Saturday, November 04, 2006

Is Israel an ‘Apartheid State’?

This is an old piece, from 2005. Nevertheless, it addresses in brief some of the 'Israel is an aparheid state' issues. I shall post something more detailed on this later.

Last week, the UK’s Association of University Teachers, a body to which I was once proud to belong, did a very strange and unacademic thing. By a slim vote of 96 to 92, with opposed voices still to be heard, they passed a resolution to boycott two (possibly three) Israeli universities.
Come again? I hear you say. Academics boycotting universities and their fellow academics who teach and research in them? Have they gone quite mad? Probably.
There is supposed to be a reason for all this, a reason much trumpeted by Birmingham lecturer Sue Blackwell and her politically correct entourage of wreckers and spoilers. The problem is that the reason — ‘Israel is an apartheid state’ — is so far from the truth as to be hideous and laughable simultaneously.
So intent is the monomaniacal Ms Blackwell on promoting the Palestinian cause that she forgets there is an Israeli cause as well, and certainly cannot see that it might be better. Academics aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing. They’re supposed to weigh both sides of any argument and reach a rational conclusion. To conclude that the Israelis are just as evil as Nazi propaganda made the Jews out to be, or equating them (as is often done) with Nazis, while pretending that the suicide-bombing Palestinians are pure victims, innocent actors in a drama during which they have done no wrong, is as anti-academic a pastime as any I’ve ever seen.
Is Israel what its detractors claim it to be, ‘an apartheid state’? Let’s look at intentions first. Apartheid was written into the old South African constitution, and covered just about every walk of life. Israel (like the UK) doesn’t have a constitution, but it does have a very explicit Declaration of Establishment and perfectly clear Basic Laws that make any form of racism, religious discrimination, or abuse of human rights illegal.
‘The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.’ Not many sentences like those in the pre-Mandela constitution. Or perhaps we misunderstood the poor souls.
The Israeli Supreme Court, reckoned by many to be among the best in the world when it comes to human rights, has repeatedly opposed the army and the government, demanding and securing Arab rights. I don’t remember that happening in apartheid South Africa, but maybe I just have a bad memory.
In Israel, the rights of women, gays, the disabled, religious minorities, and all races are secured by law. Palestinian gay men and women frequently flee to Israel to escape persecution and possible death. There is as much press freedom, free speech, and political dissent as you will find in the UK, sometimes more. All citizens have the right to vote. Again, I don’t remember any of this in the old South Africa. More to the point, I hadn’t noticed any of these rights and freedoms in any of the Arab states, including the region under the Palestine Authority.
In Israel, Arabs vote, are elected to the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court, and attend university. Thirty percent of students at the Hebrew University are Arabs, although Arabs form only eighteen percent of the population. The proportion of Arab students at the school rises every year. In the Givat Ram campus, almost half of students in some courses are Arab. Why on earth is the AUT boycotting Arabs?
Arabs run businesses, work in the civil service, teach across the educational spectrum, worship in mosques and churches without restriction, enjoy a free press, and retain Arab culture. The Centre for Jewish Arab Economic Development in Herzliya works to improve conditions for Arabs and help them set up businesses. There must have been a lot of organizations like that under apartheid.
Oddly enough, a Jew wishing to do any of these things in an Arab country would run severe legal and physical risks. Mosque sermons in the West Bank and Gaza often urge worshippers to go out and kill Jews. Of course, there aren’t any Jews in Arab countries now, since they were all expelled years ago. If Sue Blackwell’s so hot on refugees, one wonders why Jewish refugees don’t count for her.
It hardly needs saying that Israel is not a paradise. What country is? There is discrimination there, as there is in Europe or North America. But that is not apartheid, otherwise the AUT should boycott almost every country on earth, especially Muslim countries that practise religious discrimination as a matter of course.
The AUT has placed itself in a ridiculous position by seeking to enforce a boycott against a country that is actually one of the freest and most just in the world. By calling white black, by harming the very people they claim, by ignoring the astonishing record of human rights abuses throughout the Arab world, by providing emotional support for Palestinian terrorism (no condemnation or boycott there), they have given notice that they honour no academic principle, least of all the truth. By making a racist gesture (82% of Israelis are Jews), and by instituting a political test (Israelis who condemn their own government may avoid the boycott) they have brought slime and muck into the universities for which they work.
Here’s a simple test. Sue Blackwell should visit Israel, and, specifically Haifa. There she will see a remarkable array of gardens, terraces, white neo-classical buildings and a golden-domed shrine that are the world centre for a small religious group, the Baha’is. In Israel, the Baha’is enjoy an exceptional level of tolerance and support. In Iran, just after the revolution, the holiest shrine of the Baha’is (Iran’s largest religious minority) was razed to the ground by bulldozers. There and elsewhere in the Arabo-Muslim world Baha’is have been executed, imprisoned, and subjected to apartheid-like restrictions solely by reason of their faith. Sue should make a tour of the West Bank and Gaza and claim to be a Baha’i seeking to build a house of worship. Her reception might give her some idea of what it was really like to be a black under apartheid.

1 comment:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

True, but (as in many other places, but this is not a justification) we do have many examples of bigotry towards minorities. And we definitely cannot that title "light to the gentiles" as some would like to think we own.

P.S. Thanks for changing the template!