Jump to the last comment
Comments about Israel is a democracy in which Arabs vote - Benjamin Pogrund :
Dr Brian Robinson
posted on June 21, 2006 at 01:44:41 PM
"... A debasement of the word for the sake of slick propaganda ... a lazy label for the complexities ... [and] if it can be made to stick, then Israel can be made to appear to be as vile as was apartheid South Africa and seeking its destruction can be presented to the world as an equally moral cause ... [A binational state, now and for the foreseeable future is] a non-starter for the vast majority of Israelis because it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Those who propagate from afar lack a sense of Jewish history and the survival ethos created by centuries of persecution. ... Attacks on Israel, which are not only counter-productive but raise worrying questions about motives ... [Peace effort] to persuade the rejectionists to change so that Israelis need no longer fear annihilation if they let down their guard. ..."
Pogrund has made a wonderfully clear statement and I was especially pleased to see it because I've just been in correspondence with some people in ICAHD following my recent resignation. I had got an invitation to a meeting and was very surprised to see its headline announcing the launch of its anti-apartheid campaign. It wasn't the fact that as a member I hadn't been asked my view in advance (although that might be an issue), it was really to do with the fact of the campaign. I've already posted my first letter on Engage, but here's the second one, in response to a reply.
I wondered if its conclusion sounded rather too apocalyptic, but on balance I don't think so.
[Some personal friendly comments]
As I wrote, and you recognise this, my problem has less to do with the accuracy of the word apartheid than with the connotations, as I see them, of the phrase 'anti-apartheid'. I didn't say in my letter that ICAHD was itself anti-Israel, or wanted Israel's destruction (although I'd regret it if that implication could be read into the words I used). I'm very sure that no-one in ICAHD wishes the destruction of Israel.
What I had in mind had more to do with the law of unintended consequences (for example it's perfectly possible to carry out racist acts without the least intention of being racist). The groups that I was really thinking of when I wrote were the English and Scottish branches of the PSC, the Stop the War Coalition, the Muslim Association of Britain, and several other groups from both left and right ends of the political spectrum.
And that brings me to some of my other antecedent thoughts. I do not accept (after consideration) the so-called clash of civilisations theory, but I am very much convinced that there is now a struggle (or a battle, or even a war) between
totalitarianism and liberalism. This should not be a military war, but human nature being what it is, tragedy may be inevitable.
This battle of ideologies is going on every bit as much within the religion of Islam as it is within the West generally. (Only a few days ago we heard of the founding in the UK of Muslims for Secular Democracy, and I've been myself much influenced by the writings of the pseudonymous Ibn Warraq, by the late Mervyn Hiskett, and even by the rather more controversial Irshad Manji: the detailed examination of the Qur'an by scholars as reported by Warraq is especially worth reading over and over. Fundamentalist Muslims have one merit, if it is, as I do not think, a merit - unlike most of us Jews and Christians, they believe what they were supposed, by the founder, to believe, and their actions stem from their beliefs.)
I was at that big Feb 15th demo in London before the invasion of Iraq, and I've written and spoken before on how deeply I was disturbed and perturbed by what I heard and saw. Speaker after speaker denounced America and Israel, banners everywhere echoed those denunciations. I was very near the stage and heard every speech. I heard not a mention of the true nature of Saddam Hussein's fascistic, totalitarian tyranny, nor of the implications for Iraqis and the world at large, of leaving him, and in due course worse, his sons, in power. There were lots of mentions of American, and British, past support for Saddam, as if to suggest that we, and not Saddam, were really the wicked ones. (As ever, where do you start from?)
One got, at that rally, and no doubt was meant to get, the impression that Israel was a more evil place than Saddam's Iraq. And there's no doubt that many people still believe that (I'm not one of them).
That demo did force me to re-examine my views, which is, to cut a rather long story short, how I came to meet you, join ICAHD UK and so on. And of course the moral - and pragmatic - case for ending the occupation is extremely strong.
But then, I thought, there were even larger issues. I remained an increasingly doubtful member of STWC until a few days ago (I resigned the day after I resigned from ICAHD UK). I've always made a huge distinction between the leadership of STWC (which is really a combination of the SWP and Respect) and the bulk of rank and file members, who opposed the war for a whole raft of different reasons, but would never agree with the leadership's politics.
