In 2001, just prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, some of my friends and colleagues attended the World Conference on Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination held in Durban, South Africa. It was an amazing experience for them, and for us, a great honor to send representatives from communities of color in the U.S.A, calling attention to all these issues in the Land of the Free.
Unfortunately, my friends brought back lots of anti-semitic literature they picked up from the Palestinian representatives. At a conference where the world was supposed to make a united stand against racism, anti-semitism was rampant. My colleagues eagerly showed me books full of anti semitic cartoons — hardly distinguishable from Nazi-era cartoons — which they saw as examples of media as a tool for speaking truth to power.
Needless to say, I consider that 2001 conference an utter failure.
And so, four years before the launch of the Israeli Apartheid Week actions, anti-semitism became permissible under the pretense of raising awareness about Israeli oppression. It was thanks to this conference that I became politically aware about anti-Israel ideology.
Existential Threats Against The Existence of Israel
I once had a conversation about Cuba with a colleague. I argued that Fidel Castro was a dictator, based on his restriction of a free press and imprisonment of political dissidents. His response was that since Cuba was a small country, going up against the most powerful nation in the world, Castro’s hand was forced into taking undesirable actions in order to survive.
I make the same argument about Israel.
There are very real daily threats against the continued existence of Israel. I cannot think of another country that has been threatened with annihilation and genocide since its very birth. Her neighbors toil, in words and in actions, to delegitimize and destroy her. For example, on February 23, 2015, a federal jury in New York found the Palestinian Authority and the PLO liable for terrorist attacks against Israelis. Hamas, not unlike Iran, continues to refuse to walk away from their goal of destroying Israel.
The threats against Israel are real. In light of those threats, Israel has undertaken several measures intended to safeguard its existence and the lives of her citizens. Those measures are ugly and violent at times, however, I believe, at the core there is a justified true belief that without them Israeli lives will be in danger. In my opinion, there is NOT a belief of racial superiority.
As my friend tried to argue about Cuba, I believe Israel’s actions are undesirable responses to very real existential threats.
If the Palestinian leadership abandoned violence, Israel’s policies would change in kind — including that ugly separation wall.
Racism or Apartheid?
There are no parallels, in my mind, between Apartheid South Africa and Israel. As I argued, my belief is that most actions offered up as proof of Apartheid, happen in the context of existential threats to Israel.
It is my belief, that Israel’s security actions may be violent, may be unfair, may be reprehensible, but they are not for the purpose of establishing and maintaining dominance over the Arab or non-Jewish population of the Land of Israel.
Is there discrimination or racism in Israel? Of course. Why? Because Israelis are human. No, I do not ignore or minimize things like, for example, Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish immigrants and refugees; and I do believe that non-Ashkenazi Jews face(d) discrimination and racism.
But to single Israel out as the only offender is irrational, and can only be driven by anti-semitism.
I could name several towns or government districts on the West Coast of the United States where majorities of non-White citizens are governed by Whites. Social exclusion, institutional racism, and de facto segregation are alive and well in 2015 U.S.A. How about Russia’s and some African countries’ legal discrimination of LGBTO persons? Although not racial, it still is a legal persecution of a specific social group. And more Jews were forced out of their homes in Arab and Muslim nations than the number of Arabs that were forced out of their homes with the rebirth of Israel. Even today, Jews in Iran cannot openly criticize their government without fear of persecution, while in Israel, Israeli Arab elected officials openly and routinely criticize the Israeli government.
Israel is by no means a perfect society. There are no perfect societies. Calling Israel an Apartheid nation is an attempt to delegitimize its existence, which leads down a very dark path.
If you are truly concerned about justice and eliminating inequity from Israel, then support local efforts to create a more just and inclusive society. Do not work to delegitimize Israel, nor lend any support to those who actively work to destroy her.
Unless that is your ultimate goal.