No “Apartheid” in Israel

We are frequently instructed about the purported awfulness of Israel by the news media and those who dwell in the groves of academe. One allegation is that Israel is akin to the ancien regime in South Africa, with the Jews of Israel as the evil white men, and the Palestinians cast in the role of their virtue-filled, dusky-hued victims. In a letter to the editor in the 23 June 2005 issue of the London Review of Books, Edward Luttwak responds bracingly to one of these commonly encountered allegations. Luttwak notes that an earlier article had referred to “white” Israelis and to Palestinians as “dark” or “black”, as he writes, “implicitly to suggest a comparison with apartheid South Africa, as Palestinian propagandists frequently do these days by referring to the ‘Apartheid Wall’ and so on.” He goes on:

As it happens, the Israeli of median coloration has a darker skin than the median Palestinian. Of substantive importance – unlike pigmentation silliness – is the continuing exercise of democratic representation on the part of Israeli Palestinians whose votes elect the many Israeli-Palestinian mayors, town and regional councilors, and members of parliament. If that had been true of apartheid South Africa, with one-man-one-vote representation at the local, regional and national level, the word ‘apartheid’ would signify the accomplishment of political equality instead of its opposite. Moreover, a few brave and very imperfect experiments aside, Israeli Palestinians remain the only Arabs anywhere who do have civil rights and democratic representation.

Luttwak’s only mistake is that the Arabs who live in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other places also have “rights and democratic representation”. It is only in countries which have Arab majorities and are run by Arabs that Arabs are universally denied basic freedoms, including being routinely murdered by their own governments.

The fact that Israel has “gerrymandered” Gaza and the West Bank out of their domain of civil liberty is not so much apartheid as the desire to avoid being suicide-bombed. The Israelis are now in the process of establishing a defensible perimeter, and are removing their “settlers”, who ended up serving as hostages. With that indefensible “salient” removed, the Israelis are free to wash their hands of the Palestinians, other than actively patrolling their defensive line. (See Martin van Creveld’s excellent book Defending Israel. The Israelis seem to be following a program similar to the one he outlines in that book. Israeli experts can correct me if that is wrong. The book is good either way.)

Let’s see how the Palestinians do with their wonderful new opportunity to found their own state on their two choice pieces of real estate. Odds are they will end up with a typical Arab country – a poverty-stricken tyranny. There is no evidence that anything better is coming down the pike.

The whole post-Ottoman period has been a pitiful performance by the entire Arab world. Blaming the Jews and the Americans for their incapacity to organize even one truly decent government is an increasingly pathetic excuse. Other parts of the world were exploited far worse by colonialism and they are nonetheless performing much, much better than any Arab country.

Yet more reason to hope that the Iraqis can get a viable, non-despotic country going. That is setting the bar pretty low, but in the race for political development the Arab countries have shown themselves to only be qualified for the Special Olympics. Maybe the Iraqis can toddle across the finish line in that easy league without falling on their faces. They’ll be the first. It is still up in the air. Here’s hoping. Another eighty or ninety years like the last ones in the Arab Middle East is too rotten a prospect to contemplate.

  1. One interesting issue is the degree to which a free Iraq can do without the Jewish bogeyman. Some of this is inseperable from mainstream Islam, at least as it is popularly understood. Example: Mahathir of Malaysia is on record with some virulently anti-semitic pronouncements, but the Jews in his country can be counted on one hand. I doubt he has ever met one.

    Looking at it pessimistically, anti-semitism will be a sort of cultural unexploded bomb or forgotten land mine that may eventually blow some innocent up. The persistence of the Tsarist forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion shows that this vicious nonsense is depressingly durable.

    Optimistically, Iraqis have seen how the Palestinians were favored by Saddam. In some cases, Iraqis were displaced to make homes for Palestinians. The Palestinians were also among Saddam’s most fervent supporters. Pan-Arabism will have limited appeal in the new Iraq as the people remember how little support they received from other Arab countries and institutions. All it will take for a reassessment of the prevailing Arab mindset is a functioning memory.

    A democratic Iraq could be the key to solving the Palestinian issue. People with their fates in their own hands are remarkably pragmatic. If they can convince the Palestinians to take the best deal available and STFU, that would be a big gain for all parties.

  2. I think the anti-semitism will fade as its utility to despots fades, which will happen if and as Arab despotism fades. As a parallel, compare modern, democratic Germany with fascist Germany. There is still anti-semitism in modern Germany but it is socially and politically marginal. I think the best-case outcome for the Arab world is something similar.

