Jewish Journal

South African Rabbi: Israel doesn’t deserve apartheid attack

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 4, 2008 | 6:23 am

The dirtiest word in Israeli politics is not “fascism,” as it in the United States, but “apartheid.” You often hear pro-Palestinian and occasionally liberal pro-Israel voices, such as the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, make the comparison between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the apartheid-era minority oppression of South Africa’s poor majority. In what appears to be an ongoing discussion in The Times of South Africa, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein says these circumstances of sociopolitical history bear little resemblance:

These accusations defame the Jewish state, and also diminish the victims of the real apartheid — the men, women and children of our beloved South Africa — who suffered for centuries under arrogant, heartless colonialism, and then for decades under the brutal apartheid policies of racial superiority, oppression and separation inflicted by the National Party. If everything is apartheid, then nothing is apartheid.

In Israel, all citizens — Jew and Arab alike — are equal before the law. Israel has none of the apartheid legislative machinery devised to discriminate against and separate people. It has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality Act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws or any of the other myriad apartheid laws.

Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy, which accords full political, civil and other human rights to all its peoples, including its one million-plus Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority throughout the Jewish state, including that of cabinet minister, member of parliament, and judge at every level of the judiciary.

All citizens vote on the same voters’ roll in regular, multiparty elections, and there are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Due to Israel’s proportional representation system, Arab voters, although a minority, have often been partners in various coalition governments and influenced major long-term decisions affecting the country. And Arab Israelis, like all their compatriots, can express themselves and act freely as members of a transparent and open democratic society where criticism of the government in a free press is the norm.

This is, of course, only the case for Israeli citizens, and denizens of the occupied territories are not, except for maybe in a few cases, Israeli citizens. Still, Goldstein goes on, this does not warrant use of the a-word. His reasoning is after the jump:

None of this has anything to do with apartheid and everything to do with an ongoing war about the disputed territories, and even the very existence of Israel , a tiny country, less than one quarter of 1% of the size of all Arab lands, which has faced numerous and ongoing attempts by the surrounding Arab countries to destroy it. After nearly 2000 years of exile, persecutions and genocides, the Jewish people are surely entitled to a tiny strip of barren country to call their own.

If there is an analogy to the South African situation, it is that Israel is like the ANC, which was forced into the armed struggle because it had no partner for peace. As soon as the National Party came around to wanting to genuinely negotiate, the situation was resolved.

Our South African experience has taught us that you cannot make peace unless both parties to the conflict wish to resolve it. When the Arab world is ready to make peace, Israel will be there immediately.

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