Israel and Apartheid

I don’t think I’ve ever referred to the Israeli occupation as apartheid. But now that a UN envoy who’s a South African professor of international law is saying that the Palestinians’ situation is the same as this of black South Africans in the 1970s, I’m starting to warm up to the comparison. What’s more, the envoy suggests that “Israel is imposing a policy of ‘controlled strangulation’ that is helping to give rise to a failed state on its doorstep” – in other words, that Israel is deliberately screwing Palestine’s economy to make it ungovernable.

Israel’s response is predictable: “You’re one-sided.” Israel can’t justify the occupation itself in terms that won’t make people so angry that they’ll demand sanctions. It can much less justify the specific details of the occupation – the roadblocks, the protection of settlers’ lynches of Palestinian civilians, the fence, and so on.

So, instead, when people criticize it, its best shot is to make shrill accusations of anti-Semitism, and to try delegitimizing the notion that Palestinians should have rights. The Israeli government isn’t the only organization that believes certain people’s rights depend on sufficient obsequity, but it’s the one that defends this notion the most blatantly.

Look, what Bismarck said about laws and sausages applies to liberation movements, too. Everyone likes a liberation movement, after (or right before) it achieves its goals. When it’s still not painfully obvious it’s won, it gets demonized, regardless of what tactics it uses. Even Martin Luther King was billed as a dangerous radical into the early 1960s. It then goes without saying that any political movement that isn’t blessed with fighting a relatively non-violent establishment, which can be fought non-violently, faces even greater delegitimization, regardless of whether its causes or methods are justified.

So comparisons between modern Israel and apartheid South Africa are complicated by the fact that Nelson Mandela’s success made it impolitic to defend apartheid South Africa. But in fact, once one gets over that differential, the comparison still holds. Olmert isn’t Assad or King Hussein, who slaughtered Palestinians by the thousands and myriads. South Africa wasn’t Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, either; it had no arbitrary pogroms.

Almost every regime can point to a worse regime. It’s somewhat analogous to pathological extremism, where the subsitute for radicalism is nationalism. Killing people is certainly a way of showing one’s authentic patriotism. That way, Palestinian terrorists can say they’re better than the IDF, and the IDF can say it’s better than Syria, and Syria can say it’s better than Pinochet, and Latin American fascists can say Pinochet’s better than Mussolini, and Italian fascists can say Mussolini’s better than Hitler. Nazis are sufficiently vilified that no political force needs to ever invoke them positively.

Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks. As Orwell noted, Gandhi could only use non-violent tactics because Britain had a conscience. Israel has no conscience; its military whitewashes its bulldozer drivers’ running over activists who stand in front of buildings that are scheduled for demolition. As such, denying human rights to all Palestinians because a small group of them commit terrorism against Israeli civilians isn’t an especially rational thing to do. And, while we’re at it, India had its terrorists, too – Subhash Chandra Bose went as far as allying himself with the Axis against Britain in World War Two.

It’s possible to typify most countries as stereotypes of people. The US used to be Vito Corleone, until Bush turned it into Sonny Corleone. In that paradigm, Israel is the annoying kid who murders someone, gets caught, and then complains to the judge, “But the terrorists are killing more people and you haven’t caught them yet!”. Yes, kid, brag about your incompetence at hiding your atrocities. When you do that, you deserve to do hard time just for stupidity.

20 Responses to Israel and Apartheid

  1. Ran Halprin says:

    Again Mr. Levy takes an extremely biased approach. You claim that “Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks.”, while the reverse is true. Israel isn’t Britain, because UK police shoot anyone who looks like a Palestinian:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Charles_de_Menezes

    Kind of stupid to declare the bold statement over a single incident, right? Then why do you take a single incident of running over a person that occurred in Israel, and declare it Israeli policy?

    Israel is the annoying kid who murders someone, gets caught, and then complains to the judge, “But the terrorists are killing more people and you haven’t caught them yet!”.

    No. Israel is the kid who on the day of its birth, and twice again later in youth, was almost murdered, yet prevailed and did not kill its attacked in self defense. A kid whom you say should not be given a weapon to defend itself, while knowing this short history. If you deny a weapon from someone who practices self defense, are you not assisting murder?

  2. Phil Thrift says:

    Re: this short history

    Raises the question: When was Israel ever a nation anyway? (before 1948)
    Can mythology trump reality?

  3. Ran Halprin says:

    I find it hard to believe that readers of this blog believe the whole exodus and conquering of the land story. It quite commonly agreed to be mythical. What probably happened is a sort of “I’m now your king, you are now my nation” sort of thing, like most countries.

