Op-Ed: The Shame of Israel Apartheid Week
The blood libel seems to have gained respectability in the halls of academia now that Israel Apartheid Week has become an annual rite on college campuses across North America. Characterized by hate-speech promoted as political discourse, Israel Apartheid Week (“IAW”) proclaims its goal “is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”
Its architects contend they are not anti-Semitic. However, Israel is not an apartheid state under any definition of the term, and to argue otherwise requires the repetition of odious lies and the denial of historical facts. Because the claim of Israeli apartheid is a malicious fiction, the anti-Semitic motivations underlying Israel Apartheid Week cannot be minimized or ignored.
The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute of 2002 defines “apartheid” as a crime consisting of acts similar to crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
Though the term evokes images of South Africa under Afrikaner rule, it just as easily could describe any country in which racial and ethnic minorities are systematically segregated and discriminated against by operation of law. An argument could be made that Sharia states qualify insofar as they subjugate and isolate “infidels” in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic doctrine. The past confinement of Jews in the mellah in Morocco or in ghettos and separate towns in Iran offers apt examples.
In contrast, Israel is a democracy in which Jews and Arabs have equal rights under the law. The Arab-Muslim world and its left-wing allies accuse Israel of apartheid despite the absence of any Israeli laws or policies creating such a system. Israeli Jews and Arabs generally live where they choose and benefit from the same health, welfare and infrastructure policies and programs. The only difference is that Israeli Arabs are exempt from military service, whereas all other Israelis, including Jews, Druze and Circassians, are not. Thus, Arab citizens receive the same governmental benefits as other Israelis without being required to bear any of the national cost.
Although the promoters of IAW contend that Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens, they in fact enjoy the highest standard of living, highest rates of longevity and literacy, and lowest rate of infant mortality of any Arab-Muslim population in the Mideast.
Israel also has an open political system in which Arabs vote, run for office, and serve in government. Moreover, they have freedom of speech to a degree not tolerated in the Arab-Muslim world – as demonstrated by those Arab Knesset members who openly identify with Israel’s enemies and engage in seditious conduct that would not be countenanced in other countries. Whereas American law requires all who serve in Congress to swear an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, Israel presently requires no similar pledge of loyalty.
Arab citizens receive the same governmental benefits as other Israelis without being required to bear any of the national cost.
Clearly, Israel does not practice apartheid, and in fact does not even employ the same kinds of safeguards against sedition and treason that are taken for granted in the United States and other western democracies.
When the canard of Israeli apartheid is deconstructed, it clearly resembles the “Big Lie” preached and perfected by the Nazis, who believed that the constant repetition of audacious lies would promote their acceptance by the public and facilitate the spread of propaganda. The Nazis believed that the most brazen lies would resonate most deeply because of the common perception that unbelievable stories would not be repeated if they weren’t true. Thus it is with the slander of Israeli apartheid, for which there would seem to be no greater proof than the endorsement of academia.
Given the leftist orientation and pro-Islamist bias of many university faculties, college campuses have become natural staging grounds for anti-Israel agitprop.
Brooklyn College in New York was the site of IAW activity this year with a program entitled, “BDS (Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions) Movement against Israel,” which was co-sponsored by the political science department. Despite public criticism against allowing the event on campus, and though the college administration disclaimed any official endorsement, it would not bar the program or condemn it in any meaningful way. The program featured speakers who denied Israel’s right to exist, praised Islamist terrorists who attack civilians, and called for the blacklisting of Israeli academics.
The college took the position that co-sponsorship by one of its departments did not imply institutional support for the program, but the hollowness of this explanation was exposed by the failure to provide equal time to opponents wishing to voice their opposition. Supporters denied anti-Semitic bias and claimed that the event implicated free speech. However, the program featured speakers who advocated conduct, i.e., the blacklisting of Israeli professors, that is intended specifically to discourage free and open discourse.
If Brooklyn College truly cared about speech rights, it would have provided a forum for those wishing to address the event’s factual distortions and expose it as propaganda. The failure to do so indicates only a fair-weather commitment to freedom of expression, and raises the question of whether the college in fact endorsed the program through its conduct despite its disclaimers.
Furthermore, allowing such a blatantly provocative program on campus seems inconsistent with the institution’s own “Commitment to Pluralism and Diversity,” which provides:
Brooklyn College is committed to values and policies that enhance respect for individuals and their cultures. In fact, the college’s cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity-our pluralism-is one of our distinguishing characteristics. Our student body and our workforce are notably composed of people of color, of women, of immigrants, of older adults, and of persons with disabilities. Students at the college can trace their ancestry to more than 120 different countries. To reap the rewards of diversity, the college has developed and will continue to develop programs that combat bigotry and other biases in all their forms and will build on the strengths offered by our multicultural, multiracial, and multigenerational campus.
It is difficult to see how providing a forum for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech, while denying equal time to opposing viewpoints, shows a commitment “to values and policies that enhance respect for individuals and their cultures” or is consistent with the college’s pledge to “develop programs that combat bigotry and other biases in all their forms…” Indeed, Brooklyn College’s failure to acknowledge the program as hate-speech suggests that its diversity statement is applied only selectively.
