhile, The Guardian disregards the diversity of opinions that characterizes Israeli society. Rather, the publication repeatedly frames Israel as a monolithic enterprise, not an ideologically and ethnically diverse nation whose citizens are free to engage in open and robust debates on the pressing issues of the day.

Kaiser takes the same shallow approach in his analysis of what Cypel has to say about the violence between Israelis and Palestinians:

Amira Hass, a West Bank correspondent for Haaretz, wrote that by systematically shooting “young unarmed Gazans … Israel is conducting a mass psychological experiment in Gaza.” But the “guinea pigs are actually the Israelis. How far will their society go in its acquiescence? The experiment is about compliance and cruelty.” Hass compared the process to the notorious Stanley Milgram experiments conducted at Yale in the early 1960s, when subjects were asked to press a button that sent increasingly powerful electric shocks to a person each time he or she gave the wrong answer to a question.

Yes, Kaiser actually equates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a mass psychological experiment. And this bizarre comparison undergirds a great part of the “Israeli Apartheid” logic, thereby reimagining Israel’s attempts to protect its citizens from Hamas’ incessant attempts to destroy the Jewish state as unilateral, disproportionate, and even cynical.

While The Guardian notes Cypel’s cryptic description of modern Israel as having come into existence amid “a constellation of Goliaths,” non-stop Palestinian aggression against the idea of a Jewish state and decades of terrorism endured by Israelis (see here, here, here, and here) are simply ignored. Nor is there mention of the Palestinian leadership’s repeated rejection of generous peace deals from various Israeli governments.

“All of these anecdotes explain Cypel’s relentless pessimism about Israel,” Kaiser explains, “which [Cypel] calls ‘a society blindly turning inward as it drifts toward disaster.'” Kaiser does not bother to raise the obvious question: how can a man as “relentlessly pessimistic” as Cypel be trusted to be a voice of reason on the nature of Israeli society?

Finally, The Guardian notes that “Cypel’s book is also replete with the voices of virtuous Israelis who remain determined to put their country on a different course.” But this is where the discussion ends. Rather than expanding on these dissenting voices, The Guardian veers off course altogether: “Cypel points out that Israel’s lurch to the right has produced a growing gap with the liberal traditions of American Jews in the Reform movement.” (Emphasis added).

Apartheid refers to the system of legal and institutional racial segregation that was imposed by South Africa’s minority white population over the country’s non-white citizens. A present-day example of a similar policy is, for example, seen in the oppression of Chinese Uyghur Muslims by their own national government.

However, it cannot be sensibly applied to Israel, which grants all citizens equal rights and protections, including Israeli Arabs who comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population. Arabs serve in the Knesset (and the current ruling coalition), the Supreme Court, and every facet of public and private life.

Crucially, the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also not a form of apartheid. Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are part of a frustratingly complex dispute being fought by disparate governmental entities, national movements, and US-designated terrorist organizations. Israel’s defense posture vis-a-vis the West Bank and Gaza Strip is meant to safeguard the security of the country’s citizens within the context of an unpredictable and unresolved geopolitical crisis that has claimed thousands of lives.

A book review that doesn’t critique or at least question the veracity of an author’s claims about a complicated issue like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is effectively perpetuating libelous statements that serve to demean all of the Jewish state’s 9.2 million citizens: Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.

Charles Bybelezer is the managing director of HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared — and whose staff worked together on this report.

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