International Bash Israel Week (or Two?)

Welcome to Israeli Apartheid Week, everyone! Apparently, this uplifting event runs the first (and second) week of March this year.
I am very proud to report that the Twin Cities will not host ANY events for this “cause” (unlike, say, California, which is host to at least 3 separate “weeks”). In order to get the full IAW experience, we would have to travel all the way to Duluth (and why would anyone want to travel to Duluth in early March?) So we can all be very proud of the sort of place we live in, and the high level of common sense among its citizens.
However, I was once a lucky winner, and was lucky enough to be present at the very first one of these “weeks” – back when they still had the honesty to call it “Intifada Week.” You see, UC Berkeley hosted the very first “Intifada Week” in the spring of 2001, when I was a student there.

Sather Gate - UC Berkeley

As part of the events of “Intifada Week,” the organizers blocked Sather Gate – the main thoroughfare through the Berkeley campus – in such a way that any disabled students (of whom Berkeley has a large population) could not get through at all, and were forced to make their way all around (the very hilly) campus to get to and from their classes and dorms. I suppose that seems vaguely appropriate – anything goes to further your cause, and if innocent people suffer, so be it.
But let’s take this renamed and evolved event – the international “Israeli Apartheid Week” – seriously for a moment, and consider the claim on its merits (whatever its origins).
It seems that the organizers of this event have about as much understanding of the word “apartheid” as they do of “week” (which they seem to think means March 1-14).
I would like to posit that trying to label Israel as an apartheid state is not only patently and  obviously untrue, but quite patently an insult to our collective intelligence, and also to the struggle against apartheid itself, and all of the courageous people who fought against it so valiantly in the 1980’s.
I realize that many of us have very short memories these days, but let’s just try to go back and remember what South African apartheid actually looked like. We’re talking here about a full segregation of a single nation’s citizens by race. We’re talking about fully segregated residential areas, with people of one race forced to live apart from the other, mostly in horrid conditions. We’re talking about depriving citizens of one race entirely of their citizenship, denying them the ability to vote or participate in government, and the complete segregation of education, medical care, and every government service, with the majority race completely controlled and oppressed by the minority race, denying it access to government and all normal institutions and benefits of normal life.
Now let’s contrast this to what goes on, and has always gone on, in democratic Israel. Approximately 23% of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish. Most of these are Arab. Arab citizens of Israel – of whom there are now well over a million – have always been allowed to vote. They have registered political parties, and have for decades been represented in the Israeli parliament – the Knesset; Arabs sit on Israel’s Supreme Court, serve as government ministers and IDF generals, and serve as Israeli Ambassadors to foreign countries. Arabic is an official state language, right alongside Hebrew, there are Arabic street signs everywhere, all food is labeled in Arabic, and most Jewish Israelis study Arabic in school. In many Israeli hospitals it is extremely common to see Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses working alongside one another, and treating Jewish and Arab patients, with no regard for ethnic origin. There are Arab students in Israel’s top universities (at Haifa University, for instance, 1 out of every 5 students is Arab), and Arabs work in Israel’s top research labs. Jewish children regularly go to Beduin and Druze cities for exchange programs, and there are a number of mixed Jewish-Arab schools. And on any day, you can see Jews shopping in Arab stores and eating at Arab falafel stands right in the middle of Tel Aviv (not to mention the incredibly popular Arab markets in Jerusalem, which are a must for just about any Israeli).
Does that sound like apartheid to anyone?
Can any person honestly take a walk around Jerusalem or Jaffa, or stop at Hadassah hospital, and say that they are looking at apartheid? Or is it just a mindless attempt to throw random vile insults around, hoping something will stick? Israelis has been called Nazis, Racists, Child Killers – why not throw apartheid at them, as well? What do these people have to lose?
The thing is, calling a free and democratic country like Israel “an apartheid state” is as insulting and demeaning to the whole concept of real apartheid as the midless calling of “Holocaust” at the slightest provocation. It is insulting, belittling, and dissmissive of the horror that was the Holocaust when PETA shouts “Holocaust” at a chicken bar-b-que.  And it is just as flippant and irresponsible to shout “apartheid” at Israel.
Now, is there racism in Israel? Yes, of course there is racism in Israel. Just as there is racism in the United States, in Great Britain, and in France (which is becoming quite famous for its race riots lately). But it is a sadly all-too-common situation of the position of minority groups in a different-majority country, and one that the Israeli government is working to rectify. Personally, I think they could stand to do more to rectify it, but they are trying, and that is a good sign in itself.
But apartheid? Really? What are they going to try next? Perhaps “Israel is Part of the International Communist Conspiracy” week in 2011. In fact, that sounds kinda catchy. It could take off! Who’s with me?
–Read Myths & Facts’ excellent take on the apartheid issue here.
–Read the co-chair of Europeans for Israel’s take on this week’s events here.