Tel Aviv’s panic shows boycotts are having effect

By Joseph Dana, published by The National

This month marks 48 years since the start of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. What is remarkable about this sober anniversary is not the longevity of Israeli control over Palestinian life or the failure of various peace efforts, but that it took so long for a grass roots boycott movement to come into being that could apply serious pressure on Israel.

Such a boycott movement is now fully deployed on multiple fronts, from diplomatic initiatives to sport to pressure on international companies complicit in Israeli occupation.

Last week, Palestinians stopped just short of forcing a vote at Fifa’s world congress on suspending Israel from international football. At the same time, years of pressure on French telecom giant Orange resulted in blistering remarks from its chief executive, Stephane Richard, stating he would pull his company out of Israel immediately if it were not for the legal quagmire that would ensue. On the diplomatic front, the European Union appears poised to start labelling Israeli goods produced in illegal settlements.

While Mr Richard quickly backtracked his statements and proclaimed that Orange will stay in Israel, the damage had been done and Israel’s leadership showed itself to be in utter disarray as to how to contain futhur boycotts. Israel’s hysterical reactions speak volumes about the direction the country is heading.

At this stage, Israel is ironically playing directly into the hands of the boycott movement. In essence, the movement’s major selling point is continued Israeli arrogance, which underlines the boycotters’ mantra that only outside pressure can force Israel to stop its intransigence. Pending a radical announcement of an end to the occupation or even the serious curtailing of the settlement movement, both of which Israel is unable or unwilling to do, Tel Aviv seems helpless to defend itself against additional boycotts. After all, there is nothing unique to this boycott of colonial Israel. Boycotts are tried and true non-violent ways to force change on stubborn regimes the world over.

It is a testament to Israel’s hubris that it has allowed itself to be placed in such a position, seeing as it had intimate exposure to the boycotts of apartheid South Africa.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed an Afrikaner politician from the Democratic Alliance in his wood-panelled office in South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town. A former member of the National Party, which instituted and oversaw the apartheid government, the politician described how Israeli businessmen would visit South Africa in the 1980s to help white South African businessmen circumvent the international boycott by purchasing their products, smuggling them across the border to Zimbabwe, and then selling them on the open market with Israeli labels replacing the South African ones.

Stories like these demonstrate just how closely Israel watched the boycott bring down apartheid South Africa. Israeli strategists at various levels of government are familiar with the history of anti-colonial movements.

That Israel created a network of Palestinian collaborators and disrupts Palestinian political unity on every level is testament to this fact. And yet, despite this wealth of information and experience, Israel is reacting to its own boycott in the same hysterical way that apartheid South Africa did in the 1980s.

Last week, justice minister Ayelet Shaked forcefully argued that Israel should boycott the boycotts and “return fire”. Other senior members of the Israeli leadership have dismissed the boycott as an “industry of lies” and labelled the movement anti-Semitic.

By equating boycotts with anti-Israel actions, Tel Aviv has sent a clear message to the world that its occupation and domination over Palestinian life are part and parcel of the country. Israelis don’t even pay lip service to the idea that their occupation is a temporary measure that will end when a peace agreement comes into being and a two-state solution is realised.

Israel defends its behaviour in a manner that erases the Green Line that separates recognised Israel from Palestine and embraces the occupation as a permanent facet of Israeli statehood. In so doing, the Israeli leadership and the majority of Israelis essentially make the boycotters’ case for them.

A similar situation unfolded for the apartheid regime in South Africa when it was forced to its knees by boycotts. Apartheid leaders often argued that the regime was a necessary fact of life and even a right, in the same way that mainstream Israeli leaders speak about the occupation as their “right” to security and their “right” to build anywhere in the West Bank.

Regardless, Israel now stands naked in its colonial ambitions for the world to see. The most frightening part is that a majority of Israelis have come to embrace this position. History often repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce. We have entered the farcical episode of Israel’s colonial history. It is unlikely that the country will enjoy the same sort of international support and protection now that its ambitions are clear and unavoidable.

Apartheid in Israel is about more than just segregated buses

What in a different a different situation would be considered apartheid is tolerated by many because it is ostensibly temporary. But the occupation has long stopped being temporary.

By Aeyal Gross, published by Haaretz on 26 May 2015.

South Africa used to distinguish between two types of apartheid. The first, called “petty” apartheid, included the separation of public amenities like public benches, bathrooms and public transportation. The second, called “grand” apartheid, included the division of territory and political rights, under which separate areas were allocated in which blacks were forced to live. Residents of these areas were deprived of South African citizenship, with the government claiming that these territories, known as Bantustans, were essentially independent states. While it was easy to photograph petty apartheid, which had blatant expression in signs saying “For Whites Only,” the impact of grand apartheid was no less harsh.

