File picture: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
File picture: Mick Tsikas/Reuters

Accusing Israel of apartheid echoes the ugliness of racists like the AWB

By Opinion Time of article published Jan 19, 2021

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By Shaun Sacks

In February 1990, within days of FW de Klerk’s magnificent speech announcing the release of Nelson Mandela and the ending of the Apartheid regime, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) marched through Pretoria demanding continued white supremacy and the upholding of Apartheid. Tellingly, this notoriously racist and antisemitic group burned an Israeli flag, which represented the democracy they despised.

Thirty years later, anti-Israel hatred in South Africa is coming from groups that claim to fight the racism embodied by the AWB. If Israel represented the antithesis of Apartheid for AWB, groups claiming to promote human rights now single out the Jewish state as guilty of this ghastly crime.

In an opinion piece on January 17, Shannon Ebrahim parroted the latest falsehoods about Israel, fawning over what she claimed to be an “unprecedented report … released by Israel’s most highly respected human rights organization B’Tselem.”

In reality, B’Tselem has long ceased to reflect Israeli public discourse, and instead its publications are geared to a foreign audience like the European donors that supply the lion’s share of its budget. Its latest announcement, so beloved by Ebrahim, was ignored in Israel, even by left-wing media.

Neither is B’Tselem’s announcement “unprecedented.” Had Ebrahim read beyond what amounts to a publicity stunt, she would have found that B’Tselem adopted the ”apartheid” accusation as far back as 2002.

Much like Ebrahim’s reporting, B’Tselem’s position is fundamentally contradictory. They castigate the idea of Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank, while insisting that Israel do precisely that in establishing unified policies for all residents of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. But this is standard for groups like B’Tselem, full of criticisms and allegations, but short on anything that remotely resembles a workable solution.

Most disturbingly, B’Tselem uses a number of antisemitic tropes in order to twist reality and accuse Israel of apartheid.

For instance, B’Tselem decries the relative ease with which Jews from around the world may immigrate to Israel per the Law of Return. This law was enacted, in the shadow of the Holocaust, to provide refuge for a people long subjected to discrimination, violence, and far worse. As the Jewish people have learned the hard way, the legitimacy of such policies related to attainment of citizenship, which have parallels around the world, are very necessary.

In just the last few decades, the Law facilitated the rescue of Jews fleeing persecution by authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and Africa, including nearly 100 000 Jews fleeing war and death in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Would anyone seriously argue that Black Economic Empowerment is also a form of Apartheid as it empowers one group of South Africans based on their race? Obviously this assertion is absurd, and can only be made by someone ignorant of the painful and lingering history of real Apartheid in South Africa. Yet, this is precisely what Ebrahim and B’Tselem are claiming in the Israeli context.

Additionally, B’Tselem’s conclusion that “there are various political paths to a just future here, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea,” suggests at best ambivalence about Israel’s future. The use of the phrase “from the river to the sea” is particularly deplorable, borrowing an anti-Israel rallying cry shared by Hamas and its supporters.

There can be no doubt. The smear of “apartheid” is particularly potent, drawing a direct line to South Africa and suggesting that the Jewish State is inherently racist. In this regard, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – which has been adopted by dozens of democratic governments, intergovernmental agencies, and other institutions – clearly describes “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” as an expression of antisemitism.

It is telling that the term “Jewish supremacy,” used across B’Tselem’s publication and Ebrahim’s piece, originated with right-wing conspiracy theorists and was spread by the writings of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. This is just one example of how so many claiming to only be engaged in legitimate criticism of the Jewish state have instead crossed over into overt bigotry.

Ebrahim alleges that any criticism of Israel is “smeared as antisemitism.” This is false. There is a wide array of political positions and critiques of Israel, both inside and outside the country. But when the views espoused are ignored or rejected by even the most critical voices, when they rely on distortions and outright falsehoods, and when they echo the ugliness of racists like the AWB, they cease to be legitimate.

No one likes to have their prejudice called out for what it is. But when Shannon Ebrahim and B’Tselem echo the racist dogmas of the AWB, it should be stated loud and clear.

* Shaun Sacks is a senior researcher at NGO-Monitor, an independent research institute dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability of NGOs in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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