Lessons Learned: Concluding The Apartheid Debate
I draw two primary conclusions from the last week’s discussion:
- While there is, indeed, extraordinary (and, arguably, state-mandated) discrimination against the Arab population of Israel and the Palestinian people within the occupied territories which echo policies enacted by the South African apartheid government, to brand Israel an apartheid state is to apply a misnomer. While one can find many parallels between the two situations, they are not the same, and can not be regarded as such.
- Drawing attention to the issue of discrimination is an incredibly sensitive matter because, when couched in terms like “apartheid”, the arguments are reflective of, and in some ways substantiate, the positions taken by those who wish to undermine the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence, and thus, by presenting these issues in such a manner, it draws attention away from the issues themselves, and refocuses the discussion on the subject of anti-Zionism. Thus, taking such a position calls into question the credibility of the individual positing the critique himself, as there is a standing presumption that one who criticizes Israel does so out of contempt for Israel and in the interest of delegitimizing the state. This presumption, however, is entirely unfair.
I do not regard myself as an anti-Zionist, but rather an anarcho-Zionist; and I have no interest in seeing Israel “fall” as it were. However, I do have a vested interest in seeing Israel manifest itself as the most just, righteous, and holy nation it has the potential to be. Some would regard this as holding Israel to a higher standard than other nations, and suggest that this position itself is inherently antisemitic. But as a Jewish person who has committed himself to the Jewish community, and the study of Judaism, it is my understanding that it is the obligation of a Jewish person to, in fact, hold Israel to a higher standard — that is if you believe we bear a special responsibility as God’s chosen people.
Obviously, this complicates the matter even further, for how can one take a position which, in a sense, rejects particularism, and which, in another sense, relishes in it? Yale student Daniel Strimpel, in a recent essay for israelinsider writes,
Those who see themselves as having a special role in the world, such as Jews or Americans, are inherently particularist and their “special role” is that of spreading universal principles. A people who discovers universal principles, adheres to them, and propagates them is by its very nature unique among peoples who do not share such a commitment. Thus, America was founded as a “city upon a hill” and Israel, a “beacon unto the nations”.
Thus, Daniel drives home the point that it is the role of Jewish people in this world to disseminate universalist values, and that this is a role we have prided ourselves in, if not since time immemorial, for the greater portion of the last century. When the nation fails to meet that commitment, however, it is the responsibility of those who witness this failure, to bring it to the attention of the community.
The question I am left with is how best to advance “constructive” criticism of Israel, without watering-down the message. Israel demands our scrutiny; Hashem demands it. So how best to put it forth in a manner which incites individuals to action, without providing further ammunition to Israel’s opponents? How can we address the severity of the issues I raised in my initial post on this topic, without making Israel out to be “the bad guy”? And if we can not, are we simply expected to ignore matters, as if that will make them go away?
No one addressed any of the examples of institutionalized discrimination I presented other than to excuse them as responses to terrorism. I think this is disengnuous, because I have seen these laws applied without terrorism being a remote consideration to their application. This is demonstrative of an exceptionally large problem within the Jewish community regarding recognition of culpability: Even though people will cede that Israel has done some pretty shady things in its day, the bottom line is, Israel is forver innocent, because “the Arabs want to kill us.” It is absurd to contend that such policies are merely an outgrowth of Arab antisemitism and rejectionism, however, when it is clear that issues such as preserving a Jewish ethnic majority in Israel are in play. If we never cop to responsibility for our hand in this mess, and actually work (in as much concert and unison as a people as possible) to assuage such things, how can we ever expect (let alone feel we’re entitled to) peace?