The attempt to make the Palestinians in the territories travel on segregated buses drew such fire that the plan was criticized by the right as well as the left. Segregated buses have great symbolic power, as they remind everyone of the fight put up by Rosa Parks, the American black woman who refused to sit at the back of the bus in 1955. It’s an aspect of apartheid that photographs clearly, even though it is merely one aspect of petty apartheid; the most conspicuous aspect of the segregation that is the basis of the Israeli regime in the territories.

This regime contains components of grand apartheid as well; a regime which determines that Jews are allowed to live here, and Arabs are allowed to live there – and not on an equal footing. It’s a regime based on separation and dispossession of land and water resources, as well as the resources of the rule of law. The law is not enforced equitably in the territories; not only are there separate legal and judicial systems for the Jewish and Arab populations, but law enforcement breaks down when it comes to attacks by Israelis on Palestinians.

Thus, by objecting to petty apartheid, right-wing politicians are persuading themselves, and some of us as well, that they are “enlightened,” while grand apartheid carries on. Israelis and Palestinians are segregated in the territories not just in terms of residential areas and housing, but also in the realms of education, health care and welfare. Israeli law applies there to Israeli citizens and Jewish foreign nationals across the board, including a number of laws meant to apply only to residents of the state. For the purpose of the National Health Insurance Law, for example, a Jew who lives in the territories is considered a state resident eligible for the rights that the law confers, but the same law does not apply to his Palestinian neighbor, who is dependent on a different, weaker health system.

On top of all this, just as blacks were deprived of political rights in South Africa by grand apartheid, a section hidden at the end of the Knesset Elections Law titled “Special Instructions” gives Israeli residents of the territories the right to vote for Knesset, an option that in principle is not available to those living outside the country’s recognized borders. This right is not given to the local Palestinians.Thus, under the cover of the supposedly temporary character of the occupation, the segregation regime gains legitimacy. What in a different situation would be considered apartheid is tolerated by many because it is ostensibly temporary. But the occupation has long stopped being temporary; it is indefinite in time, as the settlements themselves demonstrate.

Even after the apartheid bus plan was dropped, this fact hasn’t changed. That’s why we cannot let the debate over the buses hide the fact that grand apartheid, characterized by inherent inequality between Jews and Arabs in all areas of life in the territories, is no less serious in its dimensions, and in many ways more serious, than segregated buses.

Does the term ‘apartheid’ fit Israel? Of course it does.

Published by The LA Times on 17 May 2014

The storm of controversy after Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s warning that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state” reminded us once again that facts, data and the apparently tedious details of international law often seem to have little bearing on conversations about Israel conducted at the highest levels of this country. As was the case when other major figures brandished the “A-word” in connection with Israel (Jimmy Carter comes to mind), the political reaction to Kerry’s warning was instantaneous and emotional. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer. That’s that, then, eh?

Not quite. Flat and ungrounded assertions may satisfy politicians, but anyone who wants to push the envelope of curiosity even a little bit further might want to spend a few minutes actually thinking over the term and its applicability to Israel.

“Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).

According to Article II of that convention, the term applies to acts “committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” Denying those others the right to life and liberty, subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, expropriating their property, depriving them of the right to leave and return to their country or the right to freedom of movement and of residence, creating separate reserves and ghettos for the members of different racial groups, preventing mixed marriages — these are all examples of the crime of apartheid specifically mentioned in the convention.

Seeing the reference to racial groups here, some people might think of race in a putatively biological sense or as a matter of skin color. That is a rather simplistic (and dated) way of thinking about racial identity. More to the point, however, the operative definition of “racial identity” is provided in the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (to which Israel is a signatory), on which the apartheid convention explicitly draws.

There, the term “racial discrimination” is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

A few basic facts are now in order.

The Jewish state (for so it identifies itself, after all) maintains a system of formal and informal housing segregation both in Israel and in the occupied territories. It’s obvious, of course, that Jewish settlements in the West Bank aren’t exactly bursting with Palestinians. In Israel itself, however, hundreds of communities have been established for Jewish residents on land expropriated from Palestinians, in which segregation is maintained, for example, by admissions committees empowered to use ethnic criteria long since banned in the United States, or by the inability of Palestinian citizens to access land held exclusively for the Jewish people by the state-sanctioned Jewish National Fund.

Jewish residents of the occupied territories enjoy various rights and privileges denied to their Palestinian neighbors. While the former enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law, the latter are subject to the harsh provisions of military law. So, while their Jewish neighbors come and go freely, West Bank Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, and to the denial of freedom of movement; they are frequently barred from access to educational or healthcare facilities, Christian and Muslim sites for religious worship, and so on.