  3. One of the funny things about the aparteid comparisons is that the Palestinians offer the greatest argument that being an Arab is less about ethnicity than about culture; for Palestinians are made up of European, Turkic, Egyptian, Bedoin, and Hashemite stock (and dare I say there are some that were, years ago, Jews). It shouldn’t be a surprise, given the location of Palestine, or its history; but it goes against the pan-Arab nationalist ideas that have melded with Islam for an identity. Although many Israelis come from Euro-Askenazi stock, they too include Jews from Africa and India, as well as the Sephardim, none of whom would qualify as ‘white’ under the SA aparteid system.
    I find it facinating. Although I wouldn’t argue that there is completely no such thing as race, certainly many parts of it are social construct.

  4. Good points. The “apartheid” slander is a big lie in the worst tradition of European Jew-hatred. The ugly irony of it is that the accusers are adopting toward the Jews precisely the sort of bigoted stance that they accuse Israeli Jews of taking toward Arabs. Of course Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are often physically indistinguishable, and there are many dark-skinned Jews and light skinned, blue-eyed Arabs.

  5. Doesn’t the ease with which these falsehoods about Israel & the West circulate among Arab nations indicate the importance of the arguments in Ralf’s post about Spike Lee and the ensuing comments. The gut-level anger that apparently many of us felt at distortions of history & of present policy arise from seeing how much damage it can do. And the fact that neither such posts nor such comments would be possible in an authoritarian nation reinforces Lex’s point here – and why a free Iraq is important not only for Iraqis but the rest of the Middle East. It also gives a illusion of less individual autonomy rather than more – an attitude likely to lead to anger rather than self reliance.

  6. Opinions are like drops of rain: they puddle, evaporate and leave only a spot. But history is a corked bottle with much for all to sip. Sharon DID go to South Africa for an extended time to STUDY “Apartheid” proceedures explicxitly to apply them in Israel. We are blessed in the West with the best Jewish minds in the world; and most fortunate we are, for in them is the best repository of what is best in Western culture. I was in America long enough to see it saved more than once from right/left totalitarianism by its Jewish citizens– though I really don’t know if after 9/11 they will succeed against Bush and the Christian Right that some Jews (neocons) recklessly aligned with. But there is one weakness from which American Jews suffer. It is the deep sense of guilt for their silence when FDR did nothing to save the Jews of Europe from the Holocaust. These same Jews and their projeny are the primary “guilt” targets of the Holocaust Industiry, a psychotropic intoxication designed to suppress their jusgement with a deep, often inherited, guilt for the FDR Era expressed as blind support of Zionism. It sometimes makes them into “Ziofascists” without they even realizing it. That robs us of what imeasurable wealth they offer us, for they deny it to us treating us instead ass “dumb goyim” and shows us what a world would be like without the best of the Jews, had Hitler (God forbid) succeeded. The only reason I can say that is because instead of a childhood I had an endless treck westward to America, one step ahead of Stalinism. I thus had few friends. But I was tutored by my parents’ Jewish friends throughout my trajectory. These were survivors of a double Holocaust (Hitler and Stalin). They were indeed unique intellectual saints, for they sought no aswaging of guilt or identity as “mensch” by making the Likud case. They were serene, wise, patient, judicious disciples of the endless search for truth. Most are dead now; but they did manage to passs their philosophic magic to progeny as they did to me. I may not be the best sample, but, as very pro-Zionist, I feel that I fullfil my duty to my mentors by confronting the costumed myths that cover the Zionazis. These are Jabotinskyite East Euro Jews who sought escape from the horror of the way their fellow East Euros were treating them by creating their own wonderful nation. Buber warned that only by becoming “a light onto the [Arab] nations” could Israel survive. But they did not listen. Instead they became just like the East Euros they escaped, treating Arabs even worse than they were treated by the East Euros. To become propaganda blinding accomplices in this venture is tragic and I hope there are more Jews in the US like Dr. Sigman who are devoted to the goodness that comes from seeing the truth.

  7. Crafty devils, those Jews. Not only do they have the nerve to be like everyone else, they are also exceptional. Clearly they have all bases covered, which explains the success of their rightwing/leftwing conspiracy. I know it’s true because I heard it from a guy who writes in capital letters.