    What does this have to do with anything? The book you link to doesn’t say that Israel and Judea didn’t exist…

  4. Ran Halprin says:

    “That way, Palestinian terrorists can say they’re better than the IDF” – Why exactly? Palestinian terrorists murder civilians (Israeli and Palestinian), IDF protects civilians (Israeli and Palestinian).

  5. Phil Thrift says:

    But how much “legitimacy” is there in the creation of Israel (1948) if it were the case that the significance of these ancient ‘Kingdoms’ was mythologically magnified?

    http://archive.salon.com/books/feature/2001/02/07/solomon/index.html

  6. Anatoly says:

    Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks.

    What, this British empire?

    This is the empire you present as superior over Israel in that it had a conscience?

    This is absurd. Your utter ignorance in history is feeding your anti-Israeli bigotry. I don’t think you’re capable of rational thinking on this subject.

  7. Gilad says:

    It is interesting to read this blog. I’ve got an impression that while people, states are demanding from Israel certain steps (human rights, social justice, ending occupation etc.) and behaviour, at the same time they are even worse. Since 1945 the human and minority rights of the Hungarians in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia are almost neglected. Basically they are 2nd class citizens. How can it be such a big problem to set up a Hungarian University in Transylvania??

    We can start list with Spain, France, UK, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia. It is very sad that these countries are using the Palestinian case to deter the attention from their interior problems. State of Israel will always have to be better than others, because this is the only state of the Jews (while the Arabs have 22!!)!! In a recent study of the UN was found that the Arab states have cca. 140 years disadvantage in comparison with Spain. Just to add other interesting thing. The Arab League is not supporting financially the Palestian issues as much as orally. In other words, they do not care about the Palestinian case.

    Regarding Phil Thrift comment, the Jewish nation exist since Abraham, and one of those very few nations and cultures that still exist over 5000 years (compare with China, India). The Jewish nation survived a very long excile and returned to his own Land. You can see the ruins of the Greek culture, but today’s Greek are not the same who built those beautiful statues, buildings. British empire will fade away a lose it’s caracther due to the huge immigartion and all of those Muslim citizens. Same can happen with France, Germany and Italy. May be we should think about the ideas of Oriana Fallacci.?

  8. Ran Halprin says:

    But how much “legitimacy” is there in the creation of Israel (1948) if it were the case that the significance of these ancient ‘Kingdoms’ was mythologically magnified?

    Why is the significance of a kingdom circa 2000BC have any relation to a nation that exists today? If you suddenly find out that the US has actually been invented circa 1800 and is not really 4000 years old, will it make a difference in anything?

    And going that way, how much legitimacy is there in the creation of Palestine then? There has never been self rule for these people, they have always been under occupation – Othmanian, then Jordanian/Egyptian, then Israeli. According to your reasoning, a country that is not ancient does not have rights to exist?

  9. Phil says:

    There has never been self rule for these people

    Let’s keep it that way.

  10. SLC says:

    This argument from the Israel bashers like Mr. Levy and Mr. Phil is really tiresome. The fact is that the Palestinians had their opportunity to form a Palestinian State on the West Bank and Gaza in 2000 and chose instead to start the 2nd intifada, using the Sharon visit to the temple mount as an excuse (by the way, Sharon had every right to make such a visit; the Palestinian objections are total crap). Now of course, Mr. Levy has argued in previous threads that the 2000 deal was a poor one from the Palestinian point of view, ignoring the fact that 95% of something is better then 100% of nothing. In point of fact, the 2000 deal was a poor one for the State of Israel because acceptance of a Palestinian State is totally adverse to the formers’ future welfare. The Palestinian State is in Jordan, which is already some 65% Palestinian. Sharon was right in his autobiography in so stating and his conversion to a separate Palestinian State was a mistake of monumental proportions.

    Incidentally, Mr. Levys’ pious concern over the fate of Rachael Corrie is laughable. Ms. Corrie was asking for it by placing herself in a position where she could not be seen by the bulldozer driver and she is totally responsible for the fate that befell her.

  11. Ran Halprin says:

    “Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti daily al-Siyassah reported on Sunday that the Gulf states of Oman and the UAE would allow Israel to use their airspace should the Jewish state decide to launch preemptive strikes against Iran. The report quoted European and Arab diplomats.
    The newspaper also quoted a Pentagon official said saying that Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan would assist Israeli raids on Iran.”

