Israel: The A-Z of how NOT to do apartheid

Ahmad Tibi, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, sits next to Ultra Orthadox MK Moshe Gafni at a meeting of the Opposition

Ahmad Tibi, right, is an Arab Israeli and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. To his left is Ultra Orthadox MK Moshe Gafni. The two might not get on, but they do work together against Netanyahu’s coalition with the intent of toppling it. Not a very convincing of apartheid.

Defence & WarOne of the great crimes of the Left is its corruption of language. Long ago, socialists realised they could at least influence the way people thought by changing the meaning of the words they used, by outlawing certain phrases to make discussion of serious issues – such as immigration – almost impossible and constantly shifting the goalposts regarding what minority groups prefer to be known as, with last year’s “We prefer to be known as…” becoming next year’s offensive slur.

One of the first people to pick up on this was George Orwell who, while notionally to the Left of British politics, did not spare socialists his harsh criticism in what he often saw as their corruption of, or simple failure to properly interpret, progressive ideas. This is where, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the concept of ‘Newspeak’ emerges – the Party realising that, by slowly whittling down the size of English vocabulary, they could control people’s thoughts and reduce them to the level of dumb animals. No doubt this was greatly inspired by what was already occurring in Communist Russia.

Hence, today, wasteful public spending is more properly known as ‘investment’; a group of two of more people, businesses or some of the higher mammals with anything remotely in common have become a ‘community,’ while the reduction in the amount of cash given to people for doing nothing in particular is now universally known as a ‘tax.’ Most of this is playful exaggeration, of course, but those on the more loony fringes of the Left – and you will have seen plenty of them marching in London yesterday – practice a much more sinister form of exaggeration which, were it not so successful, would be pitifully comical.

This comes from what, in this writer’s view, has always been a masochistic element of socialism; they are not happy unless things are terrible, they yearn for pain and despair and actively seek it out, before using all their powers of hyperbole and farcical exaggeration to make it appear exponentially worse than it actually is, thus validating the burning anger they feel within themselves for the world (n.b. this may come from a self-hatred which is then transferred onto the wider world – in Lenin’s case, getting himself expelled from Kazan University was czarism’s fault, not his, while Hitler’s two rejections from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts were because of the number of Jews on the board, not because he was a rubbish artist). Not for nothing did Nikolay Chernyshevsky coin the phrase “The worse, the better” to indicate his delight that, the worse social conditions became for the poor, the more inclined they would be to support a murderous revolution.

Thus they delight in comparing cuts which still mean 57 per cent of revenue is spent on welfare (benefits, health and housing – a total of £411 billion) to the Victorian workhouse system; comparing the requirement of people who have been on benefits for more than three years to earn their dole by cooking for old ladies to forced labour, or in labelling an end to the ludicrous system of paying those on low incomes to live in affluent areas social cleansing. All really quite offensive, you might think, to people who might have actually lived through these things. People who actually lived in workhouses, perhaps, who might find the state providing them with a home and a basic income actually quite generous. Or my grandparents, who actually suffered forced labour in Nazi Germany before spending the rest of their lives diligently building a comfortable life for my mother through very thriftily saving the income they received from their rather low-paying jobs. But the biggy, of course, is the startling accusation, doing the rounds rather well at the moment, that Israel is somehow an apartheid state.

It really is quite difficult to know where to start which such an outrageously hyperbolic nonsense. To call it such is not to ignore the very real abuses that are going on in Israel; this is a conflict between two groups of people that has been raging for at least 70 years, comparable to Northern Ireland, and if you think the Israelis are 100 per cent the good guys while the Arabs are totally the baddies, you clearly don’t know enough about the situation. But the fact that outrages genuinely do happen on both sides of the political fence is even less reason to try and ham it up into something it absolutely is not.

Firstly, it’s worth looking at what the term actually means, which in Afrikaans is literally “apart-hood” and came to be understood to mean “the state being apart” and “separate development.” The aims of the State of Israel from its conception have been against this concept. Of course, it was always envisaged as a Jewish State with a Jewish majority, but the separate development of its Jewish and Arab citizens, who make up some 20 per cent of the population, was never a goal for Labor Zionists and is not a reality in what continues to be a very mixed country.

Secondly, as part of apartheid, non-white groups were steadily deprived of their South African citizenship from 1970 onwards, instead forced to become citizens of the various nominally independent ‘bantustans’ set up by the South African government on all the worst land in the country. By contrast, the Israeli authorities have consistently offered citizenship of the State of Israel to Arabs in territories it has annexed, as well as to all Arabs who fell under the borders of the new state in 1948 and making Arabic an official language. When East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were annexed from Syria and Jordan in 1967, Arab inhabitants were offered Israeli citizenship, though most declined to do so. Actively seeking to give occupied Arab peoples the same legal rights enjoyed by Jews is not a particularly effective way of enforcing apartheid.

Thirdly, the equal participation of Arabs in the Israeli political process is one of the biggest schoolboy errors a state could make in establishing an apartheid system, with the representation of Israeli Arabs in the Knesset even putting the Mother of Parliaments to shame. As of 2011, 13 of the 120 members of the unicameral Israeli parliament are Arabs, which works out at almost 11 per cent. While 11 per cent is not quite reflective of the 20.7 per cent of Israelis who identify as Palestinians, it is considerably better than the 4.2 per cent of British ethnic minority MPs who represent some 18 per cent of the population. Furthermore the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Ahmad Tibi, is an Israeli Arab and leader of Ta’al – a secular anti-Zionist party. Indeed, Tibi is a prominent member of the Opposition grouping in the Knesset, working with Labor Zionists and Ultra Orthodox Jewish parties against he Netanyahu coalition which all have vowed to topple.

Again, if a state were to try and establish an apartheid state, allowing the minority to play an active and powerful role in the Opposition movement to the extent where it might actually topple the government is not an especially smart move. Which is why, even when the South Africans decided to give a House of Representatives to ‘Coloureds’ (mostly Afrikaans-speaking mixed race South Africans) and a House of Delegates to Indians in the country’s new tricameral parliament in 1984, they made sure the white House of Assembly had more members than the two combined. Blacks, of course, were still excluded from any political participation whatsoever – unless you count the bantustans. Which you can’t, really, because they were run as dictatorships.

So, to be taken seriously in the Arab-Israeli debate, one might want to avoid labelling Israel as an apartheid state. Point out its failings, expose its injustices; make the case against the Gazan blockade, the increasing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the West Bank Barrier and the quiet redrawing of boundaries. All this adds life, colour and, importantly, empathy to the debate. Don’t discredit it by bleating about apartheid.

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