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Does Israel Represent An Apartheid State?

March 15, 2010

I’ve been having an interesting discussion with astute commenter Ahmed about whether or not Israel should be described as an apartheid state, and I thought it was about time I consolidated my opinions into a proper blog post. Comparisons to the ancien régime in South Africa are of course the basis for events like Israeli Apartheid Week, and are often invoked on a more general basis by Palestinians and their supporters. My basic position is that while there’s a kernel of truth to the analogy, the differences between the apartheid system and current Israeli policies greatly outweigh the similarities.

It is difficult to find signs like this in Tel Aviv. Public domain image by El C.

Let’s start with the apartheid system in all its dubious glory. Apartheid was officially adopted in principle in South Africa in 1948, and legislation quickly developed to convert the principle into a concrete set of policies. Black South Africans, often referred to by the ethnolinguistic term “Bantu”, were forbidden from marrying whites (1949), assigned to specific residential zones (1950), required to carry a passbook called a “dompas” at all times (the hated “pass laws” of 1952), and compelled to use separate public facilities even when in white areas (1953).

The system of separate residential areas led to the development of “bantustans”, essentially homelands for specific Bantu peoples. The bantustans were kept on a short leash by South Africa and regarded as part of South Africa by the rest of the world, but to the South African government they were (or at least were intended to become) separate countries. This allowed the government to regard black people as citizens of their bantustans, rather than of South Africa, and accordingly represented a rationale for treating them as aliens and excluding them from participation in politics.

Taken as a whole, the apartheid system involved a combination of exclusion and oppression. Black people were kept out of South Africa by the bantustans, politically if not physically, and were simultaneously kept down by the pass laws and other impositions. The most diabolical feature of the system was that the bantustans were too constrained, undeveloped and poor in resources to flourish as independent nations, which kept the blacks dependent on South Africa proper as a kind of helot class of labourers and servants. This allowed white South Africans to remain in control of both the territory and the people. I’m oversimplifying somewhat, most egregiously by ignoring the Asian and mixed-race (“coloured”) inhabitants of South Africa, but I think this general picture is accurate.

How much of the picture is mirrored in Israel? In my opinion, not very much, beyond the central theme of a particular ethnic group (ethnoreligious in the case of the Jews of Israel) attempting to maintain control over a swathe of territory. Arabs in Israel enjoy at least an approximation of full political rights; I’m sure that discrimination exists, as even the rabidly partisan Anti-Defamation League acknowledges, but inside Israel proper (forgetting, for a minute, about the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank) there is no equivalent to the segregationist and oppressive policies that were applied to blacks in the white areas of South Africa.

I don’t want to put words in Ahmed’s mouth, but he and I seem to agree that the most persuasive part of the analogy between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa is the comparison between the Palestinian territories and bantustans. After all, the Palestinian territories are controlled in Israel in many respects, can hardly be described as viable states in their present condition, and function as Palestinian homelands that are segregated from Israel proper. However, the crucial distinction in my mind is that Israel seems to have no intention of perpetuating its present degree of interference in the Palestinian territories’ affairs. In contrast to South Africa’s leaders, even the rather hardline Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to maintain the Palestinian territories as a perpetually beholden source of cheap labour, but envisages cutting them loose to form a sovereign (albeit demilitarised) nation provided they recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This may not be a terrific deal, from the Palestinian perspective, but it’s very different from any deal the Zulus or Xhosas were ever offered. In a nutshell, Arabs are being largely kept out of Israel, apart from the 1.5-million-odd who are there already, but they are not being kept down in anything like the way blacks were being kept down in South Africa.

At least in my view, this is why Israel is not closely analogous to South Africa in the days of apartheid. Canadians who sympathise with the Palestinians would do better to forget the notion of Israeli Apartheid Week and concentrate on the Palestinians’ real grievances.

Coming soon: So how should Canadians think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And do they need to get involved?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Ahmed permalink
    April 1, 2010 12:02 am

    “Israel seems pretty cavalier about civilian casualties in some cases, but it doesn’t deliberately target civilians as a matter of policy”

    This statement is not only contridicted by the Goldstone report but also a whole host of other documentation. Pick up a report from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch USA, B’teselem and they all indepedently document deliberate targeting of Palestian civilians. Are they all wrong, in your opinion? And Im curous how you formed your opinion on this in the first place

    • corsullivan permalink*
      April 3, 2010 12:06 pm

      I haven’t looked firsthand at the Goldstone report or anything similar, but the coverage I’ve seen suggests that the accusations stop short of what I would describe as a policy of targeting civilians. For instance, this article describes an incident in which Israeli forces allegedly lauched a mortar at a mosque, killing 15 worshippers. The Israeli side of the story was apparently that the mosque was being used to store weapons, and as a sanctuary for militants. Goldstone shook his finger at Israel for not at least waiting until the mosque was not being used.

