“Israel Apartheid Week” – Don’t Buy from the Jews Week

I was invited to debate the question “Is Israel an Apartheid State” by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at a university in England as part of “Israel Apartheid Week”.  The email mentioned that I had previously represented a pro-Israel state position. I replied as follows:

Dear Xxxx,

You have been mis-informed. I did not present “pro-Israel” views in Birmingham. I presented an anti-nationalist and pro-peace position. I am an anti-racist, and therefore am reluctant to participate in your Don’t buy from the Jews week. I am saddened to be invited to an event of this kind on a university campus. I wish you all the best in building solidarity with those Palestinians who are fighting against occupation and for a democratic and free Palestine. But efforts to educate students in Leicester to believe that Israelis, uniquely, are racists who deserve to be excluded from the global community of arts, sports, academia and trade, are entirely counter-productive to that goal.

Best wishes,

The response was that there had been a misunderstanding, that the PSC is not a racist group, that it aims to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and that it is for peace in the region.  I replied as follows:

Dear Xxxxx,

No, this is not a misunderstanding. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s primary focus is not constructive solidarity with democratic Palestinians, it is to make propaganda in Britain for an exclusion of Israelis from the global community. There is nothing new about the drive to exclude Jews from the community. The point of characterising Israel as “apartheid” is to make a thought-free path to the boycott conclusion; it isn’t an open effort to do comparative analysis or illuminative analogy. Israel is the only state which you say is “apartheid” and it is the only state which you want to boycott; Israelis are the only people who you want collectively to punish for the actions of their state. PSC does not aim to open a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians but to exclude Israelis from having their voices heard by boycotting them. PSC supports antisemitic organisations like Hamas, which seek to destroy Israel and to kill Israelis. PSC is for war against Israel, not for peace between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps if there is a misunderstanding here it is that you misunderstand the aims and the culture of the PSC, the organisation to which you are affiliated.

Best wishes,

I received no further response.

28 Responses to ““Israel Apartheid Week” – Don’t Buy from the Jews Week”

  1. David Olesker Says:

    “Well said” doesn’t do yo justice. Keep up the good work!

    • albert_rosenblatt Says:

      david: i have heard the word ‘apartheid’ from israelis more than anyone else– to describe the situation in the West Bank. This includes commentators on the pages of Haaretz. If we have a situation in which water is distributed disproportionately to Jewish settlers and some roads are for Israelis only — not to mention for Arabs only — what do we call this situation?


      • David Olesker Says:

        Israelis apply all kinds of epithets in political discourse; they are not always justified. One of the most common is “Nazi” that is frequently applied by left to right and vice versa. The fact that it is commonly used doesn’t make it either accurate or defensible. (What can I say, we tend to have an intemperate climate.) To justify the application of the term apartheid to Israel would require more than a word count on the HaAretz website.

        I don’t think that a, “what else would you call it” verification of the charge can work either; I could call it anything I want from “justified security measures” to “Chaim Yankel” and we would be left to argue about what each of those terms meant. If you want to define Israel as apartheid then the only term that needs defining is the “A” word.

        So what does the word “apartheid” mean (when it isn’t just a term of abuse)?

        The characteristics that defined it in South Africa were:
        :: Racial classification of each citizen/resident.
        :: Denial of the franchise based on race.
        :: Right to hold public office based on race.
        :: Legally instituted variation of rights based on race.
        :: Imposition of theoretical citizenship in invented “tribal homelands” whose boundaries were dictated by the ruling racial group.
        Plus a few more.

        Israel can only accurately be called “apartheid” if it conforms to those criteria. A little bit of thought shows that it doesn’t. So the “apartheid” accusation vanishes in one puff of linguistic analysis.

        Now, the issues you raise (allocation of water resources, road usage etc.) are open to criticism (and defense) and there are those (in Israel and abroad) who carry on a thoughtful debate on such topics. But as David Hirsh points out in his post, “The point of characterising Israel as “apartheid” is to make a thought-free path”. Such a path is one all of us should avoid being sent down.

        • zkharya Says:

          [Israel can only accurately be called “apartheid” if it conforms to those criteria. A little bit of thought shows that it doesn’t.]