Look at what we have: the grotesque spectacle of (in their own estimation) the most progressive organisations and individuals from the Left consorting with and supporting some of the most reactionary, fascist or proto-fascist, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-freedom elements in society. STWC and CND (and the lesser satellites) joined up, not as they should have with liberalising and progressive Muslims, but with the authoritarian and retrogressive MAB, the Muslim Association of Britain.
We should be helping and securing the safety of those Muslims, in the UK and worldwide, who usually at very great personal risk to their lives are seeking to promote the more tolerant forms of Islam (the tradition, say, of 'ijtihad' of an earlier age).
The leadership of the far left struts its stuff in cahoots with antisemites whose misogyny and homophobia sometimes make the BNP appear a shining example of liberality and tolerance.
And then we had Ahmadinejad who, it seems from news reports, may also believe what he's supposed to believe. Maybe we shouln't take the apocalyptic rantings of his "hidden Imam" eschatology any more seriously than do those of his countrymen for whom he is an absurd populist - even as he brings them to despair. But the problem with a literalist like Ahmadinejad is that for him and his cronies the concept
of nuclear deterrence holds no meaning. "Armageddon? - Bring it on", as Irshad Manji burlesqued in a recent Times piece. (Of course there's a parallel with some ransatlantic beliefs, but they don't seem quite as dangerous - yet: we have to monitor closely, as we sometimes say of the mentally deranged when letting them out on licence.)
As Paul Berman tells us, liberals always find it extremely difficult to believe that people, especially political leaders, act irrationally. But they have, and they do. And tragically they will again.
And then there's Hamas who, some people keep telling me, don't really believe what they've written in their own Covenant, or alternatively that with power and the demands of realpolitik they will mellow, or less helpfully even if very partly true that for every Hamas extremist you can find a rabid Kahanist. But isn't Hamas merely one relatively tiny, if important, local manifestation of the much larger Islamist grand design, the project that - in authentic Qur'anic fashion - pits Dar al-Islam against Dar al-Harb, that seeks for the ummah a restored caliphate, and would see Jews and Christians in Palestine put back to the status of dhimmis. (Perhaps it's not Israeli Jews, as you fear, but Hamas who would behave like Afrikaaners.)
All this led me to reconsider what I'd previously dismissed, something that every time it's raised provokes in some circles angry scorn and automatic rebuttal, but which to my mind has never yet been adequately answered: namely, this question of 'singling out'. It featured hugely in the recent academic boycott debates. Jon Pike, the philosopher from the Open University, had one of the best arguments: you can criticise a person or a country all you like without having to criticise all wrongdoers, but to punish one person or state while leaving other similar or worse malefactors unpunished is invidious. And boycotts, sanctions and so on are punishments.
Now I've read all Steven Rose's counter-arguments and, in complete contrast with my response to the three neuro-science books of his that I've read, I find him utterly unconvincing and more than a little disengenuous.
All those cynical and hypocritical opportunists from STWC, in league with MAB and, I'm very sorry to say, CND, the less thoughtful members of PSC, elements from within the churches, people from the BNP, and so on, will jump up and down with glee as they wave their banners screaming, End the apartheid state of Israel.
You, I know, want to end apartheid. They will want to end the state.
And what will be the consequences if they're successful? Far beyond dhimmitude, I hasten to say. The Jews, despite some appearances to the contrary, still reeling from the Holocaust, with our ontological insecurities manifested in our oft-mentioned (and too much derided) hypersensitivities, will become even more reactionary and defensive - and even more prone to denial than many of us already are. To speak
of 'anti-apartheid' will be like employing the bull to stack the shelves in the china shop.
And what will the end of Israel do for the totalitarian Islamists around the planet? As they rejoice in the downfall of Zion they will say all the prophecies are being
fulfilled and an invigorated confidence will fuel their martyrs' war on liberty and the liberal ideal. Chop-chop square will never have been so busy. Women will be even
more oppressed. Gays and thieves will get their two and three thousand lashes. And I haven't even begun to speak of the effect here in the UK.
So yes, the occupation has been and is awful, successive Israeli governments have acted in bad faith, the IDF are brutal to order (and often it seems without the orders), a grave injustice was done to the Palestinians by Jews with the complicity of much of the world, following and in consequence of the grave injustice done the Jews with the complicity of much of the world, and even this, yes, there's a case to be made for describing some of what's happening as 'apartheid', and you have made that case probably as well as it can be made.
