About Aparthied Week and other violent demonstrations

Two events stuck in my mind this past week.

first – Israel apartheid week in university campuses in Canada. I tried to figure out how this makes me feel as an Israeli, a Jew and also a South African. Appalled? disgusted? sad? angry? frustrated? i think I went through all of them but the sadness is the one that lingered. I asked myself: is this the way public opinion is shaped? the side which screams loudest and has the most violent demonstrations gains the support of the public? I mean, if people are so angry and so engaged and so upset – than Israel must be doing something terribly awful! right? – wrong! It’s easy to refute the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. That is, for any person who truly looks at the facts and seeks a rational answer. For those that have nothing but hate in their hearts and anger in their voice, no amount of “fact” will suffice.

The State of Israel is a democracy. All its citizens enjoy the rights and freedoms democratic states offer. Arab citizens of Israel, as Jewish citizens, enjoy the freedom of speech, organization, vocation, transportation, education and more. They have the right to vote and be elected to parliament. They can criticize the government vehemently without fear of arrest or persecution.  These rights are an integral part of Israel’s legislation and “basic laws”, or constitutional laws (while lacking a definitive constitution). They are embedded in Israel’s “Declaration of Independence” — [Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. (full text: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/israel.asp)

In fact, the only country in the middle east where Arabs enjoy all these rights is, ironically, the Jewish state. One of the only places an Arab woman can seek an academic degree, pursue a career or own a business. etc. etc.

This is not to say that there are no problems. The Arab minority in Israel, as do minorities in other countries, must at times fight for equal opportunity, combat discrimination and prejudice. Israel’s security issues and constraints and their central role in shaping society cast a shadow on the true ability of Arab citizens to participate in all aspects of Israeli life. The definition of Israel as a Jewish State makes it difficult for Israeli Arabs to fully identify with the States’ institutions and basic values. These are burning questions the Israeli polity needs to address but the distance between them and “apartheid” is far and wide.

Apartheid – as a form of government – is one of the most brutal and humiliating inventions of modern history. South Africa will carry it as a mark of shame for generations. Calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to all those who fought against apartheid. A slap in the face to those who risked their lives, were incarcerated, beaten and suffered a thousand humiliations every day. It is a slur to the memory of those who were killed under the boot of prejudice and racism. Anyone who has ever raised a voice against apartheid must be appalled by the cynical use of the term and imagery used today by those who hate Israel. It takes but a glance for anyone who knows true apartheid to realize that this “apartheid week” is a mockery and a sham. Of course it also requires the eyes of the one looking to be open. Eyes veiled by hatred will never see clearly.

And that’s the true cause of this. Hate. Which brings me to the second event- thousands of violent protesters outside a tennis stadium in Melmo, Sweden. Smashing police cars, breaking windows, vandalizing property, carrying Palestinian and Islamic flags, shouting antisemitic slogans – “Death to the Jews – Death to Israel”. An unholy alliance between neo-Nazis, anarchists and radical Islamists – all joined together in an orgy of hate and rage, while a tennis match between Israeli and Swedish teams is taking place. I saw video of a policeman sitting inside his vehicle while a demonstrator was ripping the wipers of the same vehicle and another smashing the side window with a brick.

There is something truly pathological about the hate these groups and individuals have for Israel. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to conjure an image of what fate awaits a Jew who will be unfortunate enough to find him/herself in the midst of such upheaval. These events put together are but a sample of the violent demonstrations against Israel taking place on university campuses in North America and Europe  and around the world . You think I’m exaggerating? look at the upcoming Durban summit “against racism”.

The West too suffers a pathology. A habit of “sitting on the fence”, giving equal weight to both “narratives”, trying to understand the conflict through the narrow prism of the electronic media, forcing a moral equivalency where none exists, the unwillingness to criticize a cultural norm or practice or belief system as such, for a noble yet misguided political correctness – these are all leading to a devastating blow that is yet to come. A day when Westerners will wake up to discover that their world, with all its values, mores, flexibilities, pluralism, rule of law, grace, equality, understanding and compromise – is no longer. Sitting on the fence is not an option any more. Forgiving the violence of radical islamic groups will lead to more violence. You don’t believe me? ask the citizens of Melmo.

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