The myth of Israeli 'apartheid' (National Post, February 2, 2005)


It's little wonder that Palestinian terrorists have agreed to stop attacking Israel at the urging of newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They have no choice: Israel's security fence has cut suicide bombings by 90%. This good fence may yet turn longtime enemies into good neighbours. Inshallah.

Palestinian sympathizers in the West prefer to see the fence as a symbol of colonialism, the greatest of crimes in the left-wing intellectual lexicon. Few care that its construction has saved hundreds of lives on both sides. Bogus accusations of "ethnic cleansing" and "apartheid" spill forth, linking Israel with Verwoerd-era South Africa.

As you can tell by now, my views would make me persona non grata at "Israeli Apartheid Week," an anti-Zionist rally currently in progress at the University of Toronto (Jan. 31-Feb. 4). Indeed, "The Illegality of the Apartheid Wall and Canada's Responsibility" is a featured presentation, as are:

- "Roots of Apartheid: Al-Naqba and the Right of Return"

- "The Apartheid of the Camps: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon"

- "Labour Apartheid in Israel"

- "Palestinian and Migrant Labour in the Apartheid State"

"Apartheid" is a new battery to replace Arafat's run-down shibboleth, "liberation." Liberation has become generic, any oppressed group's word. But apartheid, conjuring up the suffering imposed on South African blacks by a white imperialist regime, still has the voltage to shock.

The Israel-Palestinian situation is completely unlike the South African model. Historically, apartheid, as practised in pre-Civil War America, South Africa and pre-1945 Germany, was the opposite of a fence. True apartheid is internalized, a psychological dehumanization, not an external barrier. It arises when people of different races -- or genders or ethnicities -- already live together in close association. True apartheid means separate drinking fountains, burqas, yellow stars. But historical and linguistic accuracy always suffer collateral damage among demagogues, who, like Humpty-Dumpty in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, use words to mean just what they choose them to mean.

The international community widely endorses the two-state solution, as do the Palestinian intellectuals who paved the way for the Oslo accords. But to utopians in the West -- including a few on the far left in Israel -- a two-state solution implies separation and thus, by the hysterical hyperbole that is now casually accepted, apartheid. A minority opinion, marginal until recently, therefore calls for a one-state solution, with the avowed ideal that Palestinians and Israelis live as equals in a single democratic secular state.

Palestinian nationalists have been happy to encourage this multi-ethnic fantasy, for they know they will easily outnumber, and therefore outvote, Jews under such an outcome. And since the one-state proposal is adamantly contingent on the right of return of about four million Palestinians to the homes their ancestors fled in 1948, the scheme is rightly dismissed by Middle East experts as a euphemism for the demographic eradication of Israel.

The intellectual construct of apartheid is crucial to this eradication project, for it permits the radicals to cast the separation required for a two-state solution as racist by definition. The near-identical trope dominated the recent anti-Zionist (and anti-Semitic) hate-in at Duke University in North Carolina. Targeting Israel as a Western hegemon in the 19th-century colonial mode, anti-Zionists aim to make Israel a pariah state, encouraging disinvestment and institutional condemnation.

Such rallies as Israeli Apartheid Week braid into a single skein the promotion of the one-state solution, condemnation of Israel as a racist state, and fetishistic repetition of the Palestinian narrative of dispossession. Palestinian terrorism against Israel, on the other hand, is never on the agenda for open discussion -- except insofar as it must be explained as a symptom of "the occupation."

The great irony, of course, is that these rallies are always held in universities -- purported centres of truth and learning. While there is nothing of academic worth to recommend such events, our campuses have become petri dishes for the cultivation of anti-Western, post-colonial ideologies. Shame on the University of Toronto for its complicity in this calumny against a fellow democracy.

© National Post 2005