Friday, July 22, 2011
Israel: If It Smells Like Apartheid…
By Rami G. Khouri
The Israeli parliament’s vote last week making it a prosecutable crime to support any boycott of Israel, including products from Israeli settlements on occupied Arab lands, has rightly generated considerable debate about what this means for Israel, Zionism and Israelis.
The complex and larger-than-life tale of the modern state of Israel has always been seen by its two very different faces around the world. For Jews and many others, Israel has been about a vibrant nationalism, miraculously reborn from the horrors of the European holocaust and centuries of discrimination and subjugation of Jews by white Christian Europeans and Russians. For most Palestinians and Arabs, Israel has been about a predatory and malicious combination of colonialism and racism, the creation of an exclusionary ethnic state on land that was taken from others, with Jews and Israeli citizens having a higher quality and priority of personal and national rights than the indigenous Arabs.
These two competing narratives have played out for the past century. The miracle of vibrant Jewish nationalism and impressive statehood, on the one hand, and the criminality of Zionist colonialism and racism, on the other, are impossible to reconcile. Yet reconcile them we must - or at least Zionists and their supporters must - if we are ever to approach any possibility of a negotiated peace that allows Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs to live a normal and peaceful life in this region.
The anti-boycott law that has just been approved in Israel will provide new ammunition for those who see Israel and Zionism as intemperate racist, or even, as some Israeli critics have said, fascist.
The basic issue is not whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, to criticise Israeli policies and to support a boycott of Israel. It is not about whether the Arabs should formally recognise Israel as “a Jewish state”, or if Israel is a vibrant democracy that can teach some lessons to the surrounding Arabs. The issue here is simply whether Israel and Zionism are above the law of humankind that attempts to maintain peace and security among peoples by enforcing certain principles of justice and order.
The new Israeli law generates widespread anger and contempt because it essentially says that Israel and Zionism are above the law, and cannot be held accountable, criticised or challenged through boycotts and sanctions in the same manner that the world sanctions other states that engage in immoral or criminal activity. In other words, Israel and Zionism can do anything - including criminal colonialism - without accountability or review, regardless of existing legal or ethical constraints that apply to all other people and states.
The assorted boycotts of Israel have not hurt it very much in material or political terms. They are symbolic acts that Israel seems able to withstand quite easily.
So why do Israelis react so fiercely, and with such official parliamentary zealotry, with this anti-boycott law?
I suspect it is because the sustained boycott effort threatens to place Israel dangerously close to the singularly distasteful place in modern history that was occupied by apartheid-era South Africa.
When American mainline churches, British academics, European labour movements, Norwegian investment funds and assorted other respectable institutions around the world formally boycott Israel because of its apartheid-like policies in the occupied Arab territories, and some Israeli officials think twice about travelling abroad for fear of being slapped with legal indictments, the boycott issue suddenly takes on a much more menacing tone.
Israel is responding with hysterical overkill as it finds itself increasingly assaulted politically by boycott pressures because of the deeper moral challenge that boycotts represent: the delegitimisation of the Israeli state that modern Zionism has created.
The real threat to Israel is not what others are doing to it, but what it is doing to itself - through its criminal policies of territorial colonisation, its persistent assault on Palestinians everywhere, its refusal to negotiate a reasonable peace agreement that acknowledges the Palestinians’ historical rights in the land and, above all, by claiming for itself greater legal, national and moral rights than it is willing to concede to the Palestinians.
So when the supreme Zionist law-making institution representing the Jewish people - in the wake of the divine mandate passed on to humankind via the law-giver Moses - decrees that Israeli actions cannot be challenged on legal, political or ethical grounds, or opposed through boycotts or sanctions, many observers and victims of Zionism naturally react by thinking that this duck sure looks like apartheid, it smells like apartheid, and it feels like apartheid.
If the Israeli parliament takes such actions that rekindle the Zionism-is-racism debate, which is happening, then one has to add sheer stupidity to Israel’s catalogue of shortcomings.
Moses must be uncomfortable in his grave in view of the great divine message he carried to the Jewish people and all humankind to, “pursue justice and only justice”. (Deuteronomy 16:20)
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 22/07/2011