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Israel and Apartheid
February 13, 2006 12:16 AM   Subscribe

Last week, the Guardian posted a three-part special report by their Middle East correspondent (and former South African correspondent) Chris McGreal on the similarities between the current situation in Israel and the South African Apartheid regime. The report provoked many heated responses, a selection of which is reproduced here and here. The Guardian responded by inviting Benjamin Pogrund, former deputy editor of the famously anti-Apartheid Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg, author of a number of books on South Africa and founder of Yakar, a Jerusalem center for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue to weigh in with a response.
posted by ori (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Interestingly, Benny Morris (the most important of the Israeli revisionist "New Historians") had a strong negative reaction as well:

Chris McGreal appears to have dropped in from outer space, not spent the past four years in Israel/Palestine. Otherwise, there is no explaining how he doesn't know that the Jews and Arabs have been fighting for the past 120 years, or that the past five years have witnessed particularly vicious bloodletting, with Palestinian suicide bombers devastating Israel's buses and coffee shops, and Israel retaliating - with praiseworthy discrimination, incidentally - against the killers and their dispatchers.

This conflict is the context within which any fair person would view the discrimination, restrictions on movement and occasional injustices suffered by the Palestinians in the semi-occupied territories and in Israel proper. For example, the construction of the barrier - in very small part, actually a "wall" - running more or less along the West Bank-Israel border, a structure McGreal so laments and which inevitably will cause some Palestinians discomfort, was a direct response to these suicide bombers (who don't really exist in McGreal's universe). If this barrier will also prevent Palestinians from crossing the line to work in Israel, so be it - they have only themselves to blame.

Ultimately, this conflict is about Israel's - not the Arabs' or even the Palestinian Arabs' - survival.

Israel's one-million strong Arab minority has, over the past years, consistently and vociferusly rejected all proposals that they, along with their lands and houses, be placed under Palestinian Authority rule. They overwhelmingly prefer Israeli democracy and cultural norms (and standards of living) to anything their Palestinian brothers or the Arab world have to offer. Curious, isn't it?


There are a few others as well, here.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:32 AM on February 13, 2006


Oops, sorry, I see you included the link to Morris's response in your article, I missed it when I read the FPP.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:34 AM on February 13, 2006


From the Benjamin Pogrund link (last link in FPP):
In South Africa, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in 1985 was 78 per 1,000 live births. Among colour groups: whites 12, Asians 20, coloureds 60, blacks 94 to 150. In Israel, in the 1950s, the IMR among Muslims was 60.6 and among Jews 38.8. Major improvements occurred in health care during the 1990s and by 2001 the IMR among Arabs was 7.6 (Muslims 8.2, Christians 2.6, Druze 4.7). Among Jews, 4.1. According to the health ministry, the higher Muslim figure was due mainly to genetic defects as a result of marriages between close relatives; poverty is also a factor.
The infant mortality rate in the West Bank is about 20/1000 (CIA world fact book - West Bank), and in Gaza it is about 23/1000 (CIA world fact book - Gaza), or 5x and 6x the infant mortality rates for Israeli Jews respectively. That puts the West Bank in the category of Coloured, and Gaza somewhat better than Black. Not apartheid South Africa, but not something to brag about either. Substituting the condition of Israeli Arabs for residents of the occupied territories is disingenuous.
posted by Chuckles at 12:54 AM on February 13, 2006


This is a very good post ori. For those of us, myself included, it is hard to understand the apparent dichotomy between a "Jewish" state and a pluralistic democracy.

Lest you think I overreact, note the derogatory references to Israel's "demographic threat". Yes, we worry about a Jewish majority. We want and need our country (as the Palestinians should have theirs). Is that racism? Perhaps "racist" better describes those who would deny us - only us - that right?

Well, Tova Herzl (a career diplomat, is a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa), it does seem very much like racism. When she says "we want and need our country," who is she referring to when she says "we"? I assume she means Jews, but a country belongs to all its citizens, regardless of who is in the majority. The significant difference between Israel and South Africa is that in Israel, the "kafirs" are in the minority and it appears from her statment above that as long as that is the case everything is fine.

