People minus propaganda = possibilities for peace

by Heather Robinson

sudan

“Israel Apartheid Week,” a movement analogizing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa and calling for blanket boycotts of Israeli products, divestment from companies that do business with Israel, and an end to academic cooperation with Israeli universities, began last week on college campuses in the U.S. This propagandizing to students and others about the Israeli/Arab conflict is one-sided and slanderous. Normally I wouldn’t dignify propaganda with a response, but last month brought the troubling news that a group commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of the United States had published a “study guide” called “Zionism Unsettled” linking Zionism itself with “apartheid-style oppression” of Palestinians. This invocation of apartheid is a slander on so many levels, and it is being spoon fed to people – many of whom are young and idealistic and may not have hatred in their hearts – who have been exposed only to an extremely one-sided view of the conflict. That’s why I think it is important to respond with facts and truth.

My remarks in this particular post will focus on the “apartheid” analogy being used during these coming weeks to incite students on college campuses, but it should be noted that effort is a part of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose shadowy architects seek to isolate Israel’s government and people. Sources I will cite about the reality of life in modern Israel include Simon Deng (pictured above), an American who grew up in South Sudan and whose people, the Southern Sudanese Christians, sought escape and found temporary residency in Israel during recent years.

The first thing that makes the analogy absurd is that fully half of Israel’s Jewish citizens, and well more than half of the country’s total citizens, are dark-skinned people, and there exists no legal discrimination or separation among them and other Israeli citizens.  The most recent Miss Israel to be crowned is an Ethiopian Jewish woman, Yityish Aynaw, who happens to be here in NYC this week. (Welcome back, Miss Israel!)

Fully one-fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. They are not obligated to serve in the army, but otherwise, Israel’s Arab citizens also have full legal rights including the right to citizenship (and voting rights) if they wish and there are several Arab Knesset (Congress) members in Israel. There is no legally enforced separation between them and Israel’s other citizens.

The fence separating the Palestinian territories from Israel exists in order to protect Israel’s citizens – black, white, and brown – from Palestinian terrorists who targeted and killed thousands of innocent civilians, and left others grievously wounded and disfigured for life. Like the fence or not (and how can a true human rights activist fail to acknowledge it has probably saved thousands of lives?), any discussion of it that does not acknowledge the reason it was erected, is disingenuous. In other words, it was not, like South African apartheid, conceived due to belief in racial superiority, but for defense.

Israel is the main country to which African refugees of war and genocide have fled for sanctuary in recent decades. In the words of Simon Deng, a South Sudanese-born human rights activist who traveled to Africa last month to speak to crowds and debunk the slander (which is also being promulgated throughout South Africa) that Israel is an apartheid state: “If Israel is such a racist state, why did my people go there instead of to the Palestinian territories?”

In recent years, tens of thousands of black Africans (Muslims from Darfur and Christians and others from South Sudan as well as Eritreans) have flooded the Jewish State seeking shelter from abuse in the Arab world and/or from their own governments. Some have been granted asylum, others given residency, and still others jailed unless they voluntarily agree to leave, and others repatriated. While I have criticized Israeli government policy in repatriating some of the refugees, including the South Sudanese Christians, one important truth is that Israel’s policies toward black Africans, although imperfect, have been far more humane than those of Israel’s neighbors.

As a consequence, Israel is the country to which many African refugees continue to run – and where they want to stay. No country in the world has a monopoly on racism, and it does exist in all countries, even if only within certain individuals. But in some parts of the Arab world, blacks are routinely treated as less than human. Here again I quote Simon Deng, who as a child was enslaved in his native Sudan by an Arab Muslim family: “Blacks in Sudan are called by Arabs ‘abid,’ or slave. When Arabs refer to blacks as ‘slave,’ how much more do you need to know about where the worst problem of racism in the Middle East?”

Where is the human rights community in condemning the true and virulent racism that exists in places like Sudan, where modern-day slavery exists? This is not an attempt to deflect attention from Israel’s imperfections. This is an honest question. How much is “Israel Apartheid Week” actually about helping people – including Palestinians – and how much is it about the joy demonizing an entire nation? Whether or not you agree with Israeli policies like maintaining settlements and erecting a security fence, any failure to see these policies are designed for security purposes – because Israel faces constant threat from enemies who to this day refuse to acknowledge its right to exist – is one-sided propaganda.

Apparently, even Mahmoud Abbas does not support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (although he does support a ban on products made in the settlements). And very telling is the fact that, last month when actress Scarlett Johansson declined to step down from her sponsorship of Israeli company SodaStream (which has a plant located in disputed territory) the Palestinians who work at the plant applauded at mention of her name. Any sincere proponent of BDS who cared about the lives of Palestinians should read this account, published in Israel’s most left-leaning daily, of the reality on the ground.

If there is ever to be hope for a real peace agreement that could produce genuine peace or something like it, it will arrive because a critical mass of both Palestinians and Israelis realize coexistence and realpolitik should trump divisive ideologies.

The irony is, proponents of the BDS movement and “Israel Apartheid Week” oppose such grassroots efforts to bring people from either side together with an eye toward real cooperation and shared interests above ideology.

In this war of ideas, who are the segregationists?

 

 

 

This entry was written by and posted on March 2, 2014 at 8:59 pm and filed under Blog.