Monday, 3 March 2014

Israel and 'Apartheid':
A Guest Post by Peter Ryley

A South African MP who personally experienced apartheid speaks about the charge against Israel

George Szirtes

There are various accusations thrown around in criticisms of Israel - including that it is in some ways a Nazi state behaving towards Palestinians just as Hitler behaved to Jews. That charge is intended to achieve two aims: first, to demonise Israel by association, to isolate and delegitimise it and, eventually, to eradicate it; second, to relieve any lingering sense of guilt, even by complicity, for the Holocaust since if its victims have turned out the same as its perpetrators, the one cancels the other. This is a natural conclusion to draw since Israel is the only Jewish state in the world and some parts of it are made up of post-Holocaust Jewish refugees and their descendants. The country was in fact intended as a place of refuge and a homeland where Jews for the first time would not be in a vulnerable minority.

Once the Nazi equivalence has been recognised as a smear the next move is to declare Israel an apartheid state, one that should therefore be treated exactly as South Africa was, and thus to bring it down another way thorugh boycotts and disinvestments.

Some people think any defence of Israel is an attack on Palestinians and that the writer must in some way hate Arabs. I do not. I believe Palestinians have the right to live lives as normal as anyone else's. Furthermore I believe that is possible.

The background to this guest post by Peter Ryley is that I had put up a post on Facebook in response to a plea to deplore another Facebook page where Israel was depicted as a rat spreading a plague. The iconography was a direct echo of Nazi propaganda before and during WW2. These things naturally concern me, especially since I think the powers of the far right are on the rise again. In the comments below my post Israel came to dominate and the apartheid charge came up again. I suggested various ways in which the charge was false but was particularly grateful to Peter for his more detailed and knowledgeable responses. I asked him if I might blog his responses as a single post with any editions that he wished to make and he kindly gave me that permission. Here is his own editing of the material.

Peter Ryley
Apartheid and Israel

Apartheid [in South Africa] was constructed through a cluster of legislation mainly in the early 1950s. The main ones were:

  • The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) 
  • The Population Registration Act of (1950)
  • The Group Areas Act (1950)
  • The Immorality Act (1950)
  • The Suppression of Communism Act (1950)
  • The Bantu Authorities Act (1951)
  • The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953)
  • The Bantu Education Act (1953)
  • The Separate Representation of Voters Act (1956)

If anyone can point to a similar legislative framework in Israel then the analogy can be made. If not, they are playing the game of guilt by association.

Let’s work through some of the list. 

  • Is it illegal for Palestinians to marry Israelis? - NO 
  • Is it illegal for Palestinians to have sex with Israelis? - NO
  • Are Palestinians denied the right to vote? - NO 
  • Do Palestinians have to live in designated areas and carry internal passports? - NO 
  • Are Palestinians divided into different racial categories on the basis of skin colour? - NO 
  • Are they registered under those categories with the state? - NO 
  • Are Palestinians forbidden to attend Israeli educational establishments? - NO
  • Do they by law have to follow a separate and limited curriculum? - NO … etc etc 

Beyond that, some people argue that a majority of Palestinians do not vote in Israeli elections.  The reason for that is because they are not citizens of Israel. They live in the territories and so vote in elections to the PA, or live in the diaspora. 

  • Palestinians are members of the Knesset,
  • have been cabinet ministers,
  • generals in the armed forces,
  • serve on the boards of major corporations,
  • hold senior university posts,
  • work in the civil service etc. 

They are not barred by law from doing any of these things.

We need to distinguish between a state that has a declaratory policy of equal rights with one that had a legal enforcement of unequal rights.

We should not confuse legal segregation with discrimination and prejudice. The first is absent, the latter is widespread.

Analogies and propaganda go hand-in-hand. The Apartheid analogy is a tool for mobilisation and a handy device to prevent the need for thought. 

The history is complex and the current debate is being shaped, not so much by history, as by mythologies. These mythologies are ubiquitous and are part of a process of delegitimisation. Both sides practice them. 

To be pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian at the same time is not a contradiction: it is a necessity.

*Peter Ryley is a reluctant retiree from adult and higher education. He spent fourteen years working at the University of Hull's now defunct Centre for Lifelong Learning before returning to Manchester. He continues to work as an independent scholar and author, writing mainly on the history of anarchist ideas. His book, Making Another World Possible: Anarchism, Anti-capitalism and Ecology in Late 19th and Early Twentieth Century Britain, was published by Bloomsbury in 2013. He also blogs intermittently at Fat Man on a Keyboard.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

A reminder to myself to try and not to argue with Mr Ryley.

Still, not to leave the place totally mute: "generals in the armed forces" is a bit of an exaggeration: in Hebrew any rank above major is called ... - general, with a lot of different "..."s. Arab soldiers beyond an equivalent of a full colonel - nope, I don't think so.

George S said...

Thank you, Snoopy.