Sunday, March 07, 2010

Why does it have to be Either/Or?

So the coordinated response from those opposed to Israel Apartheid Week included pamphlets and posters focusing on the evils of the Muslim world.
A spokesman for one ICC member organization questioned the usefulness of direct efforts to counter Israel Apartheid Week's campaign.

"Putting out 10 reasons why Israel is not an apartheid state when the Israeli defense minister said in the last several weeks that Israel is in danger of becoming an apartheid regime may not be successful," said Noam Shelef, strategic communications director of Americans for Peace Now and its liaison with the ICC. Shelef was referring to a February 2 speech in which Ehud Barak said that Israel "will be an apartheid state" if no peace deal is reached and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza do not gain citizenship rights in their own state.

"I think we need to have a real discussion about what the policies are that are problematic - that put Israel in danger of becoming an apartheid state," Shelef said.

But StandWithUs, another ICC member, took a different stand, in favor of confronting the Apartheid Week advocates directly and going on the offensive. A booklet it produced to help pro-Israel activists respond to Israel Apartheid Week bore an image on its cover of Neda Soltani, the Iranian woman whose videotaped death at a Tehran election protest last June was seen worldwide. The booklet argues that the term "apartheid" should be applied not to Israel, but rather to Muslim societies in the Middle East, based on what it describes as gender inequality, political repression and discrimination against gay men and non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

"Unfortunately, the [Palestinian Authority] still uses many of the apartheid practices described in this booklet on their own people," the booklet states.

"I personally don't think that's helpful at all," said Yahel Matalon, a student at Barnard College and a leader of a J Street-affiliated student group at Columbia University called Just Peace, of the StandWithUs document. Referring to the abuses by Arab states described in the booklet, Matalon said: "Okay, so that's horrible, but that doesn't excuse the treatment of Palestinians in Israel today. If what we're talking about is peace in Israel, it doesn't matter what Saudi Arabia is doing."
Exactly. I have no problem whatsoever with shining a light on persecution of women in Saudi Arabia, the plight of gays under the murderous regime in Iran, the Nazi ideology of Syria.... I don't think too many people argue that these are all bad things and that there are some very unpleasent regimes in the region.

But I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can decry human rights abuses from multiple countries at the same time. I can particularly hold to account a nation that trumpets that it is a democracy, indeed insists it is the only bastion of democracy and freedom in its entire region.

That's the price of claiming something like that; Insisting that your nation is one of higher standards means you get held to higher standards.

This debate is already over. When Ehud Barak forthrightly used the word Apartheid and said firmly it was Israel's future without accommodation with the Palestinians all the fierce accusations of antisemitism against anyone else using the word just become silly. The objection against the Israel Apartheid comparison isn't about antisemitism and never actually was. Its about how effective the campus Anti-Apartheid movement of the 80's was in forcing South Africa to change.

There were lots of people calling South Africa the only democracy in Africa, a bastion of civil rights and a bulwark against Communism... and now lots of people - including some of the same people are calling Israel the only democracy in the Middle East, a bastion of civil rights and a bulwark against Islamism.

But international protests, divestment and worldwide shunning made Apartheid untenable and it ended. Despite efforts to demonize the movement, despite conservative Apartheid supporters in Canada the US and Britain, in South Africa the organized, institutionalized repression of non-whites ended and a man who had spent decades in South African prisons accused of terrorism became President.

The effort to suppress the debate, to delegitimize criticism of Israel, potentially even outlaw it is a Quixotic one, but the mere attempt shames and discredits those who try.

No comments:

Popular Posts