    Amusing. Suddenly the Muslim world supports Israeli attacks against Iran… Sounds a little suspicious, doesn’t it?

  12. Phil Thrift says:

    Kuwaiti daily al-Siyassah reported on Sunday that the Gulf states of Oman and the UAE would allow Israel to use their airspace should the Jewish state decide to launch preemptive strikes against Iran. The report quoted European and Arab diplomats.

    It warms my heart seeing Arabs and Jews bonding together – to whip some Persian ass.

  13. muppt says:

    Phil Thrift is rascist against Persians

  14. SLC says:

    Re muppt

    Mr. muppt is a racist against Jews.

    Re Phil Thrift and Ran Halprin

    The issue here is not Arabs and Jews against Persians. The issue here is Sunni Muslems against Shiite Muslems, an extension of the ongoing activities in Iraq and Lebanon. This report was telegraphed by the Sunni Arab reactions to the Israeli adventure in Lebanon last summer which were very muted early on. It was only with the demonstration of Olmertian incompetence that there was serious adverse reaction in the Sunni world. Given the evidence of total incompetence displayed in Lebanon last Summer, I am surprised that these Arab Governments would even contemplate participating in such a perilous endeavor, absent a replacement of the incompetent moron Olmert.

  15. Ruchira Paul says:

    Alon:
    Wise though you are, beyond your years, your benevolent take on the British Empire in India is a bit misguided. Anatoly provides an appropriate link. Also, what is little known outside India and even inside India, is the fact that in 1947, when the mutual Hindu-Muslim blood bath occured after the partition of India (my parents’ and my parents in laws’ families lost their ancestral homes in the east and the west respectively) the British army stood by and watched – a bit like Ariel Sharon in Shabra and Shatila. Strategic presence of the army in partitioned regions would have prevented much of the carnage.

    Yes, Gandhi’s non violent, non-cooperation movement was unique. But let us not forget that it is so venerated world wide, especially in the west, is because it spared the British their skin. I wouldn’t be so quick to call Subhash Chandra Bose a terrorist. He planned an armed resistance to the British occupation with a legitimate army – not random terrorist killings. The reason he allied with the Axis was the age old philosophy of “enemy of my enemy… ” to weaken the British Empire by engaging it in warfare in India while it was busy also defending itself in the European theatre of WWII. It was a military strategy and not a terrorist plot although the British would like you to believe the latter.

    It is interesting to note that Bose’s “Azad Hind Fauz” (Indian Liberation Army) was the most secular, non sectarian, non caste based fighting force India had ever had in its history until then. (The British liked to keep the communities separate and suspicious of each other – the classic divide and rule policy that worked so well for 200 years). Hundreds of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh soldiers deserted the British Indian army to enroll and fought side by side in Bose’s army. While Gandhi, Nehru and others of the Indian Congress acceded to Radcliffe’s knife carving up India, Bose was adament about preserving a unified India. Two of my school friends’ fathers (one Muslim and the other Sikh) and one of my uncles (a Hindu) were young men who left the British army to throw their lot with Bose’s indigenious fighting force. I have heard their stories. They were convinced that if Bose had prevailed, there would not have been a partition of India along (still festering) religious lines.

    There may be many problems and questions about the creation of Israel and the current Israeli-Palestinian situation. But to say that European colonialism in Asia and Africa was somehow more benign, is wrong and aided by fading memories. Also, the Europeans would like us to believe that when they criticize Israel. (I am not defending current Israeli policy here. ) And yes, yes, there was an apartheid. Indians were barred from buildings, train compartments and to prime real estate in their own land.

  16. Bruce says:

    Alon, to me it’s been pretty obvious for the last five years that while the U.S. may have become Sonny Corleone, Bush himself has been Fredo his entire adult life – stupid, weak and compensating poorly by aligning himself with the enemies of the family’s interest.

  17. Ruchira Paul says:

    I should have added that Subhash Bose did not preach fascist / Nazi philosophy. The alliance with the Axis was meant to be a military alliance not an ideological one. (I dont’ think it was a good idea, especially courting the Germans). Also, Bose had been a influential member of the Indian National Congress along with Gandhi and Nehru. He was immensely popular and was elected the president of the Congress by a majority of party delegates who wanted Bose to lead the movement against British occupation. Gandhi threw a tantrum at the prospect of losing the intellectual leadership of the party. Bose resigned, rather than divide the party over a rift about leadership and ideology. That is when he decided to mount a military resistance against the colonial power.

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