03 March 2010

Israeli apartheid: When political correctness triumphs over truth

With Israeli Apartheid Week underway and politicians responding with panicky political correctness, it seems an appropriate time to ask whether Israel does in fact practice apartheid. First, we must ask just what exactly apartheid is.

My Oxford Canadian Dictionary provides two definitions: 1. the South African policy of segregation and discrimination against non-whites, and  2. segregation or discrimination in other contexts. My ITP Nelson is somewhat looser but generally agrees. Palestine isn't South Africa and Israel doesn't discriminate against non-whites, so we can dismiss the first definition. The second is, however, another matter. Israel does indeed do a lot of segregating and discriminating in other contexts.

For example, a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees are incarcerated in Gaza, victims of ethnic cleansing, denied by Israel their moral and legal right to return home. They are denied that right solely because they are of the wrong race and religion. If they were Jews, no matter where they lived in the world and no matter if their ancestors hadn't seen Palestine in two thousand years, they would be welcomed with open arms. But an old Palestinian in Gaza, who holds in his hand the key to the house he was born and grew up in, that his father was born and grew up in, and his grandfather before that, is denied his right to return to his village. If this isn't apartheid, it's segregation and discrimination by another name. Indeed Gaza and the West Bank, exclusive of Israeli colonization, are little more than bantustans. A comparison to South Africa is not without justification.

But don't take my word for it. Ask someone who knows a great deal more about apartheid than I or anyone else in this country -- the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu. Reverend Tutu, a black South African who spent most of his life living under that hateful system and most of his life fighting it, understands apartheid in his soul. When the Nobel peace laureate visited Palestine in 2002, he observed, "It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa." He asked of his "Jewish sisters and brothers," "Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions?"

When the evidence is so clear, and supported by a most expert witness, we must conclude yes, Israel practices apartheid. An uncomfortable truth, certainly, but a truth demanding discussion.

It is always awkward when a friend does bad things, when a democracy violates human rights, but it happens, and you do your friend no favour attempting to delegitimize criticism of that behaviour. Quite the contrary. You do your friend a favour when you open that behaviour to discussion, as the participants in Israeli Apartheid week are doing. Censoring that discussion, as the Ontario legislature has done and as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has done, and engaging in the sleazy trick of labeling anyone who participates in the discussion as anti-Semitic, is allowing political correctness to triumph over truth. And that does no one a favour, not us, not Israel, and most importantly not the Palestinians, the victims of Israeli apartheid.

1 comment:

  1. Fine piece Bill. Unfortunately there is no remedy for Ignatieff's craven pandering until Harper wins his next minority and the Libs give their substandard leader the boot.

    Israeli Palestinians are legislatively second-class. The Gazan Palestinians are incarcerated and the West Bank Palestinians are just biding their time until they're picked off.

    What ensures nothing will change so long as Israel has the whip hand is the growing freshwater crisis in that region. Israel is utterly dependent on West Bank aquifers and, completely in violation of international law, has deliberately and persistently moved to sever access to their own water to West Bank Palestinians. Orchards get bulldozed. Palestinians are denied Israeli permission to plant new trees. Israel, however, maintains a modern water service for its illegal settlers, using water denied Palestinians.

    This is no secret in Israel. Israelis of conscience have written extensively on this problem.

    One particular curse afflicting Gazans is the contamination of their freshwater supplies due to seawater inundation. This was set off when Israelis drilled into Gazan groundwater reserves and pumped them out. Now Israel has stopped but it's too late.

    I am glad I've severed ties with the Liberal Party of Canada. I'd be disgusted with myself to be a Liberal today.