      Different interpretations are possible here. The charitable one would be that the Israelis were primarily interested in destroying the mosque as a tactical objective, and attacked during a service either out of brutal indifference or because there was some compelling practical reason not to wait. The less charitable interpretation would be that the Israelis just wanted to kill some Palestinians in order to intimidate the rest of the population, and used the tactical value of the mosque as an excuse. Or their motivation could have lain somewhere in between these extremes.

      If the less charitable interpretation is correct, it would not be unreasonable to describe the attack on the mosque as thinly disguised terrorism. However, we have no way of knowing as far as I can see, and in any case the decision of when to attack the mosque was probably a fairly low-level one – and hence not a matter of “policy” in the sense that I was using the term. All of the reports I’ve seen of supposed atrocities by Israeli forces in recent years have been similarly ambiguous. As I see it, the Israelis often play fast and loose with the lives of Palestinian civilians, but this still stops short of deliberately and single-mindedly targetting civilians by adopting a broad strategy of, for example, detonating bombs in cafes (or other targets of no military value whatsoever). Only the latter really qualifies, in my opinion, as a policy of terrorism.

  2. corsullivan permalink*
    March 29, 2010 12:27 pm

    Serge,

    We may have to agree to disagree on the desirability of working through the UN to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My attitude is that the effectiveness of the UN when it comes to intervening in conflicts of this type has been very limited, and that changing this would require imbuing the UN with a lot more power to act directly – by giving it a standing military force, for instance. This would be a big step towards world government, and would undermine the sovereignty of every nation. If we Canadians want to actively put pressure on Israel, we should do it ourselves, in coordination with like-minded governments. The UN would be a good place to discuss this, but not a good conduit for action. My preferred approach would be the more modest one of simply ratcheting down our support for Israel, and conversely beginning to deal in a more cordial way with countries like Iran and Syria (as well as the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip). We really don’t need to either choose sides or attempt to dictate a particular outcome.

    I don’t think the terms “terrorist” and “freedom fighter” are mutually exclusive. If your strategic repertoire includes attacking civilians in order to scare other civilians into submitting to your demands, you’re a terrorist. If your objectives include winning freedom (from oppressive government, foreign interference, etc.) for some particular group of people, you’re a freedom fighter. It’s perfectly conceivable that one could fight for freedom using terrorist methods – the IRA perhaps came close to this, at least at some stages of their history. Note that these definitions are independent of moral praise or condemnation.

    I would definitely consider the militants of Hamas and Hezbollah to be terrorists. I’m not sure that I would consider them to be freedom fighters, since their stated objectives are not limited to winning more autonomy for the Palestinians but also include destroying Israel. This could be described as fighting for freedom only under the assumption that ALL of the territory presently claimed by Israel is illegitimately occupied, and needs to be liberated. Seems a bit much, given the longstanding Jewish tie to the land.

    • March 30, 2010 10:24 am

      As a footnote to your reply Cosullivan, I was not suggesting to give the UN its own military force, not at all. My suggestion for a UN strategy was a UN mandated international force such as the UN presence in Cyprus and above all economic sanctions. If the UN had been present in Gaza and in the West Bank with the right rules of engagement, the Israelis may not have had the sort of carte blanche situation that they had since the sixties. As for your efforts to define “terrorists” I would join you in calling Hesbollah and Hamas terrorists if you agree to call the Israeli army the same name and their political leaders war criminals.

      On this: Your quote”My preferred approach would be the more modest one of simply ratcheting down our support for Israel, and conversely beginning to deal in a more cordial way with countries like Iran and Syria (as well as the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip). We really don’t need to either choose sides or attempt to dictate a particular outcome”.

      Being more cordial to Syria and Iran would indeed be in my view a step in the right direction. As for Israel we should boycott theirs goods and services, starting with Canada’s military procurement (as in drones).

      • corsullivan permalink*
        March 31, 2010 12:00 pm

        As for your efforts to define “terrorists” I would join you in calling Hesbollah and Hamas terrorists if you agree to call the Israeli army the same name and their political leaders war criminals.

        I dunno. Israel seems pretty cavalier about civilian casualties in some cases, but it doesn’t deliberately target civilians as a matter of policy, which in my opinion is the basic prerequisite for terrorism. As for war crimes, I’m sure some individual soldiers and commanders have bent or broken the rules of war, but at least in recent decades it’s been pretty minor stuff in the grand scheme of things.

        As for Israel we should boycott theirs goods and services, starting with Canada’s military procurement (as in drones).

        I’m not too enthusiastic about this idea. For one thing, Israel apparently makes pretty good drones. More importantly, Israel is just fighting its own corner in a nasty conflict over territory, and I don’t think the Israeli claim to at least some of the disputed land is particularly unreasonable. I simply don’t see any reason to treat Israel as an enemy, and imposing sanctions or a boycott would be a large step in that direction.

