”Israel is not South Africa”
~Prof. Edward Said, author of “Orientalism”
Recently we witnessed the fifth Israel Apartheid Week manifestations. In cities from Oxford to New York to Montreal we saw the usual collection of Islamist apologists and their fellow-travelers in academic, political and diplomatic circles. These events sought to portray Israel as an apartheid-era South Africa in relation to its Arab citizens.
It would have been tempting to ignore it. But silence would be a submission that cannot later be overcome . These propaganda campaigns are the psychological and intellectual germ warfare of the naked aggression of hate. And they debase our public discourse. Witness Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouammar calling Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney a “professional whore” for his support of Israel. These campaigns have already wiped out much of the historical and institutional memories of many in one generation of citizens in the free world, and are well on the way to infecting another, younger, generation.
The Islamist propaganda blitz in this new World War creates an enormous challenge for those still dedicated to the fate of freedom in the world. For the propagandists are engaged in an effort to destroy the legitimacy of one specific nation, a sister democracy, that is the free world’s frontline guardian against the spread of theocratic tyranny. And for only one reason. That reason was eloquently expressed by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff when he recently wrote, "Israel Apartheid Week singles out one state, its citizens and its supporters for condemnation and exclusion, and it targets institutions and individuals because of what and who they are--Israeli and Jewish."
Freedom of expression
Perhaps one of the most eloquent testaments to the fact that Israel may be many things (and one can disagree with it on many policies) but an apartheid state it is not, is that Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab Muslim Member of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, has travelled freely, and frequently, in the west pronouncing on the “myth” of Israeli democracy. Zahalka is not just any ordinary MK. He is a member of the Balad Party.
Balad was founded by Azmi Bishara, also a member of Israel’s parliament, who started his political life as a communist. On the 8 of February 2004 the High Court sitting in Nazareth found that members of Balad were “…guilty of having put in place a Hezbollah proxy terrorist cell inside Israel in order to carry out suicide bombings…” Bishara himself declared in Beirut’s “L’Orient-le-jour” on the 13th of June 2001 that, “I do not consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.”
Despite this, Balad has not been banned in Israel nor have its members, like Zahalka, been stopped from traveling. Indeed, Israeli diplomats in the various cities he has spoken in could not criticize him because Israeli protocol demands respect for a Member of the Knesset. Meanwhile Jews still cannot obtain visas to most Muslim countries. One more thing. Zahalka obtained his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in pharmacology at Hebrew University. Hebrew University’s student body is some 25% Arab.
Zahalka is not a rare case. There are about a dozen Arab Muslim members of the Knesset. They represent several Arab political parties including two who expressly support terrorism. Those two had been disqualified by Israel’s election authority but re-instated by order of the Israeli Supreme Court.
In fact Israeli Arabs, overwhelmingly Muslim, turn out to vote in greater percentage numbers than North Americans do. Arabs serve in the diplomatic corps with no glass ceiling. Israel’s Ambassador to Finland is Arab. It was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who appointed the first Israeli Arab, Salah Tarif, to the Cabinet. In May 2004 Salim Jubran was appointed to the Supreme Court of Israel.
Though making up some 18% of Israel’s population, 22% of the membership of the Israeli Labour Party that ruled Israel for most of its existence was Arab as of May 2005.
Arabic is an official language in Israel, even posted on all road signs which is more than we can say for English in Quebec. More than 300,000 Arab children attend primary and secondary schools in Israel. In 1948 there was only one Arab high school in Israel. Today there are hundreds. There is of course one “discrimination” in relation to Arabs in Israel. They are not obligated to perform military service though there are many, - particularly Bedouin, Druze and Circassians - who volunteer.
Though discrimination in employment and social services is outlawed, there are certainly many cases of individual prejudice. But a 2000 study published in the Jerusalem Post shows just how close the living standards are between Arabs and Jews in Israel. Unemployment among Jews stood at 6.8%; among Arabs it was 10.4%. The average Jewish household had 1.80 persons for every room; the average Arab household 2.30 persons for every room. Life expectancy for Jews averaged 75; for Arabs 73.
One of the big issues in every year’s Israel Apartheid Week is that the Jewish National Fund and Israeli government agencies control most of the land in Israel and won’t sell to Arabs. Well the fact is that those lands aren’t sold to anyone. They are leased. And there are no religious or ethnic restrictions whatever on who can lease it. A reality affirmed in an Israeli Supreme Court judgment written by Chief Justice Aharon Barak.
