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Israel Apartheid Week: a not so hidden agenda

This is a guest post by Tom Wilson

Israel Apartheid Week got off to a rather inauspicious start this year with the release of an interview with Norman Finkelstein, usually the darling of anti-Israel activists, in which he slated the campaign against the Jewish State. Finkelstein referred to the boycott campaign and International Solidarity Movement as a ‘cult’ and accused it of being ‘dishonest’ and described it’s ethos as ‘silliness, childishness and a lot of leftwing posturing’. He further argued that there was no basis in international law for claims against Israel’s right to exist. This blow must rank alongside the departure of another critic of Israel, Judge Richard Goldstone, who famously retracted many of the accusations made against Israel in his UN report into the war in Gaza. Yet despite the loss of such key supporters the organisers of Israel Apartheid Week have carried on regardless, hoping that people will not see this campaign for what it is.

First and foremost what Israel Apartheid week is is a lie. It is a lie that is at once quite demonstrably false and at the same time incredibly insulting to all those who actually suffered under the horrors of the racial segregation witnessed in Apartheid South Africa. Of course the shameful ignorance that most people have about genuine apartheid in South Africa makes it all too easy for those with a sinister agenda to hijack history for their own purpose. Yet by every measure the law in Israel ensures complete equality for all its citizens whereas in South Africa the law was used to enforce racial segregation and inequality. In Apartheid South Africa there were no blacks in parliament, on the Supreme Court or occupying the top positions in Universities, but in Israel there are Arabs taking their place in these institutions like any other citizen. Nor in South Africa did blacks and whites have accesses to the same health care, but anyone who has been to an Israeli hospital can tell you that Jews and Arabs are treated alongside one another equally in the same wards, as they should be. Furthermore, in Israel Arabic is an official language that appears alongside Hebrew on every bank note and road sign in the country.

Yet the term Apartheid was chosen by Israel’s enemies for two reasons. First, because they thought that just as the regime in South Africa had been brought down so too the same could be done to the Jewish democracy in Israel. Secondly, the term ‘apartheid’ was chosen because apartheid was a racist system and anti-Israel campaigners knew that if they could associate Israel with racism, the most unacceptable evil that people in the Western world could conceive of, then they were sure they could win the public to their cause. That this would involve labelling as racist the Jews, a people, who have suffered centuries of racist persecution and expulsions all of which finally resulted in a genocide by a racist regime that murdered six million of them, seems not to have troubled campaigners. Presumably for them the ends justify the means.

There was another reason also why the image of Apartheid South Africa appealed to opponents of Israel because apartheid was, of course, a system that served as a rather ugly distortion and hangover from colonialism. What is quite apparent about most of the people who involve themselves in the anti-Israel campaign is that they generally embrace a worldview in which people from non-Western cultures can do no wrong but where the West can do no right. With the working class having evaporated and the Soviet Union having collapsed the Left needed new causes that could renew hope in their dream of bringing down bourgeois society; in anti-colonialism they found it. Yet today, with the exception of China plundering Africa, there are few examples of colonialism left to fight against. Of course the war in Iraq was billed as an adventure in neo-imperialism but what was really needed was a sustained and ongoing conflict between a Western and a non-Western society. They could not have hoped for better than what they have found in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Manichean worldview possessed by those who waged the campaign against Israel was never going to be able to accept that there could be two sides to this conflict. What they were looking for was a struggle between victim and oppressor, absolute innocence and absolute guilt, absolute good and absolute evil. Israel had to be absolutely in the wrong and the Palestinians had to be completely in the right. They refuse to countenance that the failure of the peace process had anything to do with Arafat refusing to sign the Camp David agreement in 2000 and choosing instead to send waves of suicide bombers into Israel’s cities, nor will they acknowledge that the current Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has refused to take part in any serious negotiations with the current Israeli government. Rather the absence of peace must be blamed on Israeli intransigence and militarism.

