17 July 2009

Israeli apartheid comes out of the closet

Little angers Israel's supporters more than the accusation that the country practices apartheid. In the country proper the accusation has limited merit. Although Arabs are not equal citizens, they enjoy substantial rights, including the right to vote and run for office. In the West Bank, it's a different matter. There a system replete with walls, roads and checkpoints effectively maintains a high degree of segregation. The Israeli justification is of course the need to protect Jews from Arab terrorists, a justification not particularly satisfying considering that most of the people being protected are illegal settlers.

In any case, this kind of apartheid is now emerging in Israel itself. The minister of housing and construction, Ariel Atias, intends to implement housing policies that create separate townships for Jews and Arabs. He doesn't bother to justify this on the basis of security, but simply on the basis that Jews and Arabs shouldn't mix. His claim is disturbingly similar to the arguments Europe's anti-semites used over the centuries to justify confining Jews to ghettos.

Expressing his concern about the growth of the Arab population in Galilee, Atias observed, "If we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there. I don't think that it is appropriate [for them] to live together."

To be fair, Atias is an equal opportunity bigot. He argues further that segregation should exist not just between Jews and Arabs, but also between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. He obviously has quite a tidy little country in mind.

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