Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Defenders of Israel throw a hissy fit

American Muslims for Palestine board chair Dr. Hatem Bazian announces a campaign that will put this sign on San Francisco buses for the next month.

This bus sign campaign is yet another free speech effort -- we see a lot of them around here, what's the big deal?

Unless I'd happened on one of the buses, I probably wouldn't have noticed this effort. Nor would I have thought much about it. I have no trouble believing retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he calls Israel an apartheid state. He's got no axe to grind; in fact, as far as I know he labors in retirement for peace and justice. And he knows plenty about systemic discrimination and exclusion. I'll take his word for it. And the ad itself, highlighting the fact that U.S. taxpayers are paying for systemic discrimination and exclusion, seems simply true to me.

But the campaign got a higher profile on my mental horizon when emails started flying by about a clutch of organizations -- the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee -- branding the ads as "inflammatory rhetoric designed to delegitimize Israel's very existence," "extremist language," and "bigoted lies and demonization." It seemed as if the triggering word was apartheid. Jewish Voice for Peace jumped into the fray with a collection of other people in addition to the Archbishop who have uttered the dread word:
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government...But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel's discriminatory course." Tampa Bay Times, April 30, 2012
  • Israeli Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak:"As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state." (2010)
  • Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorial:"The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side - determined by national, not geographic association - includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community, who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future. " (2007)
  • Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni:"Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population." (2007)
  • B’Tselem,The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories:This report deals with one of the primary, albeit lesser known, components of Israel’s policy of restricting Palestinian movement in the Occupied Territories: restrictions and prohibitions on Palestinian travel along certain roads in the West Bank. This phenomenon is referred to in the report as the “Forbidden Roads Regime.” The regime, based on the principle of separation through discrimination, bears striking similarities to the racist apartheid regime that existed in South Africa until 1994. In the roads regime operated by Israel, the right of every person to travel in the West Bank is based on his or her national origin. Forbidden Roads: Israel’s Discriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank, Btselem, 2004
  • On 21 April 2010, the South African government expressed "the greatest concern" over: Israeli Infiltration Order 1650, saying that the order has a broad definition of "infiltrator" and unclear terms as to which permits would allow a person to reside in the West Bank, as well as how valid residency might be proven. The South African government said the terms of the order are "reminiscent of pass laws under apartheid South Africa."
Two comments on this controversy:

The ADL has zero credibility with me on anything about apartheid. My friend Jeffrey Blankfort has described the ADL's program in the 1980s and 90s in San Francisco which included funneling "intelligence" from San Francisco police files about US activists to the South African apartheid secret service. I've always assumed that this was the reason that the day after my working group arrived in Cape Town in 1990 to help anti-apartheid newspapers upgrade their technology, we received what seemed a clumsy visit from state security. The men at the door said they were roofers and must look over the house; there was nothing wrong with the roof.

Secondly, it raises my hackles when anyone tries to stifle discussion by outlawing particular language. Israel's existence is not at stake -- unless it manages to commit suicide by fatally alienating all its neighbors and its friends. The charge of legal, forceful systemic discrimination and exclusion of Palestinians by Israelis in the Occupied Territories and even within the 1948 borders is simply true. You can't expect people not to point this out. And pitching a hissy fit when people do won't stop anyone.

1 comment:

Michael Strickland said...

Well said, and "hissy fit" is about as good a description as any.

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