A “war of words”—the back and forth of slogans and chants—often foregoes proper analysis of the grammar of a dispute. “Israeli apartheid” is one such slogan, frequently used but poorly analyzed. The syllogism reads: apartheid is racist. Israel is akin to South African Apartheid. Thus, Israel is racist. However, such reasoning is problematic because conjoining “Israel” and “apartheid” conflates two ideological concerns: 1) the right of the state of Israel to exist; and 2) the metaphor of South African Apartheid, and the systematic racism implied therein. In order to understand last week’s “Week of Action” organized in the name of this conjunction, it is prudent to seriously question the value of this rhetorical synthesis.
Using the apartheid metaphor is intellectually lazy. In oversimplifying the issues, it substitutes rigorous education with agitation against imagined moral opposites. Such moralism overlooks the fact that Israel, unlike white-minority South Africa, consists of a Jewish majority and a 17 per cent Palestinian minority. Palestinians are granted the right to vote, autonomy in religious courts, administration of worship sites, and access to the institutional necessities of daily life. While Palestinians living in the territories are treated horribly, these struggles must be weighed against those of an Israeli population living in fear of riding the bus, rockets the size of a minifridge falling through the roof, and a young generation of conscripted teens unwilling to die to protect religious fanatics committed to a Biblical narrative of ancient Israel.
Labeling Israel an apartheid state ignores these complexities. The word invokes memories of a regime that is systematically entrenched a racial hierarchy, where a white minority enforced violent methods of exclusion, carrying out indiscriminate murder and completely disregarding the political rights of the black African majority.
How do the rights and freedoms denied in South Africa relate to the question of national self-determination? It is naïve to believe historical conditions are universal. From the Israel- as-South Africa standpoint, the figure of Nelson Mandela is replaced with Marwan Barghouti, the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades and Fatah leader who now exerts political influence from an Israeli jail. The ANC trades places with the PLO; the Apartheid State with the Jewish State.
In such an analysis, historical fate seems to be guided by the alignment of the stars. Yet crossing stars lead from rash assumptions to tragic consequences. The conflict’s protagonists remain driven by passion rather than reason, with moderates content to play with accusations and false analogies.
Without the secular Marxist-inspired agenda of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, Barghouti no longer serves as an index for Mandela. Political Islamicization of the Palestinian identity has helped Hamas refocus the conjunction of “Israel” and “apartheid” to undermine Israel’s right to exist. Unlike the struggle to end apartheid, the real issue is not the rightful representation of a state, but an existential war between religious fanaticism (Jewish, Christian and Islamic) in Israel.
By relying upon unsound metaphors likening Israel to South African Apartheid, all serious academic and ethical concern for conflict and occupied Israeli territories is sacrificed for the sake of an intellectual trend as cool as sporting a kafieh in yellow or purple. In this war of words, information is the opponent, and the victims remain those on the ground.