This is apparently “Israel Apartheid Week,” when college campuses play host to protesters whose grasp of history is as feeble as their blind prejudices are strong.
Recent op-eds by two Jewish columnists — one who rejects the apartheid label, another who embraces it — demonstrate how a libelous analogy only stands in the way of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In The Washington Post, Richard Cohen notes that Israel and South Africa “have almost nothing in common.” South Africa’s system of minority rule was based solely on race. In Israel’s “liberal democracy,” by contrast, Arabs make up about one-fifth of the citizenry. Israel’s conflict with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is based not on race but security. While Israel has its faults, writes Cohen, “under every conceivable peace plan — including those proposed by Israeli governments — almost all of [the West Bank] will revert to the Palestinian Authority and become the heartland of a Palestinian state.”
By contrast, Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, believes the apartheid label is apt. “The disappearance of the two-state solution,” he writes in the Financial Times, “is turning Israel from a democracy into an apartheid state.” (He doesn’t mention the Palestinians’ role or responsibility for creating a climate for peace.) A system of checkpoints and separation walls “is not democracy,” he concludes.
Siegman and Cohen appear to be arguing over what is, and what may be. Siegman, having buried the two-state solution, sees a future in which Israel’s rule over a majority Arab population will be indistinguishable from apartheid. Cohen is arguing from the present and near past, in which Israel’s conflict over the West Bank and Gaza is rooted in security issues and mutual recognition of national rights, not race. Cohen recognizes a crucial difference: a conflict rooted in security and recognition can be solved, and Israel has shown a willingness to do so.
Siegman may think he is giving Israel “tough love” in issuing his apartheid warning, but by placing the blame for the current stalemate exclusively on Israel’s shoulders, ignoring its demonstrated willingness to reach an accord with the Palestinians, and comparing its legitimate sense of insecurity to a loathsome racial obsession, he only reinforces the siege mentality that makes any thinking Israeli wary of making further concessions.