  8. Now Jonathan, I know you are not stupid, so was it just you assuming that you don’t need be more than sophistic in responding to yet another “dumb goy”? The issue is Sharon and I added to it discussion of how history cannot be tolerated by some people even though they are quite smart and otherwise devoted truth seekers. Can you imagine that someone may consider it a person slur for a response to be so irrelevant, so misrepresenting and so dismissive of the very issue at issue made by someone honestly reaching out to you?

    You really must learn to debate and exchange ideas. That way you engage in “meaningful dialogue.” Now I know that at U. Chicago academics didn’t have to suffer through a student revoluytion inthe 1960s demanding “meaningful dialogue” as happened at UC Berkeley, but don’t you think your reducing my point to your silly comment kind of suggest that “truth seeking” through exchange of ideas is not your cup of tea?

    But the fact remains that Sharon DID go to South Africa’s Afrikaaner Govt. to learn how to do with the Palestinians what they Afrikaaners did with the blacks. But unlike you, he had the open honesty to say so– and he was a politician, not a “scholar”!

  9. But the fact remains that Sharon DID go to South Africa’s Afrikaaner Govt. to learn how to do with the Palestinians what they Afrikaaners did with the blacks.

    You are going to have to provide some evidence for this assertion, and also some more information about the point you are trying to make, if you want to be taken seriously. It’s not enough merely to repeat yourself. By “Palestinians” are you referring to Arab citizens of Israel, or residents of the West Bank and Gaza, or both? If you mean Arab citizens of Israel your comments are ridiculous on their face, since Israeli Arabs enjoy formal equality with other Israelis — an entirely different situation from that of SA blacks under apartheid (and even more remarkable to the extent that a substantial fraction of Israeli Arabs is now openly hostile to the State of Israel). If, however, your comments refer to Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and (formerly) Gaza, you will need to explain why Israel owes this hostile foreign population the same consideration as it does its own citizens.

  10. Well, well, now you’re talking! The information about South Africa was given to me by a member of the Kenesset some years ago, is in the Kenesset minutes from his mouth and amply discussed in the South African press at the time. If you would be receptive to the evidence of course I will seek it out and post it. How could I refuse you now that you approach me as so typical a Jewish “dialogist” about it– a marked distinction from your prior sarcasm, for which I am immesurably greatful. Please bear with me to read this to the end. I write reaching out to you from my hear; I hope you give me a chance to make myself understood. Still, I deeply thank you for your tone change.

    When I speak of “Palestinian” I am oviously speaking of the citizens of the future state of Palestine promised by Bush. But long before we got to Bush’s Road Map, something had to be done with the Pals because either Israel makes them Israelis, or it gives them a state, or it keeps them perpetually in limbo hoping to make them miseable enough that they will leave “Greater Israel.” The latter option was the option discussed since the days of Herzl. I remind you that when the Rabbis of Vienna sent a delegation at the turn of the 20th Century to see exactly what was this land of milk and honey, it cabled back: “The bride is beautiful, but she is already married!” So the problem has always been streight physics: two bodies cannot occupy the same space at once. The European Zionists, being Europeans, had a very simple solution: we give them a couple of bucks and send them on their way elsewhere in the desert. There was another alternative. For example, in Rothchild’s vignards, Zionists were subcontracting to Arabs. He got very angry at that and for the fist time insisted that Arab hands are never again to work Jewish lands– a rule of the Jewish Council ever since. Now Segev tells a fascinating story about the “Yekes” (German Jews coming to Palestine in 1930s). They were mostly urban professionals and intellectuals that lived in the cities but went to work as farm laborers on the Kibbutzes.One day, a morning bus full of these farm workers leaving Tel Aviv had on it a woman that went into labor. The man sitting next to her yellled out: “Is there a doctor on this bus.” Six of the farm workers got up, having been physicians in Germany. The driver stopped the bus and declared: “On my bus I do all the deliveries.” It turned out that he had been the director of an Obsterical clinic in Germany. It seems to me that if the Jews had used the Arabs to do what they do best: farming in the desert, and the Jews did what they do best: technical and medical care etc, the terrible Arab-Jew war might never have hapened. But Zionism took an East Euro character: racist and violent, and not just in response to Arab violence. Recall that until 1975, Likud literature insisted on Israel as “the land of the Jews between the two great rivers.” The rivers, their maps showed, were the Nile and the Euphrades. So you can understand the Arab fear. For when the British quit the Mideast after WWII because they were broke, many Arabs thought that the Jews were left behind as imperial caretakers until the Brits return. This impression came because the Zionists often in the past had offered themselves to both the Ottomans and British Empires in exchange for a Jewish land.