But suppose it's all coming down, now, and whatever the past, and however we got here, suppose now it's all about something even larger than any of this? (And incidentally I'm not convinced by those who seek to say that the current non-classical form of antisemitism so resurgent is all due to the bad behaviour of the Israeli Jews. Some of it no doubt is, but neither a one-state nor two-state resolution of the conflict tomorrow would end something that long antedates the founding of Israel.)
Suppose it is increasingly, as Paul Berman in particular has shown most convincingly, a clash between totalitarianism and liberty, between a skeptical and scientific world-view and a medieval theocratic dictatorship? And suppose these ideas are represented by, on the one hand, such peoples and groupings as Mahathir bin Mohamad, Osama bin Laden (or whoever has taken his place if he's dead), President Ahmadinejad, Ba'athists from Iraq and Syria and so on; and on the other hand the heirs of the European Enlightenment, as represented in our liberal secular democracies, however much we've fallen short of our own high standards, and however poor in intellect and wisdom some of our current leaders?
In other words, and it's very difficult to say this, it may well turn out, shockingly for our cognitive constructs of the world, that the West, plus Israel, hold the beacon of
liberty and liberalism to pass on to the future. There are some who hold that Israel is very effectively destroying itself from within, with no help from outside. That may well be true, but even if it is, I don't want to assist its suicide. There are plenty of others on hand to top up the poison.
I'm always saying that I could be wrong. It's usually morally wrong not to oppose a wickedness, but there are occasions when it can be morally more wrong if, in preventing one evil, one permits the perpetration of a worse one. I believe the term 'anti-apartheid campaign' will unleash what in effect will be an antisemitic singling out of Israel for punishment even greater than we have seen up to now, coupled with a Jewish (and Israeli) backlash, and none of this will help the Palestinians.
[...] I always hope that friendship can survive differences of opinion, even on the most fundamental of issues. As concerns the Israel-Palestine conflict, I've seen too many friendships broken and even families in such discord that they've shattered over it. The conflict carries for most campaigners a truly visceral quality that isn't evidenced with regard to other current disputes. There's always a warfare of heart and head, a perennial cognitive dissonance.
I hope our own friendship can survive even this most fundamental difference. After all, in the end, we're all going to have to make peace with, not just our opponents,
but with our enemies.
Northern David posted on June 22, 2006 at 02:15:37 PM
To claim, as the article does, that Israel would only be an apartheid state if the current conditions prevailing in the West Bank were to take place with Israel having declared the land to be permanently part of Israel rather than temporarily part of Israel is lunacy. Apartheid isn't repulsive merely on a philosophical basis related to legal status - it's evil because of what effect it has on real people living real lives.
The generations of Palestinians growing up under occupation are hardly going to be enthused not to live in an apartheid state because that state claims not to have annexed the territory.
For the majority of the time the state of Israel has existed it has been in occupation of the West Bank. Think about that - this is not a temporary phenomenon and the state can only be judged by it's actions. The Declaration of Independence and the Basic Laws may be fairly equalitarian, but the state has been ruling the lives of millions of people who are denied the vote in its running for the majority of the time the state has been in existance.
That is the basis on whether we should judge whether Israel is an apartheid state or not.
Chaim posted on June 22, 2006 at 02:57:50 PM
This is off topic, but here's a radio program from yesterday on which Walt & Mearsheimer, as well as Dennis Ross, appeared:
Lynne posted on June 23, 2006 at 10:26:38 PM
For the majority of the time that Israel has existed, it has existed on a small fraction of the original mandate, because the bulk of the mandate was reserved for an Arab homeland and was, as it continues to be, under seige, first by massing armies from the region who sought to annihilate the state.
You misrepresent what apartheid is with your silly determination as to what it is. Apartheid was the systemic repression of a majority by a minority. That's not what Israel's presence is about, in the disputed territories. It was a response to repeated acts of external aggression.
Brian Goldfarb posted on June 28, 2006 at 03:34:16 PM
Lynne is truly restrained. If Northern David wants the fuller story, he should go back to earlier histories of the first 20 years or so of Israel, add on Abba Eban's comments as to "the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity", follow that with his further comment on the post 6 day war scene, when, for the first time in history, "on the morrow of victory, the victors sued for peace", and found no takers. Then go on to Benny Morris's later writings.
This is to say nothing of reading proper accounts of what Apartheid actually did, then comparing that with the reality of both what happens within Israel and the West Bank.
After that, perhaps he can come back with a considered critique of Benjamin Pogrund's article (he lived through Apartheid and is living through Israel's situation).
Close this window