I do not doubt that the 1 million Israeli Arabs perfer to live under an Israeli government than under the feckless government of the Palestinian Responsibility. I suspect that many Palestinians in the occupied territories would also perfer to live as equal citizens in a democratic Israel than in a Bantu-stan called Palestine. As in Northern Ireland, most Catholics did not want to be part of Ireland - they simply wanted equal rights in the country where they live. At the end of the day most people simply want to live their lives, raise their children, and live peacefully with equal opportunities for jobs, education, healthcare, etc.

The problem seems to be clearly demographic. Extending equal rights to all of the people in the areas it controls, Israel would no longer be a "Jewish" state, but a regular old pluralistic democracy. Israel - like White South Africa - wants the land, but they do not want the people on it and that, it seems to me, is really the crux of the problem.

Denying it with calls of reverse racism seems terribly unhelpful.
posted by three blind mice at 1:33 AM on February 13, 2006


You become what you fear.
posted by srboisvert at 3:00 AM on February 13, 2006


fantastic and clear post, three blind mice, and a great post from ori as well.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:03 AM on February 13, 2006


Hmm. Well, they both were or are, by definition, supremacist regimes (one racial, one religious), although this definition can certainly be applied to other regimes around the world. Should Israel be criticized for this, for covertly ant-semitic reasons? No. But - should we refrain from legitimate criticism of Israel to avoid straw-man charges of anti-semitism? No, also. It's hard to pick a way through this, partly because of the strong identification between the state of Israel, and being a Jew.

Perhaps relevant here is the fact that, historically, Israel and South Africa traded quite handily in the 1970s and 1980s, even after arms embargoes were imposed, swapping Israeli-manufactured weapons for uranium obtained from the slave-labour mines being run in South-West Africa (now Namibia). While this may have been Israeli state policy, however, I'm guessing that many Israelis at the same time opposed Apartheid.
posted by carter at 6:51 AM on February 13, 2006


Will all democratic nations who renounce terror and protect human rights (as best they can) please stand up.

Uhh... Palestine? No. Sit back down.
posted by ewkpates at 8:15 AM on February 13, 2006


yes, Palestine please sit down. And all groups who use terrorism which is just not playing fair. Instead we insist you peacefully allow yourselves to be oppressed by those with bigger armies.
posted by sineater at 8:25 AM on February 13, 2006


Well duh. It's so fucking obvious I don't see how it can be argued with. Except perhaps by shouting "suicide bombs! suicide bombs!" very loudly.
posted by Artw at 8:28 AM on February 13, 2006


Will all democratic nations who renounce terror and protect human rights (as best they can) please stand up.


Palestine isn't a nation, it's a prison camp.
posted by Artw at 8:28 AM on February 13, 2006


ah, Benny Morris, the ethnic cleansing fan -- of course, only when it's his side doing it
posted by matteo at 8:58 AM on February 13, 2006


Benny Morris is a great historian but a horrible human being. His reply is predictable, which is unfortunate because before the most recent fighting he could at least be counted on for an unpredictable reply.

I like artw's comment, because it's the most obvious response to such dribble. As part of a thesis project I spent the better part of a year in an Arab-Israeli community-- communities that Morris, depsite personally living a stone's throw from, has apparently had absolutely no interaction with. That, in a nutshell, is one of Israel's biggest problems. They have a somewhat sympathetic local Arab population, which has never attacked them, and yet they ignore and abuse that population, treating them only with suspicion even as they work right next to each other in the same office.

There are many, many paralels to apartheid, the pricinipal difference being that the Palestinian Arabs, as part of a larger whole (Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Armenians) are able to call on more outside influences, many of them destructive (Iran, Syria, etc.)
posted by cell divide at 9:09 AM on February 13, 2006


Chuckles: The infant mortality rate in the West Bank is about 20/1000 (CIA world fact book - West Bank), and in Gaza it is about 23/1000 (CIA world fact book - Gaza), or 5x and 6x the infant mortality rates for Israeli Jews respectively. That puts the West Bank in the category of Coloured, and Gaza somewhat better than Black. Not apartheid South Africa, but not something to brag about either. Substituting the condition of Israeli Arabs for residents of the occupied territories is disingenuous.

If you go that route, you should also point out that the infant mortality rate in Egypt is about 33/1000 (CIA world fact book - Egypt), 17/1000 in Jordan (CIA world fact book - Jordan), 30/1000 in Syria (ibid, Syria) and 25/1000 in Lebanon (ditto, Lebanon). In other words, Palestinians in the occupied territories have a comparable, and in most cases better, IMR than any of Israel's neighbors. Call me crazy, but I think it's because they have some acccess to Israel's health facilities. Israel has a lot to answer for, but it shouldn't be made to atone for its superior healthcare.
posted by ori at 2:17 PM on February 13, 2006


Interesting and topical article here.
The last three Jews of Qamishli.