    All that is water under the bridge. It would be funny were it not so tragic. But from meeting Sharon, I can tell you that he used to be a typical East Euro: he used to think that you must used violence to get peace in ethnic wars. Just before he was felled by a stroke, however, he wanted to go to his final solution that was far, far, far from the Apartheid solution he had studied in S. Africa. He REALLY wanted a two state solution with Israel and the Palestinians serving as a light onto the Arabs TOGETHER to pull them away from the Jihadis and Wahhabis. Alas, he had been a Jabotinsky Iron wallist (kill half the Arabs and the other half will accept anything in despair because otherwise they are as nationalistic as us Zionists and will not compromise) too long and, alas, God did not allow him time to accomplish his final goal. Olmert was also dedicated to Sharon’s solution. In fact, even his wife– who is a die hard leftist post-Zionist– voted for him for the first time last March because she saw the new Sharon in him. What happens I will briefly discuss later. But my point is based on a beautiful Israeli poem about an old man who goes to the grave of his IDF hero fallen son to greive. The son speaks to him from the grave: father, do not weep for yourself, weep for me as I lie here in the cold, dark, damp ground buried with all my dreams and goals that I will never be able to achieve because I had to die for your rigid ideologies. I am a father of a boy, now a man. I think of all the boys that never got to be men like him because they fell in battle as young boys.I fought Communism all my life. I was in Israel during the action years. A collegue of mine who went to live in Israel to be with her parents was blown to bits by a suicde-bomber and never got to be the healer of Jews and arabs she wanted to become. So I am dedicated to the idea of an Israel for Israelis, integrated into the Middle East so that it may truly become a light onto its Semitic brethren, as Buber urged.

    The terrorism we seen now is of our making. For to the Saudi Wahhabis and the Persian mullahs what is 10% of their wealth to be given to the terror Jihad when they make a billion dollars a day? So the Hitler danger to Jews of today is not Nasrallah, it is the SUV thay guzzles gas and pays dollars for it to the Jihad. I look out my window and see these stupid Americans that sent their sons to fight in Iraq and then “fill-up” the tank of all these SUVs parked in front of their houses thus supporting the men that kill their sons. If Bush were to pull a Kennedyesque: man on the moon in a decade by marshalling all of America’s high-tech know-how to make us oil-independent, the Mideast wars would be over. Then, plunged into the darkness by the drop in their one cash crop economies, the Arabs would welcome Israel as the light that save them with its high-tech mastery. Why? Because they appreciate liberation from Western oil imperialism. Every Arab businessman and leader I ever talked to told me that if forced to choose he would always trust a Jew over a European. Using the Palestinans as its agents, Israel could dominate the Mideast as the great modernizing light, thus saving the Semitic family from collapse. Even Said admitted that to me when alive.

    In sum, this war on terror is not the way. Olmert came to Bush begging for an extra $10 billion because as coaltion leader he had to take care of both left (poor) and right (rich). Bush made him pay by pushing him into a war Lebanon->Syria->Iran…And then as Israel gets in trouble and exhausted in Iran, we jump in to save our desperate ally. The Bush game was to use Olmert to get the war with Iran that his Joint Chiefs warned they would quit en masse if he attacked. He USED Israeli blood for his political goals. But when the IAF failed, Olmert sent in the IDF; when it too failed, he withdrew and a cease-fire was achieved. To my mind this was at Israel’s peril, now the butt of Arab hate as never before. Bush was guided by his Wahhabi Saudi benefactors into a war on a Shia threat to their power in the Gulf (at same time as he is trying to create a “democracy” in Shia majority Iraq!!!!!

    What Bush must do now is give Israel an extra $10 billion and let it take charge of reconstructing Lebanon. The Saudis and Persians promise but can’t deliver to the Lebanese. But with US funds Israel can; if the Israelis magnanimously hire the Lebanese (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Christian etc) to rebuild Lebanon under its agis with US money, the day of Israel’s integration will come sooner than anyone may think. I know Arabs. They can change on a dime when struck by gratitude as by hate and pride; but not only from a smile to a stab but also from a stab to a smile. Israel can lead the Mideast out of the darkness and be its light. I would stake my life on it. If that makes me an anti-Semite so be it!

    If you got to this point, I can only give you a kiss for patience and kindness and open mind– for being, in other words, like the Jews I have come to know and love all my life.

Comments are closed.