On Israel, apartheid and Steven Hawking’s boycott for anything but peace
DOES accusing Israel of apartheid reduce the history of South African blacks and demonise Israel? Yes, says The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the South African Parliament and president of the African Christian Democratic Party. He explains his view on posters put up on San Francisco buses calling Israel an apartheid state. The ads have been paid for by American Muslims for Palestine.
On my recent trip to San Francisco, I was deeply disturbed to learn about the posters in The City accusing Israel of apartheid. As a black South African who lived under apartheid, this system was implemented in South Africa to subjugate people of color and deny them a variety of their rights. In my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa. Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is.
Apartheid was a legal system of segregation and oppression based on skin color, with a very small white minority dominating over the vast majority of people of color.
As a black South African under apartheid, I, among other things, could not vote, nor could I freely travel the landscape of South Africa. No person of color could hold high government office. The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation. People of color had inferior hospitals, medical care and education. If a white doctor was willing to take a black patient, he had to examine him or her in a back room or some other hidden place.
In my numerous visits to Israel, I did not see any of the above. My understanding of the Israeli legal system is that equal rights are enshrined in law. Black, brown and white Jews and the Arab minority mingle freely in all public places, universities, restaurants, voting stations and public transportation. All people have the right to vote. The Arab minority has political parties, serves in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and holds positions in government ministries, the police force and the security services. In hospitals, Palestinian patients lie in beds next to Israeli Jews, and doctors and nurses are as likely to be Israeli Arabs as Jews. I also understand that an Israeli Arab judge presided over the trial of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of misconduct. An Ethiopian Jew recently won the title of Miss Israel. None of the above was legally permissible in apartheid South Africa!
The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, disagrees:
“Today in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem … I can sum up the situation with one word – apartheid. Worse than that which existed in South Africa. Today Israel justifies its apartheid by the term security.”
They also disagree:
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) became the first academic union in Europe to endorse the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. The motion, which refers to Israel as an “apartheid state”, calls for “all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes” was passed by a unanimous vote during today’s morning session.
Israel is the test that all the elite and opinionated see fit to take. Your views on Israel are a handy way of explaining your character. Steven Hawking recently agreed to boycott Israel. Hawking’s statement:
“I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
Hawking is, however, happy to use Israeli technology in the computer equipment that allows him to function.
As for Israel, well, it’s a unique case. Howard Jacobson surmises his view:
I first heard the news in a motion passed by the University and College Union declaring that criticism of Israel can “never” be anti-Semitic which, if “never” means “never”, is a guarantee that Jew-hating is over, because … Well, because it’s impossible to believe that an active anti-Semite wouldn’t – if only opportunistically – seek out somewhere to nestle in the manifold pleats of Israel-bashing, whether in generally diffuse anti-Zionism, or in more specific Boycott and Divestment Campaigns, Israeli Apartheid Weeks, End the Occupation movements and the like. Of course, you don’t have to hate Jews to hate Israel, but tell me that not a single Jew-hater finds the activity congenial, that criticising Israel can “never” be an expression of Jew-hating, not even when it takes the form of accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs, then it follows that there’s no Jew-hating left…
“Peace”, that is all Professor Hawking seeks, a word that was left out of his statement as reproduced on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website, presumably on the grounds that everyone already knows that peace is all the PSC has ever wanted too…
John MacGabhann, general secretary of the pro-boycott Teachers’ Union of Ireland, made clear when he talked of “expecting more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of other”, which implies that he expects less of other governments, and does not anticipate them to act in all instances and ways better to uphold the rights of others. And why? He can only mean, reader, because those other governments are not Jewish.
I’d call this implicit racism if I were a citizen of those circumambient Muslim countries that aren’t being boycotted – a tacit assumption that nothing can ever be done, say, about the persecution of women, the bombing of minorities, discrimination against Christians, the hanging of adulterers and homosexuals, and so on, because such things are intrinsic to their cultures – but at least now that we have got rid of anti-Semitism, tackling Islamophobia should not be slow to follow.
Upon Israel, the vested interest groups and righteously fair minded have placed the burden of protecting the West from the enemies at the gates. Israel must also make amends for Western colonialism. Israel can be Nazi-like, they say. Israel can be using apartheid, they say. Israel, say the liberals and the Left, is the place where the discredited values of old and dusty Europe hold sway. And that won’t do. And with that Israel is no longer a country. It is a place where the guilt of the past can be beaten and cured.
Israel is the place where the elite turn to feel better about themselves…
Photo: World renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University, lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006. Hawking is on a one week visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Date: 14/12/2006