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Why I call it Apartheid

July 4, 2012

I often speak, and write, about the Palestinian call for solidarity in the form of a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, until Israel abide by international law.   It is the strategy that helped end apartheid in South Africa, and I am convinced it is what will end apartheid in Israel.  When I say that, I get an array of responses.  The negative ones range from the sometimes surprised, but mostly supposedly outraged “Israel is the only democracy in the region” to “Apartheid is a strong word, it’s not quite accurate, and it will alienate too many people.”

I am not interested in addressing the absurd, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.”  Or let me just get this off my chest:  “Zionism–a political ideology whose vision is to create a state for people of a certain perceived ethnicity–is racism.  When the very foundational ideology of a country is racism, it cannot be a democracy. Now go away.”

However, I do want to address the variations of “not quite apartheid” opinions.  Most of these argue that, because there are differences between South Africa’s legal system of discrimination against its brown and black people, and Israel’s legal and extra-legal system of discrimination against the Palestinians, the term “apartheid” does not apply.

Such distinctions are not generally, if ever, used to negate the fact that two other historical manifestations of a known phenomenon are one and the same, despite apparent differences.  Sadly, there have been multiple genocides throughout history.  Focusing on the differences, despite the acknowledged similarities in scope, vision, desired goal, etc, strikes me as something on the continuum between self-serving evasive hair-splitting and an act of bad faith.

Yes, Israel in 2012 is not South Africa in 1989.  So what? There have been many episodes of genocide in the history of the world, and I’ll bet my last penny no two were identical. Does it mean only one was a genocide, and all the others “almost but not quite genocides”? Does it take rape as a weapon of war? Not all genocides used that. Does it take gas chambers? Only one did. Does it take biological warfare?..  One can always look for differences. My approach is, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. lays eggs like a duck that will hatch little ducklings, then I might as well call it a duck, even if its feathers are not the same pattern as the Original Duck.

South Africans who lived under apartheid rule have visited Palestine, and  described it as “worse than apartheid.”  Desmond Tutu should know, whose visit to the West Bank reminded him of South Africa’s worst days.

Similarly, South African minister Ronnie Kasril, upon visiting Israel, described it as “infinitely worse than apartheid.”

British journalist and author Ben White has written two books on Israeli Apartheid, one  named simply Israeli Apartheid:  a Beginner’s Guide, the more recent one Palestinians in Israel:  Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy.Image

As early as 1989, Israeli writer Uri Davis published Israel: An Apartheid State, and in 2004, he published another book on Israeli apartheid, entitled Apartheid Israel;  Possibilities for the Struggle Within.  .

To cut a long list short, let me add one more, the Facebook note made by Ran Greenstein, an Israeli professor currently teaching in South Africa. In that note, Greenstein tackles and responds to the Zionist arguments that Israel is not an apartheid state, because {fill in the hasbaroid drivel] :

Interestingly, Greenstein himself, who has written the arguments to counter anyone who would claim that Israel is not an apartheid state, nevertheless insists elsewhere that it is “a special type of apartheid.”  Yes, and when you know it is apartheid, and persist in splitting hairs, your sophistry is complicit in the crime you have identified, named, labeled…

It reminds me of Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what the definition of  ‘is’ is.”

It is apartheid.  It stretches from the River to the Sea.  Let’s abolish it, from the River to the Sea.


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