Thursday, January 26, 2006

Israel vs. South Africa...

...or Mobius & DovBear vs. John DeGioia, Georgetown University President.

(Hat tip: E-mailer who wishes to remain anonymous)

From time to time, I find something that sounds like it could have come out of my own head. Here, for example, is Mobius of JewSchool:
...i want to make a point that the reason i draw comparisons between israeli policies and south african policies under the apartheid regime; and the reason i allege that israel's acts of collective punishment constitute war crimes is not because i seek to empower or embolden israel's "enemies" and detractors, but rather because as a jewish person living in israel, i am insensed and outraged by israel's actions in the occupied territories and wish to see an end to the occupation. i do not believe that israel is inherently bad, nor that the israeli leadership is motivated by racism, ethnic supremacism, or messianic delusions. rather i think they are motivated by nationalistic goals that are an outgrowth of 2,000 years of persecution. it is entirely understandable, but the lengths to which they go to secure an ethnic majority are unacceptable. i raise the issue not to call for israel's destruction, but rather to foster internal dialogue within the jewish community and within the israeli community. to do so, one must counteract pro-israel propaganda which dismisses allegations of apartheid and war crimes as unfounded. once we can see what is going on and be honest and upfront about it, we can work to address it and change it.
Amen brother. I sign on to this statement 100 + ten percent.
"Some people have asked me if Georgetown will consider the [Palestine Solidarity Movement's] call for divestment from Israel. The answer to that question is no. I do not support divestment from Israel.

It is clear there are a wide range of opinions on the conflict in the Middle East and that the appropriate way for Georgetown University to address the situation is through dialogue, research, and intellectual discovery. Some people have asserted that this situation is analogous to South Africa, where many universities, including Georgetown, did disinvest in the 1980's. I was deeply involved in these issues at the time. Speaking personally, I do not feel that the practice of apartheid is comparable to the complex set of issues involving many parties in the Middle East."
-- Excerpted from address given by Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia at the University's faculty town hall meeting, January 20, 2006.

Source: Office of Communications (January 20, 2006)

Now, let me be very clear: I think Mobius' point was actually quite noble, and his intentions pure. He and DovBear are absolutely attempting to ensure that Israel in no way carries out practices that are similar to those that existed in South Africa, even if their intentions are of the highest degree.

Where I split from this is the manner in which this is done. I don't think comparisons to South Africa, when unfounded, do anything but project the image that Israel is in fact an apartheid state that commits war crimes. I disagree with Mobius and DovBear that what happens in Israel stinks of apartheid or is in any way comparable to war crimes, and feel that such assertions do not, as they feel, serve Israel's interests - rather, they hurt Israel from an international perspective and from within. They cause doubt where there should not be any: Yes, we must ensure that Israel never crosses that "line"; however, constantly claiming that it has or is about to when that is not the case merely creates problems where none existed.

I liked Gioia's quote because it was short and to the point: The issues that exist in Israel are far too complex to equate them in any way to what happened in South Africa. To pretend otherwise is simply foolish. There is so much history that exists regarding Israel and its Arab neighbors - to simply write off what goes on there as racist without taking that history into consideration is like looking at a room through a keyhole: You can see a little bit of what's happening, but you can't come close to seeing the whole story.

Open the door, take a good look.

Technorati tags: , , , , .


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I have been following people who hold such views for more than 20 years. Despite their protests of helping Israel they do it incalculable harm.

  3. The ONE thing that Israel that has done that violates international law is to build settlements in areas it has not occupied. However, it should be pointed out that the Barak government offered to give up almost all of those settlements, but was turned down. It is clear that the government of Israel -- and the large majority of the Jewish population of Israel -- no longer wants to rule over the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Hence, Israel is not comparable to South Africa.

    And I haven't even compared the other sides! It would not have been inaccurate to call Nelson Mandela a terrorist in the 1960s. But that was a different Nelson Mandela from the one who was President of South Africa in in the 1990s, a man dedicated to peace and reconciliation. Contrary to the Apartheid propaganda that tried to paint him as a Communist, he is a Christian and someone who as President preserved a market economy. Compare him to the Palestinian leaders, most of whom are unapologetic about the blood on their hands.

    And I once heard Chester Crocker, the Reagan State Department official responsible for Africa, point out that many of the leaders of the Apartheid regime had "supported the wrong side" in World War II. Crocker is no left winger! Rabbi Avi Weiss has been trying to get the U.S. Holocaust museum to point out the support of the Nazis from some Arab leaders; I hope he succeeds. (That said, there WERE a few Arabs who did not support the Nazis; King Mohammed V of Morocco refused to allow the Vichy regime to deport Jews.)

    There may be one more lesson to be learned from South Africa. When the Reagan Administration, led by Crocker, decided to shift away from the Carter policy of open hostility toward the Apartheid regime, that regime responded with more violence toward its black majority -- which resulted in meaningful sanctions being imposed despite the initial opposition of the Reagan and Thatcher governments. Only after years of sanctions that crippled it economically did the regime finally crumble.

  4. The ONE thing that Israel that has done that violates international law is to build settlements in areas it has not occupied.

    Which ones? (Curious)

    Rabbi Avi Weiss has been trying to get the U.S. Holocaust museum to point out the support of the Nazis from some Arab leaders; I hope he succeeds.

    I actually just read a good article about this... a new organization has been working on this as well.

    Great comment as always, Charlie - it will be interesting to see how Bush and others deal with Hamas. From the 2-second snippet I heard, Bush's speech sounded pretty good (stronger than I'd have thought, actually), but I need to read the whole thing.

  5. 'Which ones? (Curious)'

    The problem is that the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring populations -- either its own population into the territories it has occupied, or the population of the territories elsewhere. The huge subsidies the Government of Israel has made to build settlements and encourage Israeli Jews to live in the West Bank and Gaza fall violate the first prohibition.

    The Government of Israel has tried to pilpul the concept that the territories aren't really "occupied", which is the kind of statement I expect from Bill Clinton. The suggestion to "transfer" Arabs from the territories would violate the second prohibition, but that isn't going to happen.

    A really good case can be made that Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan means that the Fourth Geneva Convention would not apply there -- but to this date, no other part of the lands re-taken in the Six Day War are part of Medinat Yisrael. Another case can be made that the Barak government offer to give up most of the settlements, along with the disengagement from Gaza, means that the population transfer was never intended to be permanent, and that the Fourth Geneva Convention really doesn't apply either, but that is more of a stretch.

    Good Shabat!