Richard Falk's figurative apartheid - he just can't let it go

Once Israel's enemies decided to use the word "apartheid" vis a vis the Jewish State, they had to leave credibility behind and embrace double-talk instead.

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Fred Skolnik,

Fred Skolnik
Fred Skolnik
INN: FS

It may have been Jimmy Carter many years ago who first got it into his head to call Israel an apartheid state. In any case, it caught on pretty quickly, for the tactic of the Israel haters has always been to expand the meaning of commonly understood terms of opprobrium for the sole purpose of applying them to Israel, as with Nazism, fascism, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

However, in the case of apartheid there was a great deal of confusion. At first it was used with reference to Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria, but the people who first used the term in this context probably didn't understand what apartheid was, or didn't understand the meaning of military rule, or thought that the inhabitants of the 'West Bank' were citizens or residents of Israel.

When they finally understood their mistake, they simply changed their tune and began saying that Israel itself was internally an apartheid state or society. Once they had the word, they just couldn't let go of it.

It was like the original version of the fiction that 4,000 Jews didn't show up for work at the World Trade Center (WTC) on the morning of 9/11. The original version declared that 4,000 Israelis didn't show up for work there, which was a distortion by the Arab press of the Israel Foreign Ministry's announcement that around 4,000 Israelis were thought to have been in the New York and Washington areas that day.

When it was realized how unlikely the WTC fiction sounded, it was simply altered from "4,000 Israelis" to "4,000 Jews."

In the same way, the apartheid fiction was shifted from the 'West Bank' to Israel itself, even though the haters must have known that none of the features of apartheid exist in Israel. Facing this dilemma, some of them then went back to the 'West Bank' version, some stuck to their guns with the Israel version, and others even argued now that apartheid existed in both places.

Recently Richard Falk went them one, or two, better, telling us that Israeli apartheid exists in no fewer than four places: in the 'West Bank', in Jerusalem, in Israel, and among the Palestinian Arab 'refugees' – all this in a recent report called “Israel’s Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid," commissioned by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), which consists entirely of 18 Arab member-states. In the end the UN itself repudiated the report.

Be that as it may, Richard Falk also faced a dilemma of credibility in fabricating his report, for, as Falk confesses, apartheid had been defined by the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid as consisting of "deliberate and systematic acts of racial discrimination with the purpose of maintaining unlawful structures of racial domination, that is, a dominant race subjugating another race."

"Our report," he continued in his blog ("Is Israel an Apartheid State?"), "also considered whether, in the context of inquiring into the presence of apartheid, it was appropriate to consider Jews and Palestinians as distinct races; we found that there were abundant grounds for doing so. As our report shows, 'race' in this legal context is treated as a socially and politically constructed category developed to identify a distinct people. It has no necessary correlation with biogenetic realities, which in this case actually shows an overlap between Jews and Palestinians."

"No necessary correlation with biogenetic realities"! One has to take a very deep breath before attempting to appreciate the insanity of what Falk is saying, or, if one is so inclined, to appreciate the elegance with which he overcomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle with some inspired double-talk. First, let it be noted that as much as he might wish to define the Jews as actually constituting a distinct or dominant "race" for the sake of the apartheid argument, he is hindered from doing so by one of the basic tenets of Israel hatred, namely, that Ashkenazi or European Jews (the "usurpers" or "colonists" or "foreigners" in hate jargon) are the descendants of Khazarian converts and therefore have no connection with the Land of Israel and nothing in common genetically with the indigenous people of the region, which include what the haters like to call Jewish Arabs or Arab Jews (and hence the "biogenetic overlap"), the implication being that the Jews are a "mongrel" people (a la Nazism's rants).

On the other hand, coming from the opposite direction, the Jews themselves undercut the separate race argument, and, ironically, religious Jews more than any others, for the Bible itself speaks of a common ancestor and Jews in Israel even refer to Arabs as "the cousins" ("benei ha-dodim").

At the same time, Falk also has no intention of acknowledging that the Jews are what they actually are, namely a nation or people, for then he would have to face the fact that Israel is a Jewish national state with an Arab or Palestinian national minority in precisely the same way that Turkey, for example, is a Turkish national state with a Kurdish national minority, which would undercut his own efforts to undermine its status.