          Moreover the criteria usually used by PSC etc usually apply to most Arab, Islamic states and societies, including historically the Palestinian Arab, at the very least with regard to Jews, and often other groups as well.

        • Barbara Mazor Says:

          David H. and David O. –

          Both Davids are so wonderful and articulate. Truly great responses and very appreciated by those of us in the trenches.

  2. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Fabulous response David

    • David Olesker Says:

      We will doubtless continue to disagree on some aspects of the politics of the conflict, but you Mail and Guardian piece you linked to is very good (at least the parts I agree with 😉 )..

      I find it interesting that there are no talkbacks on it. I guess people don’t know what to do when presented with a well argued position.

  3. zkharya Says:

    Really excellent letter, though I could have wished you had gone to the event to put a counter position. I was in central Cardiff today, speaking with the small weekly pro-Palestinian (and fairly anti-Israel) demonstration. Unfortunately the ladies I spoke with had a fairly un-nuanced view of the matter, painting it in lurid terms, and were reluctant to hear views which challenged their assumptions. But it was a fairly polite and civil exchange, even it was hard to get a word in edgeways.

  4. Chris L Says:

    David, you really dazzle us with the prowess of your argument in your academic boycott of a student society.

    ‘Israel is the only state which you say is “apartheid”’ – really? Do you expect a student Palestine society to take a view on Western Sahara, the Roma of Bulgaria or any other situation?

    ‘PSC is for war against Israel’ – and your evidence for this being? Where has any officer of the national PSC ever called for such a thing?

    • zkharya Says:

      [‘PSC is for war against Israel’ – and your evidence for this being? ]

      I suspect what Prof. Norman Finkelstein calls the three-tier approach of the BDS movement generally which equates to no more Israel in even the short, never mind, long term.

      A goal the very least of which BDSers i.e. including PSC share with Hamas.

      At the most benign level one can only say PSC ‘merely’ seeks the dissolution of the Jewish state of Israel, although practically speaking, as Finkelstein said, their demands entail no kind of Israel not long after.

      If you seek to compel a people to dissolve their state, especially in conjunction with those who openly espouse war e.g. Hamas, that people not unreasonably sees in their professions of ‘peace’ something more sinister.

      Just because you say ‘peace’ and ‘love’ does not mean your heart is not full of hate.The hatred of PSC is an eliminationist one, to the state of an entire people, which exists because Christians and Muslims tried to eliminate their former state in the diaspora; that will not be content with ‘peaceful’ means if their campaign fails to abolish Israel or the Jewish state of Israel.

    • zkharya Says:

      [‘Israel is the only state which you say is “apartheid”’ – really? Do you expect a student Palestine society to take a view on Western Sahara, the Roma of Bulgaria or any other situation?]

      Given that all Israel’s neighbours/enemies are themselves apartheid states or societies, including arguably historically the Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian, at the very least with regard to Jews, and often other groups, a just stance from PSC, that does not only pick on the Jews concerned for sins of which their charges and allies are also guilty, seems not unreasonable to expect.

      Especially since they mouth the words ‘just’ and ‘justice’ on a regular basis.

    • Lynne T Says:

      How about PSC members taking a stand on the conditions in Gaza and the PA ruled areas that are sending the Christian minorities packing, (and, in some numbers, applying for and getting Israeli citizenship) or would that be to concede that apartheid when practiced by a majority Muslim sect wherever is “understandable”?

    • Ben Says:

      Dear Jackass,
      David made his points brilliantly. If you want to make a case for the PSC being anything other than as he described, try harder to make yours.

    • anneinpt Says:

      Why should we not expect a student Palestine society to take a view on other countries? If you are going to throw around a terrible accusation like “apartheid” against the world’s only Jewish state, you’d better be prepared to back up your claims with proof, evidence, and comparison to some real apartheid societies.

      If such evidence-gathering includes taking a look at places like Western Sahara, the plight of the Roma, or the terrible fate of Muslims in Muslim societies, not to mention the slaughter of Christians in Muslim societies ongoing in Africa as I write, then so be it.

      Stop being so intellectually lazy. Simply parroting slogans does not make them true and makes you all look stupid.

      You protest that there is no evidence to claim that the PSC calls for war against Israel. But if you support Hamas in its genocidal intent towards Israel, then yes – you do support war against Israel.

