Some thoughts on the apartheid analogy and right-wing rhetoric

Before I came here, I wasn't a huge fan of the Israel apartheid analogy. I still think it's a flawed analogy, largely because of the fact that within the pre-1967 borders of Israel, the million-plus Palestinians have Israeli citizenship and de jure equal rights. That's not to say that the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel is perfect by any means, but it's not a situation where people lack access to core citizenship rights, such as the right to vote, solely because of their membership in a certain racial or ethnic group. Within the West Bank, Palestinians do live under a system of military law that denies them rights granted to Jewish residents, but I'm not sure it's appropriate to compare the situation there to apartheid, because these areas are at least nominally not a part of Israel. Again, that's not to say that the situation of those living under occupation is good, only that it's not directly comparable to the situation that existed in South Africa. The analogy's probably at its strongest in the context of East Jerusalem, where Palestinians lack citizenship rights even though the territory at issue has been permanently annexed to Israel, but East Jerusalem is a tiny part of the territory between the Jordan River and the Red Sea. Even there, the situation is a little different-Palestinians at least have the opportunity to apply for citizenship, although as far as I know it's under conditions that make it nearly impossible in reality. Of course, the overall situation has the potential to change for the worse in the form of permanent annexation in the territories without concomitant granting of rights to the Palestinians living there, which would spread the East Jerusalem situation to the land as a whole.

During my time here, I'm not really sure that my position on the apartheid analogy has changed that much. I still think that the occupation is wrong, and that there are a lot of problems with discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and I feel that I have more evidence for these beliefs, but I still think that the apartheid analogy is inapt for the reasons I mentioned. So why am I writing this, then?

Today, I stumbled upon this 1989 op-ed about apartheid in South Africa, written by a white South African during the peak of international pressure on South Africa to end apartheid. I was stunned by the similarities between the rhetoric used in the op-ed and the rhetoric used by right-wing pro-Israel groups; I joked to a friend that you could replace the proper nouns and get an AIPAC brochure (seriously, look for yourself). The factually questionable claims, such as the idea that the land at issue was uninhabited before the arrival of the group in power; the attempts to change the subject to problems in other countries in the region; the argument that anyone who opposes the actions of the country at issue must be a misinformed, brainwashed, bleeding-heart liberal-it's all there.

Obviously, the fact that defenders of the status quo in Israel/Palestine use the same rhetoric as defenders of apartheid in South Africa does not logically imply that Israel is an apartheid state. That argument would be fallacious for a whole bunch of reasons, actually. Nevertheless, I certainly think that these clearly evident rhetorical similarities should be cause for some soul-searching among those on the Zionist right, both within Israel and abroad. The rhetoric is just too similar, and noxious.

It's also bad reasoning-instead of addressing the merits of the issues raised by opponents of the status quo, the tendency is to deflect through changing the subject to other countries or by questioning the motives of their opponents.  I think people can detect bad reasoning, even if they don't have the vocabulary to describe it is that, and react negatively. It's one of the reasons why there's so much hostility over the issue in the United States, I think. If anything it would be helpful for the Zionist right's cause to reject this kind of rhetoric, and instead make the case for their beliefs about Israeli policy in good faith. There are plenty of good arguments for a fairly hawkish position on Israel that don't require this type of dismissive reasoning that's so reminiscent of the reasoning used by the defenders of apartheid: to name a few, there's the historic connection of the Jewish people to the land, the UN mandate for a Jewish state on at least part of the land, and the need for security in the face of very real anti-Semitism (as opposed to anti-occupation or anti-Israeli policy sentiment, but that's another post) and religious extremism that threatens the people of Israel. To the extent that so-called right-wing defenders of Israel don't use these arguments, and instead reach for the bad arguments used by defenders of apartheid South Africa-well, I think it's fair to ask some serious questions about their motives and goals.