1 July 2013
Why Israel? It is a question that every Palestine solidarity campaigner has probably been asked.
Usually, the question is posed as a diversionary tactic. Why excoriate Israel when more people are being killed in Syria than in Gaza?
Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman’s book Why Israel? cites numerous reasons to justify focusing on crimes committed in the name of Zionism. Every Zionist believes in the oppression of the Palestinians, the authors state. So an apologist for Israel has no moral authority to champion freedom anywhere.
Zionists like to moan that their opponents are trying to hold Israel to higher standards than other states. Yet it is Israel itself which pretends to have higher standards than its neighbors.
Israel purports to be an enlightened democracy that recently welcomed an A-list of Hollywood celebrities to a 90th birthday celebration for Shimon Peres, its president. Strip away that glamorous veneer, however, and you will find a vicious form of apartheid.
Dadoo and Osman are well-placed to identify what constitutes an apartheid state: they are from South Africa. In their book, which spans more than 630 pages, they draw plenty of parallels between how Israel treats the Palestinians and how blacks were treated in South Africa under white rule.
Many things they underscore are critically important, yet not widely-known.
Cherry-picking international law
How often does the mainstream media remind us that Israel’s approach to political prisoners mirrors that of apartheid South Africa? Both states decided to cherry-pick which parts of international law to respect; both refused to sign a protocol to the Geneva Conventions requiring that resistance fighters should not be treated as criminals when they are jailed.
How often are we encouraged to be outraged by how Israel’s inhumane laws keep families apart? Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza are denied the right to live in Israel, even if they wed Israeli citizens. Apartheid South Africa, too, imposed restrictions on who the country’s inhabitants could marry by forbidding interracial relations.
How often are we informed that Israel has declared itself to be in a “state of emergency” every year since its inception in 1948? This declaration is used as a pretext to prevent freedom of expression and assembly and to forbid Palestinians from entering “closed military areas.” Apartheid South Africa, too, was fond of issuing diktats on the grounds that it was in a “state of emergency.”
And how often are told that Israeli propagandists use almost identical techniques to those employed by apartheid South Africa? During the 1980s, Israeli journalists were brought to South Africa on all-expenses-paid trips on the understanding that they would help whitewash apartheid. Israel and the lobby groups dedicated to defending it offer the same kind of junkets to reporters, subject to the same provisos today.
A key reason why you should read this book is that it provides activists with ammunition for challenging Zionist lies. When the term “apartheid” is applied to Israel, a common riposte is to brag that Israel is so kind towards its Palestinian citizens (“Israeli Arabs,” as Zionists call them) that it allows them vote and stand in elections. This situation contrasts with that of apartheid South Africa, where the black majority was completely disenfranchised.
Dadoo and Osman demonstrate that such arguments are specious. Denying the right to vote, they point out, is not explicitly mentioned on a list of what constitutes racial discrimination included in the United Nations’ Apartheid Convention from 1973. That convention also makes clear that a state doesn’t have to mimic white-ruled South Africa in all respects to be guilty of apartheid.
In an especially perceptive passage, the authors write: “Israel’s version of apartheid is more sophisticated than the South African version. South African apartheid was rudimentary, petty, primitive — literally black and white, clear separation, no rights. Israel’s apartheid is more hidden with the deceptive image of ‘democracy.’ Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote. However, in every other area they are discriminated against by law and policy.”
Though rigorously researched and accompanied by copious footnotes, this book relies slightly too much on secondary sources for my liking. Rather than paraphrasing the numerous writers and journalists whose work they have studied, Dadoo and Osman tend to paste excerpts from other publications.
With the exception of some references to the Media Review Network, which the duo represent, we are not given a direct insight into the authors’ own experiences. As a result, the book is not as engaging as it had the potential to be.
If you have only recently become active in the Palestine solidarity movement and require a primer on the comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa, then this wouldn’t be the first source of information I would recommend. Ben White’s book Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and the documentary Roadmap to Apartheid by Ana Nogeuira andEron Davidson are both more concise and digestible.
Those seeking a comprehensive overview of all the important issues relating to Palestine would be well-advised, on the other hand, to check out Why Israel?
Few, if any, of the essential facts have escaped its authors’ attention.
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