  3. March 27, 2010 6:34 pm

    I tend to agree with your argument that talking about apartheid was not a brilliant idea because as you write there are too many differences between Israel and South Africa . So when we refer to Israel we should not talk about apartheid, nor about genocide not even about racism because one could easily punch holes into such arguments. In my own view the international community dating back to 1947 has been too lax about both Israel and too lax towards the Palestinians and their allies. The partition of Palestine into three political entities: the state of Israel, the state of Palestine and the city of Jerusalem was a UN decision that was never followed up. The prime responsibility for the 2010 situation in Palestine is OURS…that is our elected representatives in the USA, Canada, and in most EU countries. On the whole I also believe that the US bears the largest responsibility for financing Israel and turning a blind eye on the war of attrition this country has waged on unarmed palestinians. I think that the US role in the conflict needs no demonstration but in doubt any one could search: UN veto Israel USA. There you will find that the US have vetoed systematically all UN.SC attempts to keep Israel on the right tracks.

    The Palestinian conflict is I believe the primary motivation behind international terrorism and yet the public in the West does not seem to be able to link the two together. Instead, crafty governments with the complicity of some media have managed to delink the two issues with the most absurd result that the average Joe thinks that the Israelis are the victims of terrorists…just like us!!!

    As the recent events have shown, Israel has no intention to negociate peace with Palestinians. On the other hand Palestinians still pledge the destruction of Israel. This , my friends, means war for ever and worse: war for us in western democracies. A permanent conlict between Israelis and Palestinians is a sad state of affairs. The involvement of countries like Canada (mine), the US and the EU member states is totally unacceptable both from the human cost and the financial cost.

    Our elected representatives (all parties) have been sitting on the fence for too long and we public we have tolerated their laxism long enough. I hope that there will be a way to force them to take their responsibilities and I am looking forward to reading futher opinions in this blog.

    Serge

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 28, 2010 11:13 am

      Many thanks for your very thoughtful comments. A couple of quick replies:

      In my own view the international community dating back to 1947 has been too lax about both Israel and too lax towards the Palestinians and their allies.

      I would suggest that, on the contrary, nations external to the Middle East have perhaps been too closely involved. The constant meddling, however well intentioned, has encouraged both sides to concentrate on making their respective cases to outsiders rather than trying to resolve the problem between themselves. Also, the idea that some nebulous “international community” should step in to impose a resolution has always struck me as somewhat paternalistic. Accordingly, I think any involvement by Canada should be even-handed and very limited in scope.

      The Palestinian conflict is I believe the primary motivation behind international terrorism and yet the public in the West does not seem to be able to link the two together. Instead, crafty governments with the complicity of some media have managed to delink the two issues with the most absurd result that the average Joe thinks that the Israelis are the victims of terrorists…just like us!!!

      Well, Israel’s enemies do sometimes use terrorism as part of their repertoire of tactics. To that extent, it’s fair to say that Israelis are indeed victimised by terrorism. But of course it’s also true that Western support for Israel creates violent “blowback” against Western countries from the Islamic world.

      • March 28, 2010 12:28 pm

        Thanks Corsullivan (03/28/10) for your comments which are fair comments. Indeed nations other than Israel (Israelis and Palestinians) were far too involved in resolving the territorial regional tensions in their own way. In the West the USA GB France, in the Middle East Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Lybia and other Arab countries. For a long time the West met East (USSR) in this part of the World and it is possible that the notion of Israel being a USA ally came from that era. I however sustain my point with respect to the UN. The legality of the Partitioning of Palestine rests on the 1947 original UN decision. There is nothing paternalistic in the UN seeking to implement their own policies. I have a sense that the current UN secretary is begining to appreciate that. The pre-1990 east-west antagonism and the membership of the Security Council made it impossible to follow-up on the UN decision, hence the never ending series of US vetoes regarding Israel. Now that the cold war is over and that even China can be talked to, there are no reasons for the UN security council not to vote an action plan aimed at resolving the conflict with the right tools: economic sanctions towards Israel and intervention of a blue helmet force would be first on my list.

        Your other point was about terrorism. Yes Israelis call Hamas, Hesbola and others terrorists, it is their view. To the Bristish authorities in Palestine in the 50’s Israelis were terrorists too. The question that I raise is : are these groups “terrorists” or are they “freedom fighters”…. when observed from Canada. Our governments and our media can manipulate the language so easily and so frequently that it is difficult for ordinary citizens like myself to sort friends and foes. When Afghan mudjahedines where fighting the Soviet army they were reported in our media as freedom fighters; now that they are fighting us they are terrorists. All this is not new, the French resistance in WW II was labelled terrorists by the Wehrmacht…

        The core of my argument is that we should hold our government to account for the effect of Canada’s policy in the Middle East. Canada indeed can only do so much, I for one become alarmed when the Harper Governments appears willing to outdo the USA in its bling support of the Israeli Gvt, or worse when a junior cabinet minister of the same Gvt (Peter Kent) pledge to fight to the sides of Israel if necessary. The time has come to speak out.

