The week of March 1 is the week for indoctrinating students to hate Israel. On March 1-8, 2009, Israel’s most virulent adversaries will concentrate their attention on campuses from San Francisco to New York, and Edmonton to Atlanta, spreading falsehoods and encouraging boycott of the Jewish state, or even its destruction. Students will be told that the Jewish state is, by nature, a racist, colonial and oppressive state. They will be told this by activists who ignore genuine racism and oppression by Israel’s neighbors. It is time for “Israeli Apartheid Week.”
One need look no further than the event’s title to understand its malignant nature. The canard that Israel is an apartheid state is an assault on the country’s very legitimacy. The South African apartheid regime was rightfully dismantled and this campaign seeks to cast Israel as guilty of similar racist policies and equally deserving to be dismantled.
The Extremists’ Message
The outrageous comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa is part of a campaign to delegitimize and dismantle the Jewish state. But the calls for an end to Israel will not just be insinuated; they will undoubtedly be explicit. Omar Barghouti, who is slated address students at the University of Ottawa, Montreal’s McGill University and in New York City, does not bother to hide that his goal is to replace Israel with “a unitary state, where, by definition, Jews will be a minority.” (Samir El-youssef, a Palestinian writer who criticizes both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict and genuinely seeks reconciliation, has written that Barghouti’s boycott calls are “full of questionable assumptions, biased assertions, reductive and dismissive statements, condemnations and accusations against those who disagree with him.” Barghouti has “other concerns than peace on his mind,” he added.)
Hezbollah supporter Norman Finkelstein will appear at Emory University in Atlanta and at Fordham University in New York to talk about Israel’s recent Gaza operation. One need not guess what he will say. In an interview published last week in the Teheran Times, Finkelstein called Israel a “vandal state,” an “insane state,” a “lunatic state” and a “terrorist state.” And those were the nicer things he had to say about the country. He also referred to the Jewish state as a “satanic state” from “the boils of hell” which “is committing a holocaust in Gaza.”
This theme will likely be echoed by Ronnie Kasrils, who argues that Israelis are “baby killers” who “behav[e] like Nazis.” Kasrils will be speaking at Carlton University in Ottawa, McGill University in Montreal and the Vancouver Public library.
There Are Apartheid States – Like Saudi Arabia
Although these and other “apartheid week” activists cleverly use the public’s revulsion with the word “apartheid,” it is apparent that their aim is not to fight genuine oppression, but rather to bash Israel, the Middle East’s only liberal democracy and the only country among its neighbors designated as “free” by Freedom House, a non-partisan group that monitors the status of political, human and civil rights around the world.
Why is there is no apartheid week or protest regarding, for example, Saudi Arabia, ranked “not free” – the worst designation – by Freedom House? After all, according to the State Department, that country of nearly 28,000,000 lacks freedom of religion, assembly, movement and speech.
Discrimination against women includes, for instance, prohibition against voting, driving and traveling without a male relative.
In Israel, which the State Department notes “generally respected the human rights of its citizens,” none of this is true. Israel’s many Arab, Muslim, Christian and female citizens share equal rights with their Jewish neighbors. But it is this free and democratic country, not any of the truly oppressive and bigoted regimes worldwide, that is falsely being accused of apartheid.
In short, Israel is being lied about and discriminated against.
Lies Must Be Challenged
It is essential that all students hear a counterpoint to these voices of grotesque demonization. To understand why, it’s instructive to look overseas, where the anti-Israel chorus has been more organized and persistent than it is here. A recent column in the United Kingdom’s Jewish Chronicle explains the consequences of silently enduring the attack on Israel:
There was a great deal of chest-beating about how unpleasant it was for Jewish students to have to bear the full brunt of Arab activism … but few people in the Jewish community, it seemed, recognized the more pernicious long-term implications of this wave of implacably anti-Israeli propaganda, and how it would impact on the way the conflict and Israel would be perceived by the wider world in future years. …
… [T]oday, and for the past decade, many of those holding senior positions across a range of organisations, in law, politics, local and national government, unions, academia, and, most of all, media, passed through British universities when a zealous and lavishly funded Palestinian propaganda machine enjoyed virtual hegemony on UK campuses.
The long-term impact of such virulent anti-Israeli propaganda on non-Jewish, non-Muslim undergraduates may also help to explain the curious silence, today, in conflicts away from the Middle East — in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and, currently, Sri Lanka. In all those places, despite the deaths of tens of thousands — sometimes millions — entire cohorts of media, academics and politicians seem barely to register the conflicts, let alone to call for boycotts, march on embassies or ask questions in Parliament.
The piece is entitled, “We could have dealt with campus hate long ago.”
Fortunately, what “could have” been done in the UK is what can still be done in North America. To be sure, the Palestinian narrative is prevalent among outspoken professors and others in academia. But there nonetheless are many students who understand that Barghouti, Finkelstein, Kasrils and other like-minded commentators seek to distort rather than inform. They see the lies and double standards that are applied to Israel.
Seeing, though, is not enough. Those who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and understand its need to defend itself from terrorists bent on its destruction must also share their understanding with friends and classmates. They must exercise their freedom of speech, and avail themselves of university resources.
Even if the prospect of openly challenging anti-Zionist professors is daunting, and even if the one-sided, anti-Israel events sponsored by university departments are not easily combated, one powerful tool that can and should be utilized is the school newspaper.
Where veteran Israel-bashers convey hysterical accounts of a “satanic state” from the boils of hell, students (and faculty) can relay a sober and accurate account of the situation in an Op-Ed or letter submitted to the campus newspaper.
And while it might sometimes seem that the vocal gang of extremists are ubiquitous, there are powerful and compelling voices resisting them, voices that can be cited in the Op-Eds and letters.
Prominent Voices Against the Apartheid Canard
Benjamin Pogrund, a South African-born Jew who was instrumental in the anti-apartheid movement and now lives in Israel, noted that
Apartheid is dead in South Africa but the word is alive in the world, especially as an epithet of abuse for Israel. Israel is accused by some of being ‘the new apartheid’ state. If true, it would be a grave charge, justifying international condemnation and sanctions. But it isn’t true. Anyone who knows what apartheid was, and who knows Israel today, is aware of that. Use of the apartheid label is at best ignorant and naïve and at worst cynical and manipulative. …
“Apartheid” is used in this case and elsewhere because it comes easily to hand: it is a lazy label for the complexities of the Middle East conflict. It is also used because, if it can be made to stick, then Israel can be made to appear to be as vile as was apartheid South Africa and seeking its destruction can be presented to the world as an equally moral cause. (From the December 2005 issue of Focus, published by The Helen Suzman Foundation.)
Israeli historian Benny Morris explained
Israel is not an apartheid state — rather the opposite, it is easily the most democratic and politically egalitarian state in the Middle East, in which Arab Israelis enjoy far more freedom, better social services, etc. than in all the Arab states surrounding it. Indeed, Arab representatives in the Knesset, who continuously call for dismantling the Jewish state, support the Hezbollah, etc., enjoy more freedom than many Western democracies give their internal oppositions. (The U.S. would prosecute and jail Congressmen calling for the overthrow of the U.S. Govt. or the demise of the U.S.) “
And in a piece entitled “Campus Hypocrisy,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called those involved with anti-Israel campaigns similar to apartheid week “dishonest,” “hypocrites,” and even anti-Semitic:
Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.
Although none of the above have shied away from criticizing Israel in the past, they all recognize the egregious dishonesty propagated by the “apartheid week” bunch, and the need to speak out against the falsehoods.