Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rejecting Israel-As-Apartheid (Again)

David Hirsch has an important commentary from South Africa's Mail & Guardian (via Engage) in which he addresses and refutes the Israel = Apartheid analogy. Here is a sample:
The Israel-apartheid analogy expresses moral outrage effectively but it is also counterproductive to Palestinian liberation and it encourages ways of thinking which are threatening to democratic politics. It portrays Israel as an evil, like the apartheid regime, and so implies that Palestinian freedom requires the dismantling of Israel – an aspiration which the overwhelming majority of Jews strongly oppose – and with justification.

The analogy is also a short cut to the conclusion that Israelis should be boycotted. In truth, a mass movement for the exclusion of Jews, even if not all Jews, from the academic, cultural, sporting and economic life of humanity resonates with an altogether different memory from the boycott of white South Africa.

There is a temptation to treat the Middle East as an empty vessel which we can fill with our own issues. In England thinking is often influenced by colonial guilt; in Germany Israel is understood through the lens of the Holocaust; in Ireland the Palestinians become Republicans and the Israelis Unionists. In Poland many sympathize with Israel as a small democratic nation threatened by tyrannical neighbours. In South Africa the conflict is increasingly thought of in relation to apartheid.

Israel cannot forever hold on to Gaza and the West Bank. A two state (or perhaps three state) solution has to come. But the Israel-as-Apartheid analogy is historically vacuous, a polemic without a serious intellectual foundation, and a barrier to coming to grips with the very real problems in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. A future Palestinian state or state must emerge, but not without Israel being able to be secure and safe from the states that surround it.

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