By Eytan Palte
This week the Athens chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has hosted Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). This week of activism “seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign,” according to apartheidweek.org.
These movements claim to work toward justice and peace, but their perspective of these ideals is often one-sided and counterproductive. Proponents of IAW would be better served highlighting their own accomplishments and successes than fabricating claims that do nothing to work towards reconciliation.
First, it is important to highlight the stark differences between apartheid South Africa and the democratic state of Israel. In South Africa, black voters were disenfranchised by a constitutional amendment in 1960 and “coloured” voters were temporarily disenfranchised from 1968 until 1984. Only in 1984 did Indian citizens get the right to vote, and blacks were denied suffrage and representation until the end of apartheid.
In Israel, however, every citizen has the right to vote: Jews, Christians and Muslims, people of Russian, American and Arab descent. All of Israel’s citizens are represented in the Knesset, where they are free to express their political views and engage in lively debate. One notable member of the Knesset who takes advantage of this freedom is Haneen Zoabi of the Balad party. Zoabi advocates against the notion of Israel as a Jewish state, describes Israeli political leaders across the spectrum as fascists, and rejects Hatikvah (“The Hope”) as Israel’s national anthem, yet she has served in two consecutive Knessets. Somehow, those who label Israel as an apartheid state conveniently forget about this minority representation in the Israeli government, in addition to Arabs serving on the Supreme Court and in various prominent Israeli social institutions.
I have been to Israel three times with three separate organizations. Each time, I have visited new sites and revisited old ones. From the bus windows, I have seen road signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English. On the streets, I have seen Jewish and Arab merchants side by side vying for customers. Walking along the Tel Aviv beach promenade, however, I have never seen a sign labeling the path for “Jews only.” Never in any city have I seen benches designated especially for Arabs or water fountains for only Jews.
To move toward peace and to end the faux-partheid, these SJP activists support boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel, Israeli companies and Israeli academic institutions. If they are truly committed to this cause, most of them will not be able to read this article because the processors for the Intel chips in most of their computers come from Israel. They should all put down their Macs, iPhones and iPads because Apple has just opened a factory in Israel.
The hypocrisy of this movement does not end there. The founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, is an academic pursuing his doctorate at Tel Aviv University. This university is in Tel Aviv, Israel, is funded by the Israeli government, and employs Israeli professors. Israel, an open, free society, allows the man who champions the BDS movement to study in its universities. In addition, approximately 21 percent of students at the Technion in Haifa are Arab.
Perhaps most important, this movement claims to pursue peace, but the Palestinian Academic Call to Boycott Israel (PACBI) urges its members to “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.” A sustainable peace, however, can only be achieved through reconciliation, negotiation, dialogue and mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. A lasting peace will be the result of complicated talks and difficult decisions. It will require both sides to make sacrifices and actively promote adherence by its government and its people.
By refusing to collaborate with any Israeli institutions, the BDS movement and its proponents are shutting themselves out from this dialogue and mutual understanding. Not only are they shutting out the Israeli point of view that must be considered for peace to become a reality; they are missing out on a seminal opportunity to present their side of the story to another side that would be willing to listen. This boycott is counterproductive and destructive to peace prospects.
When the inflammatory language of Israel Apartheid Week and its purported goal of peace are compared, the disconnect is clear. Rather than focus on slandering their only potential peace partner, the Palestinians should focus on their own achievements and accomplishments as indicators of their readiness for a state. Instead of pushing for a boycott of Israeli institutions, why not highlight the partnership between al-Quds University in Beit Haninah and Bard College in upstate New York? Rather than refuse to condemn Hamas, why not celebrate the work of Ali Abu Awwad, who travels to the houses of Israelis living in the West Bank to preach nonviolence, dialogue and understanding. In lieu of walking out on Israeli soldiers, a manifestation of their refusal to listen, pro-Palestinian activists should ask sincere questions about the perception of Palestinians in the military in an attempt to create understanding.
SJP activists have compared Israel to ISIS and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler. Regardless of where one lies along the political spectrum, such comments can be recognized as nothing but inflammatory and hateful. These demonstrations should be replaced with those highlighting Palestinian literature, dance and other aspects of culture to show that there is more to these people than the promoted image of perpetual victimhood.
In my years of Israel advocacy and leadership in high school and college, I have learned that being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian are not mutually exclusive. One can support Israel’s right to exist, right to defense, and right to peace and security while simultaneously supporting the right of the Palestinians to a state.
Also as an Israel advocate, I have never hosted, participated in or heard of a series of events specifically aimed at slandering the Palestinians rather than touting Israel’s accomplishments in various fields. This clear division of ideology and approach reveals the true focus of Israel Apartheid Week: demonizing a nation necessary for a bilateral peace agreement. Its endorsers would best serve themselves and their cause by celebrating their own achievements instead of ignoring facts on the ground and the political realities of precursors to peace.
The writer is co-president of the University of Georgia chapter of Students Supporting Israel.