"I am looking," I announce in Arabic, "for a man named David Pinchas."

The men all look at each other quizzically, so I make my inquiry clearer: "Not Muslim, not Christian."

"Jew?" one of them asks.

I nod.

"All the Jews have left," says another man, chuckling.

This is basically true. There are no more than 50 Jews in Damascus, and the once flourishing community of Aleppo has vanished. Here in Qamishli, the situation is about as bleak.


Huh. It's like the Jews were forced out of Syria or something in a forced migration. I'm sure that those of you who think that Palestine is a "prison camp" and support the "right of return" support the same thing for the displaced Jews of say, Syria, Saudi, Iran, Germany, France, and so on? And are working to effectuate that by protesting and wearing clothing and raising awareness in solidarity with the displaced?
posted by swerdloff at 2:22 PM on February 13, 2006


Well, Tova Herzl (a career diplomat, is a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa), it does seem very much like racism. When she says "we want and need our country," who is she referring to when she says "we"? I assume she means Jews, but a country belongs to all its citizens, regardless of who is in the majority.

She does mean Jews, but she means Jews all over the world, not just the ones in Israel. Jews have been without a homeland for two thousand years, and have been persecuted for nearly as long. The idea of Israel was to finally offer a safe haven for Jews, so that they will always have some place that they can go to escape persecution. You take that away, and you take away everything. So yes, Jews need to be in the majority in Israel to make sure it will always be safe for Jews there. Call it racist, call it un-politically correct, call it whatever you want; but that is the simple truth. Democracy is great; freedom, liberty, and equality are all noble ideals; but understand, all of that is actually subservient to the idea of the Jewish homeland. If it turns out that a true pluralistic democracy cannot coexist with this idea, than Israel will ceast to be a democracy. An Israel that is a safe haven for Jews but not a democracy is conceivable, but a democratic Israel that may not be a safe haven for Jews someday is not.
posted by Sethamin at 3:15 PM on February 13, 2006


I wonder, can Sethamin tell me what other religions have a safe-haven homeland that they can flee to? Or is it that he sees Jews, as Hitler did, as a racial entity? And may I also remind my fellow Jews that our people also engaged in terrorism when they felt it necessary. The most famous or infamous, Jewish terrorist group was, as I recall, the Ergun. And one if its members, a terrorist by our current definition, later became prime minister of Israel - and there were others.

So, please consider. Human beings are all pretty much the same. Genocide is one of the games human beings tend to play and those of us who don't want to play feel superior. Terrorism is another such game. But are we really so superior? What would it take? I wonder.
posted by donfactor at 4:05 PM on February 13, 2006


Whats with that, are they some kind of special chosen peopleor something?
posted by Artw at 4:33 PM on February 13, 2006


I wonder, can Sethamin tell me what other religions have a safe-haven homeland that they can flee to? Or is it that he sees Jews, as Hitler did, as a racial entity?

Christians have the US and pretty much all Europe. Muslims have most of the Middle East as well as some countries in Northern African and East Asia. Hindus have India and Nepal. Even Buddhists have Bhutan and Tibet (until it was taken over by China). Every major world religion has some country or countries it can count on to be a majority there. All except the Jews, pre-1947.

Besides, this sort of argument ignores the fact that the Jews were expelled from their homeland by the Romans and forced into the diaspora for 2 millenia. Historically, they've been persecuted as a minority almost everywhere they've settled. This has nothing to do with feeling superior. It has to do with security. You seem to feel that this is unwarranted, that this exception is undeserved because "human beings are all pretty much the same". Unfortunately, most of humanity pretty much disagrees with you.

You can agree with it or not, but that WAS the genesis of Israel. Go to the historical record, look it up - the reasons I cite are the exact reasons Israel was created. Debate all you like about how fair or unfair it is, but this was stated right from the very birth of the nation.
posted by Sethamin at 4:58 PM on February 13, 2006


didn't bush say something about "democracy" and "middle east" ... oh and while we are on the subject: "weapons of mass destruction"?
posted by specialk420 at 5:35 PM on February 13, 2006


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