Therefore he prefers to call Israel an "ethnic" state, for no other purpose than to diminish and delegitimize it and thereby open the door to extinguishing its Jewish national life, dismantling its Jewish national institutions, and eliminating its Jewish national  symbols (flag, anthem, national holidays, etc.). 

It may well be that his feelings about Jewish nationality were partly shaped by his upbringing in an America where the Jews could indeed be seen as an
He prefers to call Israel an "ethnic" state, for no other purpose than to diminish and delegitimize it and thereby open the door to extinguishing its Jewish national life...
ethnic minority (like Italian or Irish Americans) and "Jewishness" consisted solely of adherence to the Jewish religion or to Jewish culture. Even American Zionists saw Israel as just one among many centers of Jewish life and refused to countenance the idea that Israeli statehood took precedence as its most legitimate and fruitful expression.

There is undoubtedly also a psychological factor at work in the vehement and malicious anti-Israel stance that Falk takes, for beyond "rivaling" American Jewish life, the existence of a Jewish national state also intimidates a certain kind of Jew because it challenges something very insecure in him, and that is his identity, for the small number of Jews who are hostile to Israel see it viscerally as something that threatens their idea of themselves – an idea that most often includes alienation from their own country as well, insofar as it embraces the idea of a national purpose and destiny. They resent Israel deeply for the implied demand it makes on them to assert themselves as Jews. All this is pure pathology.

How then does Falk make Israel fit the apartheid definition so that he can somehow criminalize it? Both elegantly and absurdly, as we said, by treating "race," again, "as a socially and politically constructed category developed to identify a distinct people" that "has no necessary correlation with biogenetic realities."

Seeing is believing when it comes to nonsense, for what Falk is saying is very much like declaring: "For our purposes we shall treat 'childhood' as 'a socially and politically constructed category' with no necessary correlation to age," or, perhaps more to the point: "For our purposes we shall treat 'murder' as 'a socially and politically constructed category' with no necessary correlation to the act of killing anyone." And so on and so forth.

Having now redefined "race" to suit his purposes and having coopted the 1973 Apartheid Convention, basically by using a legal term in a figurative instead of a literal sense – and this from a professor of law – he gets down to the serious business of condemning Israel for what he construes as its maintenance of an apartheid regime. "Adopting what we believe to be an innovative methodology," he writes, "we approached this challenge by dividing the Palestinians into four domains that correspond to the manner in which Israel has exercised its authority over the course of many decades, although the specific tactics of control vary through time" (the challenge of course being to make something seem to be what it is not and the innovation being to do what no self-respecting scholar would permit himself to do).

Concerning the "domain," of Judea and Samaria, here is the Falk case: "It [a previous study] called attention to the discriminatory treatment of Palestinians, who are subject to military administration as compared to the Jewish settler population, which enjoys the full benefit of the rule of law as it is observed in Israel in relation to Jewish nationals. That study found that 'settler-only roads,' dual legal systems, and the draconian separation of the two populations into regions on the basis of race [are the] hallmarks of apartheid."   

It hardly needs to be said that if Israel's so-called 'occupation' were a form of apartheid, then all real occupations would be forms of apartheid, including the Allied occupation of Germany. A military occupation by definition entails separation between the occupying power and the occupied population and the existence of two different legal systems for occupying and occupied nationals, one civil and one military. Furthermore, all separation measures instituted by Israel are solely for purposes of security and it makes absolutely no difference in this sense if the Israeli presence in the 'West Bank' is in the form of army bases (certainly legal) or 'settlements' (irrespective of their legality).

With or without the 'settlements,' Israel would maintain order and fight terrorism in precisely the same way (security roads, the security fence, checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews, arrests). And of course no one has "separated" the Palestinian Arabs into regions. They remain where they have always been, in their towns and villages. And there are also roads off limits to Jews.