        To be continued.

        Serge

  4. Ahmed permalink
    March 21, 2010 1:15 am

    “However, it’s also true that anti-apartheid “icons” tend to be in the business of moral grandstanding. The analogy to apartheid gives them an excuse to grandstand with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

    So when Desmond Tutu travels to Palestine and sees the way in which ordinary people are treated by an occupying army, when he waits with them in checkpoints, observes the daily humiliation and then says that the parralels forms of oppresion that they face with those of blacks under apartheid is striking, we assume he is moral “grandstanding” because you say so. Would you like to out your “record” of doing anything and compare it to the courage, honesty and heroism demonstrated by Tutu. A tale of the tape so to speak. COSATU with mass workers strikes during the 1980’s and 1990’s brought the aparthied system to a halt, they were also amoung the first union to frame their analysis around Israel to an apartheid like framework. Mandela has done the same and linked the freedom of black South Africans to Palestinians. You’re suggestion that these figures who have risked their lives to defeat apartheid are engaged in grandstanding is really insulting and shallow. It should not stand. As for my broader opinions, I’ve argued always that we cannot reverse the clock, of course if we could, British policy to the region should be corrected, but thats not a policy. Ultimately Palestinians and Jews must share the land, as they did in the past, but that the framework here must be justice grounded at least in international law. We disagree about how significant the rhetoric of “two states” has been, since I’ve mapped out the ways it has provided cover for ongoing violence and an intensification of the occupation

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 21, 2010 11:46 am

      You’re suggestion that these figures who have risked their lives to defeat apartheid are engaged in grandstanding is really insulting and shallow. It should not stand.

      Risking one’s life and engaging in grandstanding are not mutually exclusive. Mandela et al. certainly displayed courage in the past, and their actions (grandstanding included) did help to bring down the apartheid system. But what could be more “shallow” than perceiving these talented saboteurs and agitators as saintly figures whose opinions on a region thousands of kilometres from South Africa must be treated with the greatest respect?

      Ultimately Palestinians and Jews must share the land, as they did in the past, but that the framework here must be justice grounded at least in international law.

      The limitations of international law are that it’s narrow in scope (is there any international statute that can properly account for the ancient but intermittent connection of the Jews to the land, or the emotional importance to both sides of the various religious sites?) and that the institutions through which it operates tend to be highly politicised. Hence my opinion that a resolution will only come through diplomatic, openly political and/or military channels, rather than legalistic ones.

  5. corsullivan permalink*
    March 20, 2010 11:57 am

    Ahmed,

    Again, some replies to a few of your points.

    “Maybe it would be better to have an annual “Israeli Land Grab Week”.

    As if that name wouldnt encounter the same sort of unhinged, screeching resistance.

    Oh, I’m sure it would, and my suggestion was a bit facetious. But at least it avoids the dubious comparison inherent in “Israeli Apartheid Week”.

    As Naomi Klein says the attacks against “Israel Apartheid Week” represent moves to control and supress the language that we use therefore closing off discourse. They are attacking us and and saying we cant use these words precisely because these words are effective.

    Some people might be saying that, but I’m saying you shouldn’t use those words because they’re somewhat inaccurate and very distracting – they obscure, rather than illuminate. But I see this argument as a contribution to the discourse, not an attempt to close it off. I’m not “attacking” you or anyone else, but merely disagreeing.

    “Israel Land Grab Week” would be similarly condemened and in fact its probably more inexact because it doesnt attempt to define the racism and seperation, the rights contigent on nationality which underpin the conflict and fighting in the first place.You also attempt to marginalise those who use the analogy and suggest, I’d argue disengeneously, that they are distracted from what should be their real work.

    I agree that “Israeli Land Grab Week” wouldn’t capture the ethnocultural dimension of the conflict – and as I said, it was a facetious suggestion anyway. However, there are lots of ways that a dispute between two ethnic groups can play out. Apartheid-like policies by one of the groups are only one possibility, and one that I would argue has not been realised in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m not sure why you think I’m making this suggestion disingenuously.

    After speaking on the Gaza massacre at a Canadian university, the sponsors presented me with a button reading “I ♥ GAZA.” I pinned the button to my backpack and headed for the airport. As I stood on the queue to board the plane, a passenger behind me whispered in my ear “I like your button.”

    That’s very sweet. I don’t know what the hell it has to do with comparisons to apartheid, though. It’s that specific analogy I’m “dissing”, not the general notion of being fond of Gaza or sympathising with the Palestinian cause.

    The goal, I’d argue is to erase the Palestinians ability to function of an independent cultural, politrical and social body and force them into acquisance. You seem to think that this solution should be welcomed or at least downplay its consequences both on a moral and political level.

