David Saks

Another Take on Israel Apartheid Week (IAW)


“Israel Apartheid Week will be a trap for Israel and will move us closer to the liquidation of the Zionist entity”. Thus did Radio Islam announce the launch of IAW earlier this week, and in all honesty, it was refreshing to hear the true purpose of that initiative presented in such clear, unambiguous terms. For IAW’s proponents, the key to Israel’s demise lies in pushing a global boycott campaign against it. As the thinking goes, just as white South Africa was brought to its knees in this way, so will “Apartheid Israel” eventually be consigned to history.

Amidst all the triumphalist rhetoric, it is easy to miss how geopolitical realities contradict this sanguine view. In terms of concrete achievements, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has signally failed thus far to make real headway, despite its worldwide reach and the resources at its disposal. Since BDS’ launch in 2005, Israel has experienced an extraordinarily surge in economic growth, the most impressive in its history, while in foreign policy terms, it has diplomatic relations with more countries than ever before. So far as the cultural, academic and sporting boycotts are concerned, BDS has little to show beyond a few isolated, largely symbolic, successes.

BDS’s failure to date might be attributable simply to the fact that at the end of the day, its central premise – namely that Israel is an apartheid state – is so obviously false.

Few outside this country would be able to describe exactly how apartheid operated here, but most are aware that it constituted a form of racial discrimination by whites against people of colour. In Israel, by contrast, racial discrimination is not only prohibited, but sustained efforts are made to enable Jews of all hues and cultures to settle in the country. Over 60% of Israeli Jews are not from Europe, but from North African and other Middle Eastern countries, while most Ethiopian and Indian Jews are today Israeli citizens. The obvious question this begs is what kind of “apartheid state” goes out of its way to increase its non-white population (by encouraging immigration, that is, not importing slaves)?

Under Israeli law, being Jewish means that one was either born into the Jewish faith or converted to Judaism. Whatever discrimination that exists, therefore, is based on religious identity, not race - and if the issue is “religious apartheid”, singling out Israel for special sanction in this regard, over and above Saudi Arabia, Iran or indeed any other Middle Eastern state one might care to mention, would self-evidently be deranged.  

One genuine parallel that one could make between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa is in comparing the latter’s occupation of Namibia to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Both entailed the capturing, during wartime, of territory from an occupying colonial power (respectively, Germany and Jordan) that was subsequently retained in the face of international opposition. The parallels cannot be taken too far, however. In opposing South Africa’s occupation, Namibians wanted only their independence. They had no accompanying wish to take over South Africa as well, nor did they consider whites living in the country to be “illegal settlers” for whom there would be no place in a future Namibian state.

In the Palestinian territories, a diametrically opposite situation applies. There is no Palestinian “Freedom Charter”, no vision of a shared, democratic future where Palestinians and Jews

co-exist in mutual respect, peace and friendship. In Gaza, Hamas demonstrates in word and deed its commitment to Israel’s violent destruction, while even the relatively more moderate Fatah faction in the West Bank persistently conveys to its own people the message that Israel is an aberration whose long-term existence can never be countenanced.

A core aspect of the inherent dishonesty of the BDS approach is in the way it persists in depicting one party to the conflict as innocent, helpless victims rather than as active agents in their own destiny who can, and indeed must, play their part in bringing about a lasting peace settlement. Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank and the blockade it is compelled to maintain against Gaza are indeed issues that need urgent remedy, but only with a genuine commitment by both peoples to live in peace alongside one another can this ever come about. 

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