Almost all Americans, regardless of their politics, want lasting peace in the Middle East. Most hope for the Arabs and Israelis to resolve their conflict based on a compromise that would maximize, as much as reasonably possible, security and justice for both sides. In other words, most of us want progress.
But this month, we heard from a small group of ideologues who stand firmly against this idea. For the first time, Boston campuses played host to “Israeli Apartheid Week,” an annual ritual of discrimination and incitement against Israel. Instead of seeking progress, Apartheid Week organizers demand that the world regress to a darker era by rolling back the hard-earned, much-needed, and inherent right to national self-determination for the Jewish people.
One need look no further than the event’s title to understand its malignant nature. The canard that Israel is an apartheid state is an assault on the country’s very legitimacy. The South African apartheid regime was rightfully dismantled, and this campaign seeks to cast Israel as guilty of similar policies and equally deserving to be dismantled.
Indeed, according to this year’s Invitation for Participation in Israeli Apartheid Week, potential participants were expected to certify that they oppose Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, as a pre-condition to their involvement. That is, Apartheid Week participants are against the continued existence of the Jewish state – a philosophy, it’s worth noting, shared by the terrorist group Hamas and Iran’s fanatical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Although the inevitable endpoint of anti-Zionism is not always openly expressed, Omar Barghouti, a star of last year’s Apartheid Week and a leader of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, described with chilling frankness that the goal is to replace Israel with “a unitary state, where, by definition, Jews will be a minority.”
Mr. Barghouti’s assertion, and the Apartheid Week crowd’s anti-Zionism, means these protests are not a dispute about settlements or borders or land. It’s not about promoting compromise. It’s not about helping the Palestinians by giving them a state alongside Israel. It’s about harming the Jewish people by taking from them the only small corner of the world where they are not a minority – in fact, the only country where they make up more than a mere 3 percent of the population.
It should go without saying that, as much as any other national group, the Jewish people have the right to a nation state. And history has shown that they need this state perhaps more than any other people. To advocate for artificially forcing Jews into minority status in Israel, then, is more than misguided. It is immoral.
As if this goal is not reprehensible enough, the Apartheid Week organizers promote their extreme views using discrimination and falsehoods.
The discrimination is apparent in the organizers’ Invitation for Participation, which, just one paragraph after expressing opposition to Jewish national self-determination, describes self-determination for the Palestinian people as an “inalienable right.” Another clear sign of Apartheid Week’s discrimination is the strange singular focus on Israel, the only Middle Eastern country ranked as “free” by the Freedom House, despite the fact that many of its “not free” neighbors flagrantly oppress women, gays, and religious minorities – see, for example, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The most glaring Apartheid Week falsehood is its title. Palestinian citizens of Israel vote, serve as parliamentarians, government ministers, and Supreme Court justices. Jews and Arabs, despite the inevitable suspicions that come from a history of conflict, mix freely whether on the beaches of Tel Aviv or in the markets of Jerusalem. With apartheid like that, who needs liberal democracy?
Benjamin Pogrund, who moved to Israel after a career as an anti-apartheid journalist in South Africa, has addressed the use of the word apartheid as “an epithet of abuse” for Israel. “If true,” he wrote, “it would be a grave charge, justifying international condemnation and sanctions. But it isn’t true. Anyone who knows what apartheid was, and who knows Israel today, is aware of that.”
Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., who devoted his life to fighting oppression, addressed the more fundamental point. Only weeks before his untimely death, King said, “I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”