Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, November 2013
Yes, Israel Is an Apartheid State: A Response to Uri Avnery
By Jonathan Cook
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 5, 2013
How come Uri Avnery knows so little about Israel?
Talking nonsense about apartheid
Israel Is an Apartheid State. Period
Yes, I know. Uri Avnery has achieved many great things as a journalist and a peace activist. He has probably done more to educate people around the world about the terrible situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and for longer, than any other single human being. And, to boot, he’s celebrating his 90th birthday this week. So best wishes to
Nonetheless, it is important to challenge the many fallacious claims Avnery makes to bolster the arguments in his latest article, dismissing the growing comparisons being made between Israel and apartheid South Africa.
There is much to criticize in his weakly-argued piece, based on a recent conversation with an unnamed “expert”. Avnery, like many before him, makes the mistake of thinking that, by pointing out the differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa, he proves that Israel is not an apartheid state. But this is the ultimate straw-man argument. No one claims Israel is identical to South Africa. You don’t need an expert to realize that.
…apartheid comprises inhumane acts “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002)
When people call Israel an apartheid state, they are referring to the crime of apartheid as defined in international law. According to the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, apartheid comprises inhumane acts “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”.
So what colour the victims of apartheid are, what proportion of the population they constitute, whether the economy depends on their productive labour, whether the early Zionists were socialists, whether the Palestinians have a Nelson Mandela, and so on have precisely zero relevance to determining whether Israel is an apartheid state.
A key distinction for Avnery is between “Israel proper” and the occupied territories. In the territories, Avnery admits, there are some parallels with apartheid South Africa. But inside Israel, he thinks the comparison is outrageously unfair. Let’s set aside the not-insignificant matter that Israel refuses to recognize its internationally defined borders; or that one of its major strategies is a colonial-style divide-and-rule policy that depends on establishing differences in rights for Palestinians under its rule as a way to better oppress them.
Avnery’s motives in highlighting this territorial distinction should be fairly clear. He believes the occupation is a crime and that it must end. But he also believes that Israel as a Jewish state should continue after the occupation ends. In fact, he sees the two matters as inextricably tied. In his view, Israel’s long-term survival as a Jewish state depends on severing it from the occupied territories.
This concurs with fairly standard liberal Zionist ideology: segregation is seen as offering protection from demographic threats posed by non-Jews to the future success of the Jewish state, and has reached its apotheosis in the building of the West Bank wall and the disengagement from Gaza. Avnery is simply one of the most humane proponents of this line of thinking.
But for this reason, as I have argued before, Avnery should be treated as an unreliable mentor and guide on matters relating to Palestinians inside Israel – the group that is hardest to deal with under a strictly segregationist approach.
Admitting that Israel is an apartheid state inside its internationally recognized borders would undermine the legitimacy of his [Uri Avnery’s] prized Jewish state. It would indicate that his life’s work of campaigning for the creation of a Palestinian state to preserve his Jewish state was misguided, and probably harmful.
Avnery is unlikely to treat criticism of “Israel proper”, such as the apartheid comparison, based on the merits of the case. He will react defensively. Admitting that Israel is an apartheid state inside its internationally recognized borders would undermine the legitimacy of his prized Jewish state. It would indicate that his life’s work of campaigning for the creation of a Palestinian state to preserve his Jewish state was misguided, and probably harmful.
The most outrageous claim Avnery makes in the article, precisely to deflect attention from the problem of a self-defined Jewish state and its relations with a large Palestinian minority, is the following:
One does not need to concede that the comparison with apartheid is right, both in the occupied territories and inside “Israel proper” – though I do – to understand that it is, in fact, Avnery who is being grossly misleading here.
There is no sense in which Israel’s treatment of its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens is comparable, as Avnery argues, to the situation of national minorities in European states. Palestinian citizens do not simply face unofficial, informal or spontaneous discrimination. It is structural, institutionalized and systematic.
Here are a few questions Avnery or those who agree with him need to answer:
Maybe Avnery can find the odd European state with one such perverse practise, or something similar. But I have no doubt he cannot find a European state that has more than one such characteristic. Israel has all of these and more; in fact, too many for me to enumerate them all.
So if Israel inside its recognized borders is nothing like European states or the United States, or any other state we usually classify as democratic, maybe Avnery or his supporters can explain exactly what kind of state Israel is like.
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