Concerning Jerusalem he writes: "Here the apartheid character of Israeli rule is exhibited in the way the government of Israel severely undermines the human security of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, manipulating their rights of residence as well as imposing a variety of discriminatory practices, ranging from fiscal measures, demolitions, to the arbitrary withholding of building permits."

It should be remembered that almost all East Jerusalem residents opted out of Israeli citizenship in 1967 although it was offered and therefore became permanent residents and as such suffer certain natural disabilities vis-à-vis citizens. To label as apartheid what Falk calls "discriminatory measures" is a perfect example of how he transforms a lesser alleged evil ("discrimination" in this case) into a greater evil by using a "dirtier" word ("apartheid") when talking about Israel. 

Falk continues: "The third domain deals with the Palestinian Arab minority living in Israel, perhaps the most problematic component in terms of establishing a definition of apartheid that encompasses the entire Palestinian Arab population. In this category are some 1.7 million citizens of Israel, who are allowed to form political parties and vote in elections. But this minority, which makes up about 20 percent of the overall Israeli population, is prohibited by law from challenging the proclaimed Jewish character of the state and is subject to a wide range of discriminatory nationality laws as well as administrative practices that severely restrict their rights, with effects on land acquisition, property, immigration, family reunification, and marital freedom."

Of course this is a problematic paragraph, since Israeli Arabs eat in the same restaurants as Jews, travel on the same buses and trains, use the same public spaces, are treated in the same hospitals alongside Jews, treat Jews in these hospitals as doctors and nurses, serve as lawyers and judges in Israel’s legal system, teach and study in the universities, and, as he acknowledges, vote and serve in the Knesset. This is certainly not the situation or condition that the word apartheid was coined to describe. What enables Falk to call this apartheid is again his refusal to recognize the simple fact that Israel is a Jewish national state and the Arabs are a national minority. Of course they cannot challenge the Jewish character of the state. Can the Kurds challenge the Turkish character of Turkey?  In fact, dozens of countries have laws, especially with regard to immigration, that favor their own nationals. 


There is no legal or historical precedent for defining or treating the descendants of refugees born outside a country of origin as refugees themselves.
He goes on: "A fourth domain, and the one affecting the largest demographic segment, is made up of Palestinians registered as refugees by UN procedures or living under conditions of involuntary exile. In the background is Israel’s rejection of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), which confirms that Palestinians dispossessed or displaced by Israel in 1948 enjoy a right of return. General Assembly Resolution 3236 declares this right of return or repatriation to be an 'inalienable right,' which thus presumably incorporates those additional several hundred thousand Palestinians later displaced by the 1967 war. As far as is known, no Palestinian displaced since the establishment of Israel in 1948 has been granted a right of return to resume residence.”

Concerning the refugees, suffice it to say that there is no legal or historical precedent for defining or treating the descendants of refugees born outside a country of origin as refugees themselves. And even with regard to the original refugees, Resolution 194 speaks of refugees wishing to return to their homes "and live at peace with their neighbors." This latter condition was never fulfilled as the two sides dug in behind armistice lines in an ongoing conflict characterized by the declared Arab refusal to live in peace with Israel.

Living under a military administration can be oppressive, both for Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria. The oppressiveness, however, is related directly to Arab terrorism. Try to imagine how the Allies would have responded if after WWII, the Germans had refused to make peace or disavow their Nazi leaders and had engaged in acts of terror against Allied civilians inside and outside Germany. To call this apartheid is nothing more than a perversion of language.

It should be remembered too, with regard to the knowledge and understanding that Prof. Falk brings to his task of delegitimizing the State of Israel, which one would at least expect to be scholarly, that there is very little scholarship in evidence here, for the simple reason that Prof. Falk does not understand a word of Hebrew or Arabic and therefore gets all his information at second and third hand (reason enough to disqualify himself).

At most, he has visited the area for the express purpose of working up his anti-Israel UN reports and was willingly led around by the nose by Hamas officials in a strictly controlled environment where at best he gets to talk to a few ordinary people through a Hamas interpreter or in pidgin English without the remotest possibility of verifying or evaluating anything he is told. Any historian gathering information in this manner would simply be laughed off the stage.