The first time I heard the combination of the words “Israel” and “apartheid” together was a year ago. I had just started writing the Israelife blog at jewishjournal.com, and I was at the beginning of my learning process regarding how different people worldwide view Israel.
I heard about “Israeli Apartheid Week” and I was shocked. Something in the words “Israel” and “apartheid” put together simply didn’t add up. I couldn’t believe that people actually use this horrible phrase to describe Israel. I couldn’t believe that people sat at home, watched some biased news and allowed themselves to simplify a complex situation by attaching the word “apartheid” to my country.
It has been a year since I first wrote about Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), and since then I’ve learned a lot about the ways people worldwide see Israel.
Unfortunately, I realized that neither my posts at Israelife nor others’ posts online and in traditional media have had the impact I thought they would have. This year, in fact, the crusade has grown bigger.
IAW, according to its Web site, “is an annual international series of events (including rallies, lectures, cultural performances, film screenings, multimedia displays and boycott of Israel’s actions) held in cities and campuses across the globe. Last year’s IAW was incredibly successful with over 215 cities participating worldwide. IAW seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel” campaign.”
I know things in Israel are complicated. In fact, the situation in Israel can replace the current dictionary definition of the word “complicated.” But the distance between “complicated” and “apartheid” is just about as far as from “reason” and the people “fighting” this so-called Israeli agenda.
Within Israel there is a certain amount of criticism of the way Palestinians are being treated; even I have some criticism. But once again, it is a very complicated situation. On the one side, Palestinians are after this small piece of land. They had the chance to get half of this country, but refused, because they wanted it all. Now, they are under not-so-equal conditions, and yes, it is very unfair for those who were born after 1947. On the other hand, Israel also exists and is willing to fight for its existence, especially after some Palestinian leaders have stated it is not peace they are after, but the entire land and the death of all Jews. And this is just the tip of the complexity iceberg.
As for the Israeli-Arabs, I agree that there are some problems with their status as equal citizens, which is reflected mostly in the way some people — whom I have zero respect for — think of them less than they think of themselves. But these people are a minority. According to the law, the Israeli-Arabs are as much Israeli citizens as any one of us. They work in the same places, ride the same buses, study in the same classrooms — I think you get the point. Moreover, show me an Arab country that treats women as Israel does. Show me one Arab country where Arab women serve in various roles in the army, where Arab women sit in the parliament, where Arab women reach the finals of reality shows, where they are allowed to vote.
Is this apartheid? No, it’s not. It is a complicated situation being flattened and simplified by narrow-minded people who refuse to have a proper conversation or open their eyes and ears. I am angry with these people, because they convince others who are confused and unaware of the truth. But I also feel sorry for them. They will never know what a beautiful place Israel really is. They will never know the truth. They will spend years of their lives fighting something that does not exist, tilting against windmills, trying to change a nonexistent reality. I will never be able to understand those people, because when I want to fight for something, I usually try to learn the facts — all of the facts.
I try to listen to the other side, too. I know that Israel has problems when it comes to Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs. I know that some things must be changed and that the situation here can sometimes be unfair to them. I can honestly say I don’t have all the answers, and that even after a year of hearing many opinions on the subject from both sides, I don’t own the objective truth, because there is none. It is a conflict, another gray area where there is an upside and a downside to every decision. I understand that the reality has many shades of gray, and I understand that there are haters here as much as there are haters there. The people who stand behind the IAW see the world in black and white, which is why they will never truly accomplish anything.
Unfortunately, our haters will not change their own thinking. They will always refuse to listen or have a proper conversation, because deep in their hearts they know that if they will have one, they will understand that there is a bigger picture. However, Israel’s haters outnumber Israel’s supporters, and they speak their mind in public, reaching and influencing those who are undecided or confused about Israel.
We Israelis cannot speak at your universities, but we can provide you information, which will enable you to be Israel’s voice of the truth, standing in opposition to our haters. You can talk to the confused and help them realize the complexity of the situation.
I had the incredible opportunity to take part in an international conference held in Israel last year, when I heared Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, speak. He said something that I carry with me every day, in every conversation I have with my American friends. He said that the only way we can put an end to this twisted hatred is to work together: Israelis and Jewish Diaspora. Only by cooperating can we help mitigate the misunderstanding about the situation in Israel. If Israelis put everything on the table for you to get a better understanding, without hiding a thing, and you spread the word and rationally debate those who make false accusations toward us — only then can we show the world a different, more correct, perspective.
Israel is a remarkable example of a few against many. We’ve won many battles against bigger, greater armies, just like David was able to beat Goliath. But now we play a different game. We are fighting the media war, where the recognition you get depends directly on the number of people supporting your cause. We can still win this war. All we have to do is unite. My friends and I in Israel are powerless against the Israeli Apartheid Week and similar events, but you and your friends in the United States and Europe are not. Standing still and keeping quiet is agreeing. Please, disagree.