Thursday, February 8, 2007

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid?

Once, Zionism was labelled racism. Now it is called apartheid.

Former President Jimmy Carter picked up on a winning slogan, and wrote a book called “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” and the debate began. The questions addressed both the form and the content. Is Carter’s portrayal of the conflict accurate? Is it balanced? Is he a puppet of Arab oil money or an honest broker dedicated to seeking a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Is the name of the book an antisemitic slur, or merely a cunning marketing strategy?

While the debate on the book’s claims rages on, the issue of the title has quickly been settled. Carter has explained that the title does not refer to the situation within the State of Israel, but merely reflects Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians as the occupier of the West Bank.

The justification for that portrayal of Israeli conduct can, no doubt, be found in the book. Buy it and see. Read it and you will understand.

I will not buy it, and I have no intention of reading it. For me, the title is more than enough.

The title makes an accusation of apartheid. Apartheid describes the legal order of racial segregation established by the government of South Africa in 1948. That system of separation and oppression provided the impetus for the drafting of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The Convention was adopted and opened for signature by the UN General Assembly on November 30, 1973.

The Convention was a Soviet initiative, and the United States, Canada, and the other Western democracies refused to ratify it. But the Third World embraced it, and several Arab states saw it as a vehicle to delegitimize Israel. Thus Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Egypt (which later retracted is reservation), Iraq, and Bahrain ratified the Convention with the reservation that their accession to the Convention did not imply their recognition of the State of Israel. And so, already in 1975, with the accession of Iraq, the Convention was cynically exploited to create a linkage between Israel and the “crime of apartheid.” This should not have been entirely surprising. After all, the Soviet ambassador to the UN had already accused Israel of a “racist policy of apartheid” as early as 1971.

Nevertheless, the above might have remained merely an historical footnote to the background of the political abuse of the term “apartheid” in Arab anti-Israel rhetoric, were it not for a later development in international law. In 1998, “the crime of apartheid” was defined as a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Now, when the term “apartheid” is employed, the above must be borne in mind. Saying that Israel is pursuing a policy that constitutes, or that is similar to, or reminiscent of apartheid is no longer merely political hyperbole or hijacked rhetoric, it is an allegation of the commission of crimes against humanity. The seeds of vilification planted in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War have born poisonous fruit. With the publication of Carter’s book, the often-repeated lie has begun to sound like the truth.

I would never claim that all that Israel does is wise, justified, or even legal. Nor would I claim that there are no instances of discrimination, abuse, stupidity, or cruelty. Mistakes are made, and Palestinian suffering is real, and it is painful even when the cause is justified, and all the more so when it is gratuitous.

We all make mistakes, and some of them are very grave.

Consider Abu Ghraib. Weigh whether or not the US government’s policy in regard to detainees in Guantanamo reflects those noble values that America's enemies seek to undermine and that American soldiers fight and die to defend.

Think about “extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects to places where they can be tortured, and reflect upon the justifications proffered for permitting torture of terror suspects.

Remember that until well into the 20th century, racial segregation was the law of many American states. And do not forget that, if you are over thirty, then eugenic sterilizations were carried out in the United States in your own lifetime.

And yet, despite its many flaws, the United States was and remains the greatest democracy on earth. We do not look at the above list and compare the United States to Nazi Germany. We do not accuse the great Oliver Wendel Holmes Jr. of Nazi-like support of Nuremberg-style legislation, even if in justifying eugenics he delivered the opinion of the Court that “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind...Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” (Buck v. Bell, 274 US 200 (1927).

We do not compare Franklin Roosevelt to Hermann Goring for signing the Executive Order that led to the internment of 117,000 Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, nor do we accuse Earl Warren of being like Himmler for instigating that Order.

We do not make such accusations because they are perverse, and the equivalences they imply are manifestly untrue. We are careful not to bandy about the term “Nazi” not only because we fear devaluing the term, but because we recognize the enormity of the accusation.

Yet we are expected to tolerate such lack of restraint when it comes to using the harshest terms of opprobrium for Israel. We are asked to entertain the mitigating explanation that in the title of his book, Carter does not accuse Israel of enforcing a racist policy against its own Arab citizens; it merely accuses Israel of pursuing a policy of apartheid in the West Bank.

Of course, what that means is that Mr. Carter is not merely criticizing what he sees as the injustice of Israeli security policy, or questioning its justice. He is accusing Israel of committing crimes against humanity against the Palestinians. That is not a charge that is any way mitigated by saying that the crimes are committed only in the West Bank, particularly if you are one of those potentially accused. After all, in a country like Israel, with a compulsory military draft, the list of those potentially accused comprises almost anyone.

The list of criminals extends to such people as cabinet minister Shaul Mofaz and former prime minister Ehud Barak who served as commanders of Judea and Samaria, Labor Knesset member Ephraim Sneh, who served as the head of the Civil Administration, and even former General Security Services head Ami Ayalon, who has been trying to float a private peace initiative with Dr. Sari Nusseibah.

Those who understand how military policy is approved, and who realize that most if not all of the various actions and policies that are labelled “apartheid” have been challenged before the Israeli Supreme Court, must also conclude that Mr. Carter’s list of war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity also includes every Israeli prime minister and defence minister, and all the justices who have served on the Supreme Court over the last 40 years.

Apartheid? Only in the West Bank? Please excuse me if I feel that I needn't go any further than the dust jacket in order to accuse Jimmy Carter of blatant antisemitism.

That may seem going too far. After all, Mr. Carter is a former US president and a man widely respected. But in this regard we might note that - as reported in the US Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 - a report on antisemitism commissioned by the government of France recommended that publicly equating Israeli policies with apartheid or Nazism be made a criminal offence
. Why? The French report stated, among other things:
The accusations of racism, of apartheid, of Nazism carry extremely grave moral implications. These accusations have, in the situation in which we find ourselves today, major consequences which can, by contagion, put in danger the lives of our Jewish citizens. (For the original French report, see: Jean-Christoph Rufin, Chantier Sur La Lutte Contre Le Racism Et L’Antisemitism, (Ministere De L’Interieur, De La Securite Interieure Et Des Libertes Locales (2004)), p. 30)
So, will I read Carter’s book? I realize that as a potentially accused war criminal, I may be biased. But when the title of a book puts people like Shimon Peres in a class with Slobodan Milosovic and Reinhard Heydrich, I don't feel much need to read the details.

Avinoam Sharon