Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Israel - Nakba, Apartheid, Racist?

My Twitter "discussion" with @engelo brought the realization that Tweets aren't enough to discuss this issue. This post isn't enough to discuss this issue. But I'll try to start anyways.

First, let's dispel any notion that Israel is "apartheid." Apartheid is a system of racial segregation mandated by the law. The South in the early 19th century could be constituted as apartheid. South Africa was apartheid until 1994. Israel isn't. Why? Because there's no legislated racism, or legislated segregation between Jews and non-Jews, or between Arabs and non-Arabs. Anyone who is a citizen of the State of Israel, regardless of ethnicity, religion, creed, gender... has full and equal rights under the law. You can be a doctor; go to the same schools; use the same buses; drive on the same highways; run for government; serve in the Knesset (Israel's Parliament); serve in the Cabinet; be Prime Minister (if you get enough votes); serve on the Supreme Court; and the list goes on. Just a parenthetical note, an ARAB Supreme Court Justice just sentenced the JEWISH former President to prison. You can't really get any less apartheid than that. That should get that out of the way.

Yes, it's true that people can be racist. But if a White person in the USA doesn't like a Black person, because he/she is Black, does that make the USA an apartheid regime, or does that mean the White person is racist? The same logic applies in Israel.

A common theme brought up when claiming Israel to be apartheid is "they have a wall." This is a classic example of twisting and deceiving for one's own goals. It is true that there's a fence (as well over 90% is a chain-link fence, and not a wall. Only a small portion is a wall to prevent sniper fire) but this fence is first and foremost (and only) a SECURITY fence. The purpose of the fence is to keep terrorists out. And it's succeeded. Just look at the drop in terrorism in the past 10 years. The fence is meant as a security buffer, and it works. There's nothing racist about the fence at all. (When Palestinian Arabs have been negatively affected, they have gone to the Supreme Court which has either forced Israel to change the route of the fence or compensate them accordingly, including paying rent!)

Other points brought up by our Twitter friend: Israel was partitioned by colonialists and not the natives. It was unfairly biased towards the Jews and against Christians and Muslims.

Well, no. It was partitioned originally by the Brits. No they weren't the natives. The natives were originally the Jews who were expelled by the Romans. Sure there has been a long-term Muslim presence, but that doesn't exclude the even longer-term presence of Jews. The Jews were simply looking for a state of their own, no different than any other group that can have their own country. Where should they do this? Probably in their homeland. Even the Koran recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jews. So they (we) returned. But the Arabs living here didn't like the Jews. This was before any "settlements" were being constructed; before any "Palestinian land" was being "stolen and raped;" before any Arabs were being "dehumanized"... They still found the need to massacre the Jewish community of Hebron.

So before anyone talks about Apartheid, Nakba (which the Arabs brought upon themselves by attacking Israel and losing; by telling themselves to leave because "Israel will be vanquished" and then "we can return") and racism, please explain yourself more clearly.


  1. Give me a break. Israel's apartheid. Just see the way they treat Palestinians, the true, indigenous natives of the land

  2. You raise here many points, many of which I agree with, but I'm not sure I'll be able to respond to everything. Let me start with the charge of apartheid. Without becoming too technical (though I could bring references to support my arguments), there are three core elements of the definition of apartheid: 1. the requirement of two distinct racial groups; 2. constitutive apartheid by committing acts known as ‘inhuman acts of apartheid'; and 3. the institutionalised nature of the domination. Very briefly, I outline these three points.

    1. Two distinct racial groups: The meaning of the term "racial groups" in international law is usually interpreted in a way that is both broad and practical. In essence it means a group whose boundaries are verifiable and whose members "identify themselves as such, and are identified as such by others, for example through discriminatory practices". It is therefore not an essentialist definition, one that seeks an a-priori and "objective" difference between the group, but a difference that is constituted in the practice of excluding, a differentiation that is achieved in action or policy. International human rights law allows wider scope for the meaning of race than traditional ‘black vs. white’ parameters, and the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination has included groups that would not be considered ‘races’ in that traditional sense, including caste groups in South Asia, non-citizen groups such as migrant workers, and nomadic peoples. To preserve and maintain its definition as a "Jewish" state, Israel must and indeed does make clear distinctions between Jews and non-Jews.

    2. Constitutive apartheid: Article 2 of the Apartheid Convention enumerates a list of “inhuman acts” that serve as constitutive of apartheid. Broadly this list refers to the denial of individual rights to "life and liberty" for one of the groups defined above. This includes infliction of of bodily or mental harm, infringement of freedom or dignity, torture or cruel punishment, arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment, imposition of living conditions calculated to cause physical destruction in whole or part, prevention from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof, etc.

    3. Institutionalization of apartheid: This systematic element distinguishes the practice of apartheid from other forms of prohibited discrimination. Thus, for the inhuman acts listed above to constitute a regime of apartheid, it is not enough that they occur in random or isolated instances. They must be sufficiently widespread, integrated and complementary to be described as systematic. Such acts must also be sufficiently rooted in law, public policy and formal institutions to be described as institutionalised.

    Now I think that it is not very controversial, that all these three pillars of apartheid are applied towards the non-Jews, both the Christians and the Muslims, that are governed by the Jewish state. If it is not clear how, I'd be happy to elaborate or discuss.

  3. Right, you basically cited the definition found here:

    1. I don't really see your point. Of course Israel distinguishes between different groups - the idea of Israel is to be a home for the Jewish people. Like many nation states - France, for example, or Poland - it favours immigration of its diaspora. Now you may not personally recognize Jewish nation/people-hood, but those are demons you must personally exorcise. The vast majority of Jews feel a connection through peoplehood, and as such this makes sense.