      If you don’t like the idea then you ought to take a closer look at those you support.

      • Chris L Says:

        > Why should we not expect a student Palestine society to take a view on other countries?

        Because it’s a student PALESTINE society. If it started campaigning on the rights of Roma in Eastern Europe it’d be shut down by their student union for not complying with their registered aims.

        Your argument is not just against Palestine campaigners, but would make any single-issue campaign on any issue impossible: Raising funds for Syrian refugees? “Syria is the only state you say creates refugees. Why have you not taken a position on the much large numbers displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Why aren’t you mentioning that?” etc. ad infinitum.

        > if you support Hamas in its genocidal intent towards Israel, then yes – you do support war against Israel.

        PSC does not support Hamas. It takes no position within internal Palestinian matters. It supports respect for the results of Palestinian elections, whatever the result. If you think supporting free elections inherently means supporting war against Israel, you really are awfully confused.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          I notice that Chris L. ignores my comment further down, posted on March 5 (perhaps it would tax his debating abilities to actually engage – pun, for once, actually intended – with the issues raised there). However, as for this: “PSC does not support Hamas”, well, this really does beggar belief.

          Anyone who has followed this site with any regularity over the years, and/or done any research on any number of Palestine Solidarity Committees, will know very well that very many, certainly most, and even possibly all, PSCs actually do support Hamas (and Hezbollah, for that matter). If they don’t, then what are doing with their time? And this means that they support Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s eliminationist Charters.

          Further, with the sentences that follow that quote in the first paragraph, Chris shows one (or more) of a number of things: either he has no understanding of the nature of Palestine Solidarity Committees, or he thinks we’re poltroons and simpletons who don’t understand what we read, or (least likely) he actually he is a knowing individual who prefers not to reveal that he is knowing.

          And, while we’re here, I’d actually quite like a response to my comment of March 5. There’s a lot there for him to respond to. Unless he thinks his student members of this PSC are incapable of genuinely independent thought and are, in practice, never fated to become proper intellectuals. If so, he’s selling them short. I really would like to know why they shouldn’t consider all the other candidates for the label of “apartheid state”, not just Israel. To argue that “this – whatever this is – is my sole concern” is an intellectual cop-out. At the very least, they should be prepared to read and refute articles such as this from Benjamin Pogrund, survivor of apartheid in all its grisly reality, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/08/southafrica.israel.

          Chris’s statement that we’re talking about not talking about other societies “Because it’s a student PALESTINE society.” is, quite simply, a cop-out. As I argue below. And to which I’d like an answer.

          Not that I expect an actual answer directed to the points raised.

        • Alan Sommerstein Says:

          So when is the next free election going to be held in Gaza?

        • zkharya Says:

          [PSC does not support Hamas. It takes no position within internal Palestinian matters.]

          Er, but it clearly does on on Israeli Jewish. That is what I mean: it takes no consideration of the apartheid nature of Israel’s neighbours and enemies, with regard to Jews at least, Palestinian and other Arab, scrutinising only the Jews concerned.

          That is hardly just, and ‘justice’ is allegedly PSC’s watchword.

        • zkharya Says:

          [ If you think supporting free elections inherently means supporting war against Israel, you really are awfully confused]

          The trouble with that is that inconsistency wrt to scrutinizing Israeli Jewish society with a moral rigour that is scarcely applied to that of Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians effectively +does+ support one side over the other: there are sins of omission as well as commission, and tending to blacken one side by stressing its crimes, sins and misdemeanours while effectively whitening the other by ignoring its ones analogous is to commit an injustice agains the former in favour of the latter. Stressing, say, Israeli, Palestinian or Zionist Jewish expulsionism and eliminationism while totally ignoring the Palestinian and other Arab Muslim and Christian variety is wicked.

  5. Nancy Says:

    Kind of surprising that they even asked you to join their little event in the first place.

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Chris L – do tell us why a student body shouldn’t take into account all the relevant evidence and, indeed, examine all societies that might fit the designated label – like many Muslim countries, for example. After all, if they are students, they are supposed to be actively seeking some sort of truth. In my day – I know this was a long time ago, when the world was a more innocent place – this involved actively sifting the evidence and weighing it up, you know, like real intellectuals, even baby ones, are supposed to do.