The malicious intent of Israel Apartheid Week is clear considering its connection to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The conceit of BDS is that it feigns kinship with the movement that helped bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa through coordinated efforts to turn that country into a pariah state. It uses terms like “occupation” and “colonialism” to perpetuate the falsehood that Israel is a colonial state and that the Palestinians are an ancestral people whose country was dismantled by foreign Jewish interlopers. In so doing, the BDS movement disparages Jewish national claims that are a matter of historical record and not based, as are Palestinian claims, on myth, polemic and doctrinal hatred.
In truth, the Jews are indigenous and have the longest record of habitation in their homeland. At no time was there ever a sovereign nation called Palestine or an ancient Palestinian society that created any touchstones of nationality or unique culture in the Jewish homeland. As the late Zahir Muhsein famously stated in the Dutch newspaper Trouw in 1977, “[t]he ‘Palestinian People’ does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the State of Israel.” Arafat made similar admissions in his autobiography. Thus, in pretending that Israel is a colonial creation and that Jews are strangers to the Mideast, the BDS movement engages in the same deceit and dishonesty.
If BDS partisans were truly concerned about forcing change in repressive regimes, one must wonder why they ignore Saudi Arabia, where women are suppressed, freedom of religion is unknown, and money flows to support terrorism abroad; or Iran, where religious minorities are harassed and discriminated against, Jews fear for their lives and gays are put to death. Why are they not concerned about Egypt, where Copts are slaughtered and their churches desecrated, or Sudan, where Arab Muslims engage in genocide against African Christians?
The BDS movement’s pernicious intent is exposed by its pathological focus on Israel, which has the only open society in the Mideast where all citizens are free to live where they choose, speak as they will and worship as they please. By claiming Israel to be what she clearly is not, the movement perpetuates a colossal fabrication evocative of the Big Lie. And by actively promoting the BDS farce, those who sponsor, support or enable Israel Apartheid Week do the same.
Reasonable minds can disagree over specific policies of any government, including Israel’s. However, those who deny her right to exist and accuse her of apartheid when she actually has the only democratic society in the Mideast are not engaging in neutral criticism. They are promoting anti-Semitism.
The singular focus on Israel for imagined offenses such as ethnic cleansing and apartheid, coupled with the refusal to target countries where such atrocities actually occur, constitutes anti-Semitism, purely and simply. Not surprisingly, the demonization of Israel has become de rigueur on the political left. Unfortunately, it has also found an audience among members of progressive Jewish groups, such as J Street and the New Israel Fund, whose commitment to left-wing ideals causes them to rationalize, support or provide forums for those who impugn the Jewish State.
There is also a disturbing trend on college campuses of progressive student groups protesting mainstream Jewish organizations that oppose the BDS agenda. The Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, for example, recently organized a protest against the campus Hillel’s ban on partnering with organizations that support BDS programs. Ironically, although progressives and their supporters typically invoke free speech principles to shield Israel bashers, they are quick to brand dissenting opinions as hate-speech in order to silence those with whom they disagree. Likewise, they jump to label any critical discussion of political Islam as “Islamophobia,” but remain silent regarding the doctrinal anti-Semitism that is so prevalent in the Muslim community.
Ironically, Gentile supporters are often quicker and more willing to come to Israel’s defense, as they have done in Canada with Israel Truth Week, a conference dedicated to combating the dissimulation of Israel Apartheid Week. Israel Truth Week has become an annual event in Hamilton, Ontario, drawing speakers, academics and legal experts from Canada, the United States and Israel. Though the event was created by a dedicated group of Jews and non-Jews working together, it would not have grown so quickly without the commitment of Gentiles who support the Jewish State for reasons of history, justice and equity.
The inspiration for this conference came from Mark Vandermaas, a Canadian whose family history made him acutely aware of the horrors of anti-Semitism. Vandermaas was adopted and raised by Dutch parents who lived through the German occupation of the Netherlands, where they saw their Jewish neighbors deported for slaughter and where his father was interred in a Nazi work camp from which he escaped. Vandermaas was motivated to act upon hearing of unrestrained antisemitism roiling the campus of the University of Western Ontario, where Jewish students were physically abused and harassed, and his indignation gave rise to Israel Truth Week. What started as a grassroots program has grown and begun attracting the attention of major Jewish organizations in Canada.
Although Israel Apartheid Week is now in its ninth year, mainstream Jewish organizations have yet to formulate a unified, systematic response. Some organizations have issued strong denunciations while others have resolved not to work with progressive groups that support the BDS movement. Still others have displayed timidity in choosing to ignore it. But ignoring it lends credence through silence.
Instead, Israel Apartheid Week should be answered with thoughtful, coordinated counterprograms. Though Israel Truth Week is only in its second year and has not yet ventured beyond the borders of Ontario, the breadth of its agenda and the diversity of its speakers should provide a model for Jewish organizations to follow.
If some Gentiles can be so assertive in advocating on behalf of Israel, there is no reason why Jews cannot do the same.