Israeli Apartheid Week unfairly criticizes Israel
March is a great month because it has a little something for everyone. Sports lovers have spring training and March Madness. The Irish have St. Patrick's Day. College kids have spring break. There is one unfortunate event during March, though, that brings much animosity to college campuses for one week every year: Palestinian activist groups sponsor Israeli Apartheid Week. The problem with Israeli Apartheid Week is not that it merely brings a dark cloud to an otherwise great month, but it is based on a dangerous lie that seeks to inflict pain not only on Israel, but on all of Israel's supporters as well.
Israeli Apartheid Week began in Toronto in 2005 — according to the official website — to end what the organizers called "the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands," among other stated goals. Since then, the movement has grown to take place in more than 40 major cities across the globe. The current aim is "to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement." There are numerous problems with Israeli Apartheid Week, but perhaps it is best to start local.
Is New Brunswick an apartheid city? Before you answer, consider the large minority population just a few blocks away from the University campus. Are these people truly represented by the New Brunswick government? Probably not. Are their living conditions worse than the typical University student's? Yes. Is New Brunswick an apartheid city? No. The word "apartheid" means something very specific. It refers to an official government policy of racial segregation and suppression. The most famous example of apartheid was in South Africa, when a ruling class of whites suppressed the political, social and economic rights of the blacks in that country. Another example was the American south under Jim Crow, when blacks were forced by law to use separate water fountains, attend different schools and sit in the back of buses. By using the word "apartheid," the organizers are calling Israelis — and those who support Israel — racists. The logical extension of their argument is that those who support Israel are equivalent to those who supported racial discrimination under Jim Crow and South African apartheid. In reality, Israel is nothing like American Jim Crow or South African apartheid. Unlike those two cases, Israel has no laws to discriminate against racial minorities. Many Israeli Druze and Bedouins serve in the military, as do gays. Ethiopians are increasingly becoming successful in Israeli society, even though they have lived there for a relatively short period of time. Arabs are active in the Israeli government, serving as members of Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and in the Israeli Foreign Service. There were no southern black congressmen in the Jim Crow south, and political rivals — like Nelson Mandela — were jailed during South African apartheid. The comparison between Israel and those two cases has no basis in historical reality.
"Apartheid" should not be used to simply mean racial inequity. If that is the definition used, then every racially diverse society in the world is an apartheid state, including New Brunswick. Israel, like New Brunswick, has different racial groups that face different challenges. For years, Sephardic Israelis faced social discrimination within Israeli society, but thankfully their conditions have been improving over time. Hopefully, the economic, political and social conditions will quickly improve for minority groups living in New Brunswick, but even if they do not, that does not mean New Brunswick is an apartheid city. Neither New Brunswick nor Israel has laws to discriminate against minorities. Anyone who calls Israel or New Brunswick an "apartheid" state is stretching the use of the word to indicate a condition found in nations around the world, including most Arab countries. That they have targeted the world's only predominantly Jewish state with this invective speaks more to their own motivations than the reality of race relations in Israel.
The most definitive evidence to contradict the accusations of apartheid comes directly from Israel's Declaration of Independence. It states that Israel "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture." Some may argue that those are the ideals that Israel wants to strive towards, but the reality is that it falls far short of reaching them. That is a fair criticism, but it is worth pointing out that no racially diverse society throughout all of human history has ever fulfilled those ideals perfectly.
The authors of the Constitution of the United States strived to create a "more perfect union," but they also understood that no nation or person is perfect. Israel, much like the United States, attempts to perfect itself in many ways. Those who criticize Israel are unable to answer a very simple question: Compared to what? Compared to utopian ideals, of course Israel falls short. Compared to the reality in the Middle East, where tyrants squash political protests, reign in free speech, imprison independent journalists, and limit Internet access, Israel is a haven of freedom, liberty and democracy.
Noah Glyn is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and history. He is president of the Rutgers College Republicans. His column, "Irreconcilable Differences," runs on alternate Thursdays.