    We haven’t been talking about whether Israeli policies should be welcomed, but only about whether they’re similar to apartheid. You seem to be conflating skepticism towards the apartheid analogy with support for Israel in general. If you want to know, I don’t feel committed to either side in the conflict: we’re talking about a territorial dispute between two Middle Eastern peoples, neither of which has any particular claim to my loyalty or sympathy.

    Your language and absurd blind believe (as shown by your linking of the Irish Times piece) that the rhetoric of a “two state solution” itself means theconflct in ending is absurd.

    The prevalence of this rhetoric even among relatively hardline Israelis does indicate widespread support for the idea of a Palestinian state. That may not be much, but it’s something.

    If Palestinians are eventually ehtnically cleansed, as they were before (700 000 in 1948) wouldnt this be qualitatively worse than anything done by the apartheid regime.

    Now you’re talking about subjective moral judgements. But in any case, arguing that the Israelis are contemplating something even worse than apartheid is no argument for the view that their policies amount to apartheid; quite the opposite, in fact. A criminal engaged in something even worse than theft, for example, is by definition not engaged in theft.

    If its so obvious that the comparison doesnt work than why do you feel that so many anti apartheid icons see the situation in Palestine and on an emotional and political level make the comparison between the fate of those under Israeli occupation and those in Apartheid South Africa.

    I’m not denying that there are some similarities, or that the similarities might be worth drawing attention to (ideally in a way that’s more nuanced than screaming “Israel practises apartheid!”). However, it’s also true that anti-apartheid “icons” tend to be in the business of moral grandstanding. The analogy to apartheid gives them an excuse to grandstand with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  6. Ahmed permalink
    March 18, 2010 12:36 pm

    “I think of things “to say” on “this topic” and then go silent.”

    Renee, I’d like to encourage you to speak up next time you feel the impulse. People comment on all sorts of topics all the time that they may not have developed an all encompassing expertise on. Your hesitation is understandable given the toxic tone much of the discourse. That said, the discussion around Israel/Palestine IMHO suffers enough already from degrees of self censorship. Its time to broaden the debate

  7. reneethewriter permalink
    March 17, 2010 2:04 pm

    Cor, (and Markanda),

    I really like it that you both tackle this subject. I read, and think, and wonder, and read.

    Then, there’s today’s radio news, on CBC, about events “over there.”

    Was it Simon Jenkins, in the Observer/Guardian, who, after many years/comments/articles/opinions, decided he would stop writing about Israel/Palestine? Have I mentioned this before. It’s my usual remark. I think of things “to say” on “this topic” and then go silent.

    I admire your will to speak and to take a stand.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 20, 2010 12:07 pm

      For the record, I completely agree with Ahmed’s comment above. By all means speak up and add your voice to the discussion – there’s no reason to remain silent just because others might not like what you have to say. After all, civilised disagreement is the lifeblood of democracy, and if someone gets slightly uncivilised and calls you either a Zionist stooge or a supporter of terrorism it’s unlikely to kill you. It might even make you stronger.

      If nothing else, Margaret Wente apparently thinks that women are poorly suited to blogging because they’re not sufficiently interested in expressing their opinions. You’re not going to take that lying down, are you?

  8. Ahmed permalink
    March 16, 2010 1:13 pm

    The occupation has now lasted over 40 years and is, as I’ve argued, an extension of the ethnic cleansing that occuared in 1948. As I’ve pointed out, even as Israel has been loosing international legitamacy for its ongoing brutality towards the Palestinians, the occupation has in fact intensified leading to a situation in which many have argued is possibly irreversible. It’s not only the settlements which doubled during the nineties and are more like massive encalves but also the wall and checkpoints which strategically cut off Palestinians from their land and communitty. The goal, I’d argue is to erase the Palestinians ability to function of an independent cultural, politrical and social body and force them into acquisance. You seem to think that this solution should be welcomed or at least downplay its consequences both on a moral and political level.

    To the issue of who is indegenous is, I think, is an important one. There’s no doubt in my mind that people of the jewish faith have a historic tie to the land and that Israel was created in the aftermath of western guilt about the Holocaust. That doesnt negate that to Palestinians the central ideology of the Israeli state has been a colonial one and that Zionism in many ways fuctioned as a European imposed ideology whose central unifying motivation was to build a state with a jewish majority, and that this aim in fact neccesitated ethnic cleansing. Until this day a Jew in say Canada or the United States who has never been to Israel hasmore rights in the occupied territories than a any Palestininwho can trace their lineage to the landfor generations and in fact cannot return to the homes from which they were driven away from.