Anti-Israel campaigners would also have us believe that the fact that rockets continue to be fired towards civilians in Southern Israel from Gaza has nothing to do with the fact that Gaza’s Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, repeated only last weekend that Hamas would ‘never recognise Israel’, comments that were made as he stood alongside Iranian President Ahmadinejad who has vowed to wipe Israel off the map and is currently pursuing the nuclear capabilities by which to do so. No, instead we are asked to believe that the rocket fire is due to the siege on Gaza, seeing as how it can no longer be blamed on Israel’s military presence there; that ended almost seven years ago.

Yet, like so much of what is claimed about this conflict, the siege on Gaza is an allegation in a very conscious propaganda war that hopes to justify terror against Israeli civilians. Items that could be used for military purposes are supposed to be prevented from entering Gaza, but otherwise goods and people flow across the border all the time so that, as Tom Gross revealed, the allegations of shortages are a lie and Methilde Redmatn, deputy director of the Red Cross in Gaza, has stated unequivocally that there is no humanitarian crisis there. Indeed, last week over 500 Gazans made the journey to Saudi Arabia as part of the Umrah pilgrimage. Hardly the ‘prison camp’ that British Prime Minister David Cameron described during his last visit to Turkey.

Worse lies than this have been told, however. Only last month at the UCL debating society Taj Hargey, who was billed as a liberal Imam, compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, justifying his inexcusably offensive accusation with the claim that in both cases nobody was ever allowed in or out, ignoring that not only do people go in and out of Gaza all the time but that hundreds of thousands of Jews also left the Warsaw Ghetto; they were deported from the Ghetto to their deaths in the crematoria of Treblinka. Still, Taj Hargey went on, saying that he had no problem with Germans but a hell of a problem with Nazis just as he had no problem with Jews but a hell of a problem with Zionists. The comparison was unmissable.

The alliance between the far-Left and some of the most fanatically anti-Semitic elements in the campaign against Israel was never more clear than last year at the protests outside the Israeli Embassy in London when protesters were heard chanting ‘Khyber, Khyber al-Yahud’ a chant that calls on Jews to remember how they were massacred at Khyber in 7th century Arabia. The tolerance and even promotion of such bigotry is openly accepted by those who lead the Israel Apartheid charge. Indeed, this year as most years, Ben White, author of ‘Israeli Apartheid, a beginner’s guide’ will be a popular speaker at the events at our universities. Yet this is someone who has openly declared that while he does not ‘consider’ himself anti-Semitic he ‘can understand why some are’.

Israel Apartheid week is not about ending Israel’s presence in the West Bank and it is not about campaigning for a Palestinian State, it is about attacking and delegitamising Israel for two reasons. Despite the fact that Israel is a liberal and democratic State that affords more rights and freedoms to its citizens and minorities than any of its neighbors in the region, her enemies despise her because in their eyes Israel represents a Western outpost in the non-Western world; a society that is allied to America and embraces all of its commercialism and selfish individualism. The second reason that Israel is campaigned against is because it is Jewish. For those on the Left who oppose the nation state and ethnic/religious identities this is intolerable. They do of course tolerate Palestinian nationalism because they like to pretend it is not so much nationalism as a liberation movement and besides, liberals have long stopped holding people in other cultures to the same standards that they demand of Westerners. For extremists in the Muslim world Israel’s existence as a Jewish State in an otherwise entirely Arab/Islamic region is also equally unacceptable. The religious element of conflict against Israel is never more apparent than in the Hamas charter which quotes and gives new resonance to passages of the Hadiths that call on believers to bring about judgment day by killing Jews.

This then is the unpalatable truth about Israel Apartheid Week. During the 2009 Israel Apartheid Week at Canada’s York University anti-Israel protestors attempted to storm the Jewish Student centre where Jewish Students had been forced to barricade themselves until police eventually arrived to escort them to safety. This is where hateful campaigns such as Israel Apartheid week inevitably take us. It seems that staunch opponent of Israel Norman Finkelstein may have finally been able to acknowledged the agenda of this campaign for what it is, but will the rest of us now do the same?