Secretary of State John F. Kerry raised the ire of Israel and its supporters with his assertion that if Israel didn’t make a deal with the Palestinians, it could turn into an apartheid state. Unfortunately, too few supporters of Israel explained why the slur was so destructive and so wrong.
Fortunately, historian and former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren lays it out in terms even the Obama administration should be able to understand. Oren explains:
Translated from Afrikaans, apartheid means “apart-hood.” It stemmed from the deeply held racist beliefs of South African whites who, in the half-century after World War II, imposed strict legal barriers between themselves and all black people. The segregation was total: separate restaurants, separate toilets and drinking fountains, separate houses, hospitals and schools. Blacks were denied the right to vote. The system resembled the American South under Jim Crow and outlived it by several decades. Thereafter, “apartheid” remained synonymous with undiluted racism, second only in hatefulness to Nazism.
Today, the word “apartheid” is wielded by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state. . . . They do so not to achieve a better peace arrangement with Israel but to isolate it internationally and to eliminate it through sanctions. We Jews remember how each attempt to obliterate us, whether in the Inquisition or during the Holocaust, was preceded by a campaign to delegitimize us. People who practice apartheid are easily considered illegitimate.
When Kerry tossed the term around, he legitimized Israel’s de-legitimizers, making the slander acceptable in polite company, as it were. Hey, how bad can the de-legitimizers be if the U.S. secretary of state says the same things? Perhaps the right question is: How fit for office is the U.S. secretary of state if he repeats the unfounded slurs of Israel’s avowed enemies?
Oren explains that the apartheid charge is obviously spurious to anyone who is familiar with Israeli society:
The vast majority of settlers and Palestinians choose to live apart because of cultural and historical differences, not segregation, though thousands of them do work side by side. The separate roads were created in response to terrorist attacks — not to segregate Palestinians but to save Jewish lives. And Israeli roads are used by Israeli Jews and Arabs alike. The separation of schools is, again, a cultural choice similar to that made by secular and Orthodox Jews and Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Many Palestinians, however, study in Israeli institutions such as Ariel University, located in a settlement. Thousands of Palestinians, many of them from Hamas-controlled Gaza, are treated at Israeli hospitals.
Israelis can indeed vote for their leaders, and so too can the Palestinians, but the Palestinian Authority has refused to hold elections for years. Palestinians are indeed tried under Israeli (originally British) military codes for security infractions, but other cases are referred to Palestinian courts. And even on security-related issues, Palestinians can appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.
Israel has erected a security barrier — only a small section is actually walled — between it and most of the West Bank. But the barrier, a vital counter-terrorism tool, is not permanent and has been moved several times to accommodate Palestinian interests
Outside of the West Bank, Oren reminds us, “Jews and Arabs mix freely and increasingly live in the same neighborhoods. Arabs serve in Israel’s parliament, in its army and on its Supreme Court. And though discrimination in Israel, as in America, remains a scourge, there is no imposed segregation. Go to any Israeli mall, any restaurant or hospital, and you will see Arabs and Jews interacting.”
Oren doesn’t mention two other key points. First, Israel withdrew entirely from Gaza; the Palestinians have autonomy there. It is Hamas, not Israel, that runs a repressive state and continues to attack its neighbors. Second, Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinians what they presumably want — national sovereignty — and pledged to live side by side, two states for two people. It is the Palestinians who seek to eradicate the Jewish state with their dream of one Palestine from the West Bank to the sea.
Israel’s critics are uninterested in the entirely undemocratic and illegitimate nature of the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas’s presidency expired in 2009. He has refused to hold elections. How then does the PA claim to be the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people? That and other pesky questions about PA corruption, incitement to violence, repression of women and intolerance of gays seems not to concern Israel’s harshest critics. But for them this has never been about what is good for the Palestinians. They are but an instrument to an end — the eradication of the Jewish state.