    Part of what makes the apartheid anaogy so useful is that it refuases to accept,as Naomi Klein points out, the dichotomy between Tel a Viv and the West Bank.The fact is that every settlement receiveds funding and permission to be built from the Israeloi government, that Israeli prisons hold 10 000 Palestinian political prisoners, that Israel proper provides troops to commit the sort of crimes we saw in Gaza, that the Israeli government refuses to say where its borders are and votes agianst resolutions in the UN calling for a settlement along the 1967 borders. This isnt to say that the Palestinians are without faults or have been honourably led, but instead to emphasize the absolute lack of symatry betwene the oppresor and oppressed. Your language and absurd blind believe (as shown by your linking of the Irish Times piece) that the rhetoric of a “two state solution” itself means theconflct in ending is absurd. More so you ignore that it is now acceptable to talk openly about ethnic cleasing of Palestinians into other countries, the forenign minister Lieberman is a proponant of this solution which receiveds quite hefty support in israeli popular opinion polls. If Palestinians are eventually ehtnically cleansed, as they were before (700 000 in 1948) wouldnt this be qualitatively worse than anything done by the apartheid regime.

    My last question to you. If its so obvious that the comparison doesnt work than why do you feel that so many anti apartheid icons see the situation in Palestine and on an emotional and political level make the comparison between the fate of those under Israeli occupation and those in Apartheid South Africa. People whose records and resistance are heroic whether it be Desmond Tutu, Ronnir Kasrils, Mandela or COSATU (the largest union of workers in south africa)? Why should we take your judgement over theirs and who has a better claim to speak to the legacy of South African apartheid, them or you?

  9. corsullivan permalink*
    March 16, 2010 12:25 pm

    Ahmed,

    Thanks for the detailed critique. Some responses:

    In Israel, Palestinian citizens enjoy some rights, such as the ability to vote and be elected, but only Jews have full rights allowing them to obtain land, to receive the benefits of military veteran status and to benefit from the “Law of Return.”

    Okay, but being able to vote and be elected is hardly insignificant. Neither is being able to use the same facilities as the Jewish majority, from swimming pools to universities. I’m not expecting you to agree that this is a decisive difference from South African apartheid, but would you at least acknowledge that it’s a significant one?

    The resistance of indigenous peoples…

    I’m sure you’re aware that the word “indigenous”, in this context, is pretty loaded. Both Jews and Arabs obviously have a significant history of settlement in the region, and I’m not sure it makes sense to recognise either group as more indigenous than the other.

    …a strong white South Africa with few or no black citizens, surrounded by a constellation of poor, weak black states which it could easily control and exploit as a source of cheap labor.

    So to what extent do you think Israel plans to “exploit” the inhabitants of a future Palestinian state (or weak little statelet – the difference is not important here), for cheap labour or anything else? My impression has always been that the answer is “not much at all”, but I’m open to persuasion if you have evidence to the contrary.

    On the other hand the displacement, colonization and robbing of Palesitnian land, all illegal according to intyernational law which continues unabbated, is, in the west either apologized for, not mentioned, negated or denied.

    I don’t deny that this took place on a large scale in the 20th century and is continuing on a smaller scale today. I would describe this as seizure of territory with an element of ethnic cleansing, which is nasty behaviour but not equivalent in itself to apartheid. You seem to be using the term apartheid very broadly and imprecisely. Maybe it would be better to have an annual “Israeli Land Grab Week”.

    You write without once mentioning the fact that Israel relies on massacres such as those inflicted on Gaza, killing over 1200 people, to maintain its deterence factor. Israel in large part attacked Gaza to restore what it called its deterrence capacity, its ability to terrorize the Arab world into submission.

    That’s because the apartheid-era government never, as far as I know, launched military actions on this scale against black South Africans. Again, you’re talking about generic nasty behaviour that has absolutely nothing to do with apartheid per se. I would argue that any nation with enemies on its borders would be foolish not to develop a bit of deterrence capacity, but that’s an entirely separate discussion.

    Unlike Desmond Tutu, COSATU ( the dominantr trade union in the South Africa), Jimmy Cater, Mandela, Israli writers like Neve Gordon, heck even Ehud Barak has used the apartheid analogy, you seem to think that the label doesnt fit. Fair enough although I hope that woyuldnt lead you to beleive that it should be crimialised of singled out for governm,ent condemnation.

    Of course not! What put that idea into your head? I’ve never suggested any such thing.

    My question to you is what strategies should civil society take in the face of an unending occupation which derives legitimacy from the wholescale financial, diplopmatic and political backing it receives from western goverments?

    I’m not sure whose civil society you’re talking about, but in any case I’ll address this to some extent in my next post.