The real story of “apartheid” is on the flip side. The “Waqf”, the Muslim Religious Authority, has the protection of Israeli law to possess land and the Waqf – with no Israeli interference - has openly issued proclamations that its lands are strictly reserved for sale or lease to Arab Muslims only. In fact the Palestinian Authority has from its inception enforced the Jordanian law in place since the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank that no land be sold or leased to anyone other than Arab residents of the West Bank on pain of death.
“Apartheid” week has of course railed against the security wall calling it an “apartheid” wall. Speakers at various events always point to the World Court decision demanding that Israel change the route of the wall. What is always neglected is that the Israeli Supreme Court demanded the same thing months before the World Court and the Israeli government complied. And has complied with several other route changes demanded by courts. I am not the strongest advocate for a security wall as a permanent solution to anything, but let’s keep in mind that most of it hugs the 1967 border. And Israel has special cause for concern. When the Palestinian Authority was organized it was Israel that supplied 150,000 arms for the PA’s militia only to see many of those arms used against Israel’s citizens by both Fatah and Hamas factions, in addition to the suicide terrorist attacks. And finally, one last thing. Where in the Arab world would you ever see the Supreme Court ruling against its government and the government complying?
The justice system
Another big lie of Israel Apartheid Weeks is that Israel has created in the West Bank a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This is the classic half-truth. Residents of the West Bank can choose the legal jurisdiction they want to have recourse to. Including religious courts if they like. Part of the reason West Bank Arabs choose Israeli justice is the abject failure of the Palestinian Authority in implementing not only a constitution, but a functioning court system with legislation it can act on. What legislation there is, is nothing but a remnant of the Jordanian occupation from 1947-1967.
A December 2002 study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research of residents of the West Bank and Gaza showed just how mistrustful they are of Palestinian justice. To the question “How would you evaluate the state of democracy and human rights in the Palestinian Authority?” 19.1% said good; 28.4% said satisfactory; and 50.5% said bad. When that question was asked of these same residents about Israel 65.5% said good; 11.9% said satisfactory; and only 17% said bad.
Land and international law
The fact is that whatever one may think of the occupation, aside from the settlement policies which are objectionable in far too many instances, Israel is exercising the same rights in international law as France and the United States did after the Second World War of holding onto territory acquired in its own defense after surviving an aggressive attack until peace is achieved. And under Israeli occupation, Palestinians have the highest percentage of university students; the lowest infant mortality and the longest life expectancy of any front-line Arab state. All that due to the assistance from the Israeli social service infrastructure.
The intellectual godfather of Palestinian nationalism Edward Said once wrote that “Israel is not South Africa” As Irshad Manji has pointed out, he could have stated nothing less since an Israeli publishing house translated his seminal work “Orientalism” into Hebrew. Israel is not so much the Jewish state as a state of Jews. The only preferential legislation that exists is the “Law of Return” that gives a Jew automatic citizenship while other prospective immigrants must wait three years. That law reflects the reality of a world that butchered millions of Jews and no country would take any in. Including Canada with its infamous “none is too many” policy. Israel was a haven for many Vietnamese boatpeople when Saigon fell, but there was no haven for the Jews of Europe.
The real facts on the ground
Had the early socialist Zionists had their way there would have been a secular bi-national state. But even before Hitler, the Palestinian Muslim Arabs’ religious and political leader Haj Amin al-Husseini of Jerusalem encouraged the wanton slaughter of Jews in Palestine under the British mandate, particularly in the years 1929-1940. He spent the years between 1941 and 1945 as Hitler’s personal guest in Berlin broadcasting Nazi propaganda in Arabic and helping raise two Muslim divisions for the SS. He was to be tried at Nuremberg as a war criminal, but with the help of the French and British got back to his home and continued his bloodlust even after Israel became the only nation to recognize the Arab state of Palestine by accepting the UN’s partition plan. Al-Husseini’s frontline Arab cousins’ response was to invade Palestine and hold the West Bank and Gaza prisoner for twenty years. His nephew Feisal was a member of Arafat’s inner circle.
These are the facts on the ground. Facts that the Palestinians must reconcile with their history if they are ever to achieve maturity as a people and as a nation.