    Let me give you an example. I live in Quebec. France is now offering citizenship to Quebecois of French descent. That means that france has preferential immigration policies, favouring its diaspora. Similarly, I, a Jew, can get citizenship to Israel, the result of being a Jew in the diaspora.

    As far as point number 2. Arab citizens (christian, muslim), Baha'i citizens, of Israel have basically equal rights to jews. Voting, for example. The right to freedom of expression. The right to congregate in public. The right to pray. In fact, Jews are not allowed to pray on the temple mount, as the Waqf denies it. That is apartheid, right?

    And your 3rd point: They must be sufficiently widespread, integrated and complementary to be described as systematic.

    That's where the apartheid argument falls apart. You know that the israeli supreme court is very progressive. Some Israelis are racist towards Arabs, and some Arabs are racist towards Israelis. Don't forget that this is a war that has been festering for many years now. Hostilities do grow, and are fostered particularly on the Arab side by despicable imagery of jews in the media...really backwards thinking if you ask me.

  4. Thanks for your comment I'd like to point out that I agree with most of what you say. I would like to point out our points of agreement so we won't have to waste our time trying to attack straw-men. I fully accept the notion that the Jewish people see themselves as a nation, agree that as a nation they have a right for some form of self-determination, and I agree that the holy-land is, well, holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims. I even do not have a problem when a state makes certain distinctions between groups of people, provided of course, that human & civil-rights are respected at the level of the individual. All of this, I think, is not controversial, right?

    Also, I must confess that I have used the apartheid definition as defined by international documents. I don't think it is wrong to appeal to international standards and principles that were developed in other contexts. Such standards cannot be accused of having an anti-Jewish bias, since they were developed in an entirely different context. Finally, I admit that I am ignorant of the situation of Quebec, so instead of comparing the situations in different countries, I propose that we compare the situation in Palestine/Israel to universal standards, reached through a process of deliberation and consensus.

    That said, the Zionist project is very unique, compared to other nation states in the world. It is not that I object a-priori to the construction of nation-states in general or to a Jewish nation-state in *principle*. My point is that doing so in an area where the majority of inhabitants are *not Jewish*, brings about fundamentally unique issues, issues of human rights violation that exist to a much lesser extent in other contexts.

    It is legitimate for a country to distinguish between certain groups, for example, between its citizens and non-citizens. The issue is that Israel, by virtue of defining itself as a JEWISH state, makes a FURTHER (and more important) distinction: the distinction between Jews and non-Jews. Hence, citizens are treated differently, depending on whether they are Jewish or not: Jewish citizens are privileged relative to their non-Jewish neighbors. By the same token, non-citizens who have lived in the land for many generations are treated differently, depending on whether they are Jewish or not: Jewish non-citizens are privileged over non-Jewish Palestinians whose ancestors lived Palestine for generations.

    This is the unique feature that makes Zionism so problematic and the source of the conflict: not the attempt to construct a Jewish nation-state per-se is the problem, but the attempt to construct a Jewish nation-state in a region that is dominated by non-Jewish inhabitants.

  5. Just a quick response, Israel does not make a distinction between her Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. While Israel is a Jewish State, all rights of non-Jews are still protected. This is as opposed to Saudi Arabia for example, which defines itself as a Muslim country, but then grants no (or far fewer) rights to non-Muslims.

    Shockingly, I will compare Israel favorably with Iran. Iran is the "Islamic Republic of Iran." However, non-Muslims, (at least the Jews,) are (officially) granted the same rights as Muslims. (This comparison falls apart though, because in practice, Jews are NOT granted the same rights.) But a country can distinguish itself by a religious group as long as it still protects the rights of others.

    The region is NOT dominated by non-Jews. The majority population of Israel, even if we were to include the Palestinian Arab citizens of the PA (West Bank and Gaza), would still be Jewish.

  6. Quick comments from the end to the beginning:
    According to the "U.S. State Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices", already in 2004, the population of non-Jewish Palestinians living in Israel, the Occupied Gaza Strip, Occupied Golan, Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied West Bank combined exceeded the number of Jewish Israeli. The non-Jewish population stands at over 5.3 million while the Jewish population stands at 5.2 million.

    I accept your point, that there are indeed countries, having equally severe human rights issues as Israel or even worse ones, and I fully agree that Israel compares favorably with respect to these cases. Yet I fail to understand how such a comparison should contribute to our discussion. The fact that crimes occur in other neighborhoods does not make crimes in my neighborhood less of an issue. On the contrary, I think raising these comparisons weakens your argument, giving the impression you are using a diversion strategy to shift the discussion away from the defense of Israeli policies. Perhaps you might want to be more specific about the way these comparisons shed light on your argument, the way these comparisons are relevant to our topic of conversation, your case for Zionism.

    Finally, I agree with you that, at least to the best of my knowledge, there are no situations in which Jewish Israeli citizens are explicitly subject to one law and non-Jewish Israeli citizens are subject to another law. However, there are dozens if not hundreds of laws that are designed to maintain the "Jewish character" of the state, to encourage the demographic majority of people of Jewish background, to maintain segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities and to channel funding and public services to the Jewish population, neglecting the non-Jewish inhabitants of the country. These rules, policies and practices do indeed create distinctions that matter between Jews and non-Jews, the legal system providing absolutely no way to defend the population against inequality between Jews and Christians or Muslims.