    There are now over 300 000 settlers in the West Bank, their numbers doubled during the so called peace process and as has benn noted by a key advisor to Sharon the goal here has been to make Palestinian statehood impossible and freeze the peace process. The idea that Palestinians arent “kept down” is intellectually insulting and morally obstuse. Have you not read the regular reports about widespread, systematic human rights violations which occuur in the occupioed territoiries…

    First, the current situation in the occupied territories can hardly be expected to continue indefinitely. No one has a real interest in maintaining the status quo, so the apartheid-like features of life in the territories (and I’m not denying that there are some) are temporary and indeed in a sense incidental. Second, I agree that it’s duplicitous of the Israelis to talk about peace while simultaneously allowing settlement to continue, but I would interpret this as an attempt to secure peace on more advantageous terms – more land for Israel, less for the eventual Palestinian state.

    In practice, the Netanyahu government, I’d argue like its predecessors, is committed to a vision of “greater Israel” and Bibi’s version of “two states” would confine the Palestinians to a set of isolated enclaves whose borders, airspace, water resources, and other resources would be under complete Israeli control.

    This is quite possibly correct (although I think your certainty in the matter is premature), but again this is basically an issue of how much land and resources Israel will be able to keep. The Palestinians on the land, from the hardline Israeli perspective, are just an inconvenience. In South Africa, the blacks were not an inconvenience but a vital labour force, almost (as I said in my original post) like ancient Greek helots. Since you don’t seem to like my “kept out” vs. “kept down” distinction, let me try another formulation: the Israelis are mostly interested in control over land, whereas the Afrikaners wanted control over land plus people. In the long term, Israel seems to want to control the Palestinians only to the extent necessary to minimise the ability of the Palestinians to launch attacks. This hardly seems like a trivial distinction.

    To be clear, I’m not arguing that Israel has treated the Palestinians nicely or that the Palestinians are wrong to resist the seizure of what they can quite plausibly claim as their land. In my opinion the unquestioning diplomatic support that Canada has recently been extending to Israel is idiotic, an argument I’ve made previously on this blog. But I also think that the analogy to apartheid is too vague and limited to be helpful. It’s a bit of cheap rhetoric, the mirror image of calling any critic of Israel an “anti-Semite”.

    The apartheid analogy is also a massive distraction. The appropriateness of the analogy becomes such an issue in itself (as we’re seeing in this discussion, and more generally in the public debate around Israeli Apartheid Week) that the current reality of the situation in Israel and the occupied territories fades into the background. As someone who clearly symphathises with the Palestinians, wouldn’t you rather be talking about their real grievances – land seized, settlements built, houses bombed – and how they might be addressed?

    • Ahmed permalink
      March 16, 2010 1:51 pm

      “Maybe it would be better to have an annual “Israeli Land Grab Week”.

      As if that name wouldnt encounter the same sort of unhinged, screeching resistance. Here’s again where you and I disgree. My argument here is that to many the massacre of 1200 people in Gaza, the killing of 400 children the bombing of universities, mosques and other institions all became part of a shift in dialogue. For the first time we saw, in the US, for example, very prominent mainstream liberal jewish and organisations abandon the ship so to speak and publibly denounce the war crimes often being committed in their name. As Israel’s reckless behaviour towards the people it occupies becomes more transparently ruthless and as the historical record has now been challenged, there are greater and more unhinged efforts to marginalise anyone who dares to criticize Israel. As Naomi Klein says the attacks against “Israel Apartheid Week” represent moves to control and supress the language that we use therefore closing off discourse. They are attacking us and and saying we cant use these words precisely because these words are effective. “Israel Land Grab Week” would be similarly condemened and in fact its probably more inexact because it doesnt attempt to define the racism and seperation, the rights contigent on nationality which underpin the conflict and fighting in the first place.You also attempt to marginalise those who use the analogy and suggest, I’d argue disengeneously, that they are distracted from what should be their real work. Here’s a great pasaage from a recent article which mirrors my experience with the movements you’re dissing

      “The bonds of solidarity being forged between young Jews and Muslims opposing the occupation—the core group on many campuses consists of secular Jewish radicals and observant Muslim women—give reason for hope that a just and lasting peace may yet be achieved. After speaking on the Gaza massacre at a Canadian university, the sponsors presented me with a button reading “I ♥ GAZA.” I pinned the button to my backpack and headed for the airport. As I stood on the queue to board the plane, a passenger behind me whispered in my ear “I like your button.” Hmm, I thought, the times they are a-changing. A couple of hours later I asked the airline attendant for a cup of water. Handing me the cup he leaned over and whispered “I like your button.” Hmm, I thought, there’s something happening here.”