    Their intellectual life isn’t supposed to revolve around around reaching a conclusion through some process that, even vaguely, fails to involve thinking, considering, and the use of evidence. Even if they are a “Palestine Society”. They are supposed to establish a definition, then see if the facts on the ground actually fit the definition. They are not supposed to just stick a label on a country, brush their hands together in satisfaction and walk away, muttering “job done”.

    Anyone with an ounce of the ability to think independently will soon discover that whatever else it is (and it is lots of things, not all of them pleasant or even acceptable), Israel comes nowhere near fulfilling the criteria for an apartheid state within the Green Line. Indeed, all adult citizens (including the 20% who are Muslim, plus the others who are not Jewish, but Christian, Bahai and other things too) have the vote, are eligible for social services and social security benefits, access to higher education, top level jobs, like becoming judges, up to and including Israel’s Supreme Court, etc, etc. That they may not be de facto equal is also true, but then, neither are many members of various ethnic minorities in the UK, to say nothing of the handicaps suffered by, e.g., Roma in various EU countries.

    As for arguments that, as some BDSers claim, Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto, isn’t it strange that the population of Gaza, unlike that of the Warsaw Ghetto, increases annually? That the standard of living rises on an annual basis? That the population of Gaza doesn’t suffer from entirely preventable diseases such as typhoid, typhus and cholera? There is also the uncomfortable truth that, according to UN figures, Gaza is neither the most crowded place on earth and that there are something like 50 other identifiable societies that have lower GDPs than Gaza.

    Then are those, though fewer these days, because of the plain falseness of the claim, who argue (actually, they don’t argue, they state as a proven fact) that Israel is committing genocide on the West Bank, choosing to ignore uncomfortable truths such as the lack of mass graves there, or that there are no death camps – and believers can tour the place to their hearts content, and still not find the evidence to make their case.

    Then there is that other uncomfortable truth that more Palestinians have been killed by fellow Muslims since 1947 than have been killed by Israelis, whether those Israelis have been in an official uniform or in plain clothes.

    If, Chris L, your student “Palestine Society” members can’t cope with such demands, including that they examine all other candidates for the status of “apartheid state”, even if only to organise a hierarchy of “apartheidness”, then they should cease their activities. They should also, if they really mean what they claim to say, cease using their mobile phones, laptops and probably desk-tops as well, let alone examining the medicines they are prescribed, to ensure that they are not using Israeli-developed technology and other scientific advances. They should put their money where their mouths are. After all, those of us who boycotted South Africa for 30 years, from Sharpeville to the release of Nelson Mandela, did.

    So, to conclude: Chris L says that “‘Israel is the only state which you say is “apartheid”’ – really? Do you expect a student Palestine society to take a view on Western Sahara, the Roma of Bulgaria or any other situation?” In a word, yes. The rest of us do. So should they – and you, too, for that matter.

    • anneinpt Says:

      Great rebuttal Brian! But I fear your answer is much too factually demanding for an intellectual pygmy like Chris L.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Anne, you are too kind. But then the further response to the likes of Chris L. is “if you can’t stand the heat (re arguing your case in a proper intellectual manner) then stay out of the kitchen” (President Harry Truman).

  7. mightymark Says:

    One has to
    a) laugh at
    b) be bewildered by
    c) be bemused by
    d) admire the chutzpah of
    (delete whichever is inapplicable)

    a Liberal Democrat who gets in a sneer at the “liberal commentariat”

  8. David Olesker Says:

    I just re-read your piece, David H. You say that they accuse you of the heinous crime of having presented “a pro-Israel state position”. Were those their exact words? You seem to have taken them as meaning support of the policies of the Israeli state (put me right if I’m misreading you).. Maybe they were accusing you of being in favor of an Israeli state’s existence… and what does that say about their position?

    Without knowing their original words I could be reading too much into this. Please put us straight on this point.

  9. The anti-Israel boycott rebounds upon itself | Anne's Opinions Says:

    […] state or not. (h/t Harry’s Place). Hirsh accurately calls Israel Apartheid Week “Don’t buy from the Jews week” and […]

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