Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Is Israel an Apartheid regime?

March 22, 2009 6 comments

Yet another excellent op-ed from Tony Karon for Abu Dhabi’s The National appeared in my reader feed this morning.  Accusations of apartheid politics have been thrown at Israel for some time now from members of the Left and Palestinian solidarity groups but Mr. Karon seems to be suggesting that these accusations are soon going to hit the mainstream. Moreover, it seems these suggestions are prompted by comments made by Ehud Olmert himself.

In a remarkable interview last November, the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert cautioned that unless it could achieve a two-state solution quickly, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”. The reason, he said, was that Israel would be internationally isolated. “The Jewish organisations, which are our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.”

I myself must have missed this interview last November but it certainly does sound remarkable – especially for Olmert to make such an admission which, it should be noted, was made even before the Gaza offensive began. That offensive, as Karon also points out, has seen a bit of a seismic shift in global perceptions of Israel.

Jewish communities in western countries have long been Israel’s trump card against international pressure, because they mobilise support for Israel and restrain critics by painting opposition to Israel’s policies as motivated by hostility to Jews – a toxic accusation in a world still sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust. But what was palpable during the Gaza conflict was the diminished enthusiasm of young Jewish people abroad for Israeli militarism, and the increasing willingness of many to openly challenge Israel.

Karon invokes Jon Stewart, one of the left’s favourite political commentators and satirists. I also had no idea that Stewart was Jewish, which hardly matters I guess as opinions on Israel’s regime need not (and should not) be formed on a basis of religious or ethnic camaraderie. In the past, Jewish critics of Israel’s regime have been labelled “self-hating Jews” as carelessly as the accusations of “anti-semitism” have been thrown at gentile opponents. I have not heard such accusations thrown at Stewart, and hopefully they haven’t been and they won’t be. Hopefully we’re seeing a shift away from careless labelling and equating opposition to Israel to denying the Holocaust. Whatever your opinions on the matter, a discourse tainted with hysterics is never a positive thing.

Even as Israeli officials admitted last week that they were hoping to “rebrand” Israel’s image abroad, the Israeli media were reporting that six Israeli soldiers who had fought in Gaza were alleging that men in their units had indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians because of what they said were permissive rules of engagement. There is only so much that “rebranding” can achieve when it is the product, rather than its packaging, that is at the root of the problem.

This is a fairly serious accusation. I have long said that the civillian casualties in Gaza were unacceptable and that the old defenses about fighting in densely-packed urban areas and Hamas using civillians as human shields, to me, just don’t seem to stack up to the numbers reported. 1,417 Palestinians died in a 3-week conflict, most of them civillians including many many women and children. I’m fairly sure the Israeli military command was not instructing its soldiers to fire at civillians but I’ve always suspected that the culture within the IDF has always been one of nonchalance towards civillian Palestinian casualties, I’ve always had a hunch that the motto seems to be “destroy Hamas at any cost, apart from Israeli lives”… Palestinian lives just never seemed to equate to the lives of Israelis.

In addition to what Tony Karon has wisely said, Israel will not be able to continue on the same track unless it starts to value the lives of Palestinians as equal to those of Israelis. Children are the same everywhere, and other innocent non-combatants should be too.

[Update]: Just seen some new articles from Haaretz and The Guardian about fresh allegations of massive disregard within the IDF for Palestinian civillian casualties and a disgustingly gung-ho culture. We’re talking about:

“Shoot and don’t worry about the consequences” was the message from commanders [Guardian]

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques – these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription “Better use Durex,” next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter’s T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, “1 shot, 2 kills.” [Haaretz]

It’s really really sickening.