  10. Ahmed permalink
    March 15, 2010 5:06 pm

    “even the rather hardline Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to maintain the Palestinian territories as a perpetually beholden source of cheap labour, but envisages cutting them loose to form a sovereign (albeit demilitarised) nation provided they recognise Israel as a Jewish state”

    Last comment. I just wanted to mention that this fairy tale really exposes to me the wekaness of the entire piece and the authors tone more generally. In practice, the Netanyahu government, I’d argue like its predecessors, is committed to a vision of “greater Israel” and Bibi’s version of “two states” would confine the Palestinians to a set of isolated enclaves whose borders, airspace, water resources, and other resources would be under complete Israeli control. This relationship mirrors that of colonial France to Algeria before independence not the fictional state that the writer wants us to believe is being created

  11. Ahmed permalink
    March 15, 2010 3:25 pm

    Also your linking to an old Irish Times peice in which Bibi says he accepts the need for a so called “two state solution” should be placed in the context of recent days annoucements. That is the decision taken by teh Israeli government to approve and expand existing settlements in Jerusalem. There are now over 300 000 settlers in the West Bank, their numbers doubled during the so called peace process and as has benn noted by a key advisor to Sharon the goal here has been to make Palestinian statehood impossible and freeze the peace process. The idea that Palestinians arent “kept down” is intellectually insulting and morally obstuse. Have you not read the regular reports about widespread, systematic human rights violations which occuur in the occupioed territoiries, they are widely avaliable and published by very mainstream human rights groups. What many South Africans veterans of the anti aparthied struggle concede is that Israeli brutality far outstrips that of the Apartheid regime and the fact that Israel is now less reliant (but not completely, settlement construction labour for example relies heavily on Palestinians) on Palestinian labour. As a South African friend told me, the aparthied regime never deployed F16’s to bombard and bomb the townships.

  12. Ahmed permalink
    March 15, 2010 3:14 pm

    Beyond the issue of banstustans it seems to me that you’re missing out on more similarities and that your ommisions are, in many ways, quite revealing. In apartheid-era South Africa, only whites had full rights. In Israel, Palestinian citizens enjoy some rights, such as the ability to vote and be elected, but only Jews have full rights allowing them to obtain land, to receive the benefits of military veteran status and to benefit from the “Law of Return.” There are similarities between the ideologies of Afrikanerdom and Zionism, which portray the ruling groups in each case as an outcast people who, escaping oppression, found freedom in a promised land. The resistance of indigenous peoples is viewed ideologically as being merely an extension of the oppression which had driven the settlers to come to their promised land in the first place, thus justifying almost any measures the ruling group saw fit to take against them.

    In the late 1970’s, hoping to forestall the end of white rule, South Africa began to create “Bantustans.” These were nominally “independent” homelands to which all of South Africa’s blacks were eventually supposed to be transferred. The end result, so the apartheid rulers hoped, would be a strong white South Africa with few or no black citizens, surrounded by a constellation of poor, weak black states which it could easily control and exploit as a source of cheap labor. Recognizing that this was merely an effort to continue apartheid in another form, the ANC and the entire international community refused to recognize the four bantustans that South Africa created. These “independent states” were abolished when South Africa moved towards democracy. On the other hand the displacement, colonization and robbing of Palesitnian land, all illegal according to intyernational law which continues unabbated, is, in the west either apologized for, not mentioned, negated or denied. These measures which perpetuate the occupation has been absorbed into the narrative of the peace process. So we have so called liberals who would in normal circumstances denounce the kind of brutality Israel practices where it meted out by the Iranian, Saudi or Chinese government reman silent or retreat into langauge of both sides, as if there is some kind of equivalence between a displaced and occupied people and the state which perpetuates their oppresion ,on the land of their birth. It’s these sorts of discrepancies which give rise to the Apartheid analogy.

    I could on. What’s most frustrating in my opinion about your approach is that it ignores the context in which the movement against Israeli apartheid takes root. You refer to the Israeli government desire to see a Palestinian “nation provided they recognise Israel as a Jewish state” at the same time that shut down Israel’s premier human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. It is busy expelling or excluding peace activists and foreign nationals from the Palestinian territories. The campaign, if left unchecked, will be as catastrophic for Palestinians as it will be for Israel. You write without once mentioning the fact that Israel relies on massacres such as those inflicted on Gaza, killing over 1200 people, to maintain its deterence factor. Israel in large part attacked Gaza to restore what it called its deterrence capacity, its ability to terrorize the Arab world into submission.

    The idea that if the present model, in which Israel continues to expand and absord Palestinian land with rapidly growing settlements in the West Bank, while at the same time defying international law, cutting off Gaza, and maintain the infrustructure for an unending occupation is leading us to a situation whereby there will be a sovering state is absurd and disconnected to reality. Its a particulalry dangerous myth. So the debate must then be redirected. Unlike Desmond Tutu, COSATU ( the dominantr trade union in the South Africa), Jimmy Cater, Mandela, Israli writers like Neve Gordon, heck even Ehud Barak has used the apartheid analogy, you seem to think that the label doesnt fit. Fair enough although I hope that woyuldnt lead you to beleive that it should be crimialised of singled out for governm,ent condemnation. My question to you is what strategies should civil society take in the face of an unending occupation which derives legitimacy from the wholescale financial, diplopmatic and political backing it receives from western goverments? I’d be very interested in hearing your reply

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