An article in the Australian (“Patron Carr pivots from Israel to Palestine”, 8 November 2014) made the claim that Former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr’s pivot away from Israel and towards the Palestinians “was prompted by his revulsion for an “apartheid” policy within Israel’s government as it fostered one set of racially based laws for the Jewish minority — and an inferior set for the Palestinian majority.”
Putting aside for the moment the tendentious “apartheid” allegation, the references to a “Jewish minority” and “Palestinian majority” are basic factual errors.
According to figures published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s total population at the end of 2013 was 8,132,000 of whom 6,102,000 (75.2%) were Jews, 1,682,000 (20.6%) were Arabs (Bedouin and Palestinian) and 348,000 were neither Jews nor Arabs (mostly non-Arab Christians). These figures include the Jewish and Arab populations of East Jerusalem. So much for the “Jewish minority” and “Palestinian majority”.
Of course the above figures do not include the Arab populations of the 'West Bank' and Gaza. Israel has never annexed these territories, which are claimed by the Palestinian Arabs for their own separate State, along with East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Arabs do not see themselves as Israeli nationals. They see themselves, and are seen by others, as a separate and distinct nationality. Their conflict with Israel is universally accepted as an international conflict – which is one of the key points at which the “apartheid” analogy breaks down (see more below).
But even if one adds in the Arab populations of the' West Bank' and Gaza and counts all Arabs as Palestinians (including the Bedouin, many of whom definitely do NOT see themselves as Palestinians), there is still no “Palestinian majority”.
According to the CIA World Fact Book – West Bank , as at July 2014 the number of Arabs in the 'West Bank' (including East Jerusalem) was 2,266,733.16. (Approximately 341,400 Israelis also live in the 'West Bank' and approximately 196,400 in East Jerusalem, but they are included in the Israeli census figures given above}.
According to the CIA World Fact Book - Gaza Strip, as at July 2014 the total population of Gaza was 1,816,379, all of them Arabs (the Palestinian Arabs will not allow any Jews to live there. But apparently this – genuine - apartheid does not trouble Carr).
Jews: 6,102,000 – 51.42%
Arabs: 5,765,000 – 48.58%
In a dissenting separate demographic study by former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, the total Arab population of the 'West Bank' (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza at the end of 2013 is calculated at 3.1 million. He puts the overall ratio of Jews and Arabs at closer to 60:40.
The simplistic application of the “apartheid” tag to the Israel-Palestinian conflict also misses the essential difference between the conflicts in Israel and in apartheid-era South Africa. In South Africa, three different racial groups - whites, blacks and coloureds - saw themselves, and were seen by others, as of one nationality, South African. The conflict in South Africa was a struggle by blacks and coloureds for equal rights with whites as citizens of the same national community.
Jews and Palestinian Arabs do not see themselves, and are not seen by others, as members of a single national community. Each is a distinct national community in its own right. Jews have a combination of shared language, customs, beliefs and traditions derived from a common past which gives them an historically determined social identity in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Palestinian Arabs say the same about their own social identity.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict has therefore not been a struggle for equal citizenship rights between people of the same national community. Rather, it has been a struggle by each national community for political independence, statehood and sovereignty. In short, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the 'West Bank' and Gaza is an international one, whereas the conflict between the races in South Africa was intra-national.
Within Israel, Palestinian Arabs and other non-Jews are fully-fledged citizens. They vote in Israel’s elections, and twelve of them are currently members of the Israeli Parliament. There are Arab judges in Israeli courts, including Israel’s Supreme court. Israel’s Jews and Arabs have much the same life expectancy and infant mortality rates, use the same public transport, eat in the same restaurants, get treated at the same hospitals, share the same beaches, theatres and cinemas, shop at the same malls, attend the same public schools and universities and work side by side in many occupations. They report high levels of satisfaction with their lives and generally do as well as minorities anywhere – certainly much better than ethnic and religious minorities in Arab League countries.
Carr’s pivot away from Israel is nothing new. It has been going on since at least 2003 when he presented a peace prize to the virulently anti-Israel Palestinian spokesperson, Hanan Ashrawi.
Since then, Carr’s statements about Israel have been increasingly negative, yet strangely inconsistent. For example, Carr has cited the non-binding 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as justifying his absolutist view that ‘all’ Israeli settlements are illegal. (It doesn’t, but that’s another matter). Yet in an interview on SBS Radio on 4 May 2014, Carr strongly defended Israel’s security barrier, even saying it should have been built more quickly. In fact, it was the security barrier that was at the centre of the ICJ’s conclusions about alleged illegal conduct by Israel. There seems to be a double standard in Carr’s thinking about the relevance of international legality in assessing different aspects of Israel’s conduct.
Nor does Carr explain how his attempts to demonise and isolate Israel will contribute to the goal he (and many Israelis) support – the establishment of two States for two peoples. If Carr’s problem is with what he sees as Israel’s lurch to the political right, then one would expect him to use his authority as a veteran social democrat to bolster, not undermine, the moderate political forces in Israel whose work he professes to support - the trade union movement and the Labour Party. As opposed as those groups are to the Netanyahu government’s approach to the conflict with the Palestinians, they would not agree with Carr’s simplistic sloganeering about “apartheid” and other name-calling, or his exhortations to Israel to make unilateral concessions.
Finally, there is the killer question which neither Carr nor Israel’s other critics can answer. What about Hamas? Israel dismantled all settlements and evacuated all settlers from Gaza in 2005. Hamas and its allies fired 11,000 missiles into Israel from Gaza between 2005 and the recent conflict and 4,000 more during it. The Hamas Charter, and Hamas leaders, continue to call for Israel to be “obliterated” and for its Jewish population to be killed or driven out.
What if Israel were to dismantle the settlements and evacuate Israelis from all or most of the 'West Bank' and the end result was yet another attempt by the Palestinians and others to wipe Israel off the map, and even worse blood-letting? It won’t be the Bob Carr’s of this world who will have to suffer the consequences.