The association of Israel with apartheid is a propagandistic fabrication. Anyone even remotely familiar with Israel and apartheid South Africa would immediately recognize that this is an ignorant defamatory comparison. It is made not to de-legitimize Israel’s occupation of the West Bank but to de-legitimize the State of Israel itself and to pave the way for a Middle East without Israel. This is what these people are talking about. Those who allow their activities, unwittingly, or not, are partaking in this war against Israel. This is sending the Middle East peace process back by half a century.
The comparison of the apartheid South African ruling minority with the Jews of Israel does not hold any water for many reasons, but firstly because of the diametrically opposed demographic reality whereby the Jewish Israelis are the overwhelming majority in their country, which the whites never were in South Africa. The Palestinians in pre-1967 Israel constitute about 17-18 percent of the total population. Whatever one may have to say about Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, and they are not flawless nor free of tensions and problems of inequality and discrimination, as in many multi-ethnic societies, they are not founded on a legal infrastructure of racial discrimination.
Moreover, as is well known, the Arabs in Israel are equal citizens of the state by law and have equal access to the political process, the courts, the education system, universal health care and social welfare. One man one vote was an essential component of the Israeli political system from the day it was founded. None of this applied in apartheid South Africa where the black majority, which was some 85 percent of the population, was lorded over by a miniscule white minority, had no vote and could not share the same hospitals, stores, universities, buses or even park benches. The comparison is preposterous.
The occupation of the West Bank is an anomaly and like so much else a product of war and conflict between Israel and the Arabs and not an ideology of racial discrimination. The two-state solution that should replace this anomaly is precisely what these enemies of Israel oppose. It is not an agreement with Israel that they seek but a world without Israel. Their campaign, therefore, has a sinister purpose. It is the preparation of world opinion for the undoing of Israel as the State of the Jewish people. Israel was founded on the basis of a UN Resolution that called for the establishment of two states in Palestine — one Jewish and one Arab. The Arabs elected to go to war to defeat the resolution and lost, but make no mistake, the objective of those who presently pronounce Israel’s fundamental illegitimacy is still the same, only to be obtained by other means, political, diplomatic and quasi-legal.
The apartheid slur is demonizing and dehumanizing. After the spate of suicide bombings in Israel at the beginning of this decade Israel built a security barrier which its detractors like to call the “Apartheid Wall.” That would suggest, as Israel’s critics naturally intend to do, that the barrier was constructed for racist reasons. The barrier/fence/wall was put up after eleven hundred Israelis had been slaughtered in the restaurants and the buses by suicide bombers. Referring to the fence as if it were a racist exercise ignores Israeli losses as if Israeli lives were worthless, no more than human dust. Placing the fence in a context of racial discrimination deliberately distorts reality, removing it entirely from its conflictual context, completely devaluing the lives of Israelis, as if their humanity was imaginary.
Moreover, the fence, as Israel’s detractors often complain, is an inconvenience to the many Palestinians who live on both sides of the barrier. While it saves Israeli lives, it is most regrettable that it also causes inconvenience to so many Palestinians. But if there are so many Palestinians on both sides of the barrier, it might inflict all sorts of impositions, but a racist apartheid wall it just cannot be.
This apartheid campaign against Israel is about dehumanization and elementary prejudice. Prejudice is recognized by its three constituent practices: it singles out its subject; it then applies a double standard to the subject’s behavior; which is, of course, forever guilty. Israel’s detractors, in many cases, and especially the proponents of the apartheid calumny are the epitome of prejudice. They single Israel out for special treatment, apply a standard to Israel that applies to no one else and pronounce it guilty as charged.
It is a sad state of affairs that reputable and otherwise enlightened liberal-minded institutions of higher learning allow these demonstrations of hateful prejudice and dissemination of falsehood to take place on their campuses. Their laxity flies in the face of the most fundamental principles of academic integrity that such institutions should uphold.
Professor Asher Susser is a Senior Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. He is presently a visiting Senior Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University.