Friday, March 23, 2007

I'm going to be critical of Israeli domestic policy here...please avert your eyes if you can't handle it...

The Associated Press reported (all over the internets, but here's a link to the Toronto Star version) that a UN expert has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Commission which characterizes Israeli domestic policy towards Palestinians as "apartheid."

...Cue crazed uproar about anti-Semitism...

Anyways, the investigator is a South African who--having actually lived under apartheid--should know whether or not something is apartheid. UN Ambassador from Israel Itzhak Levanon called the report "'utterly one-sided, highly selective, and unreservedly biased.'" The one sided-ness may well come from the fact that Dugard (the expert) was only given a mandate to look at the treatment of Palestinians. I haven't read it yet, but I doubt very much his report says that Israelis spend their time dancing about the flowers eating cake and drinking champagne. Nothing about highlighting the criminal treatment of Palestinians negates the possibility that Israelis are also suffering under the situation, for instance, getting kidnapped and bombed, et cetera. Both sides in a conflict can suffer, Mr. Levanon, and in fact, I'm pretty sure that's usually the case.

Levanon also said Dugard used: "'inflammatory and inciteful language' which did not contribute to a constructive dialogue on the Middle East question." I'm assuming by this he means the use of the term "apartheid." Let's assess that. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, apartheid means the following:

a·part·heid (ə-pärt'hīt', -hāt') n.

  1. An official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites.
  2. A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.
  3. The condition of being separated from others; segregation.

[Afrikaans : Dutch apart, separate (from French à part, apart; see apart) + Dutch -heid, -hood.]

Well, option 1 clearly does not fit the situation, I must say that option 2 is pretty much spot on. And it's not like Dugard was making wildly speculative accusations:

The 24-page document ... catalogues a number of accusations against the Jewish state ranging from destruction of Palestinian houses to preferential treatment for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Separate roads, the need for checkpoints and passes, and the security fence/wall--these all say apartheid. Now, a lot of the criticism of that term has been based on the argument that the Israel/Palestine situation is not "as bad as" South African apartheid, and that calling it "apartheid" necessarily implies that it is. To me, this is an incredibly hollow argument. Criminal acts involve a threshold, on one side of which is acceptable behavior, and on the other is the unacceptable. Now, the spectrum of unacceptable is broad, ranging from just inside the threshold off into the distance. There is, for instance, a hell of a difference between intentional murder, being a serial- or spree-killer, and committing genocide.1 All of these are, however, criminal. Israeli apartheid needn't be "as bad as" South African apartheid to constitute a serious human rights problem, apartheid per se.

  1. I am not suggesting in any way that Israel is committing genocide. That is an untrue and perhaps offensive allegation which has also been thrown into the mix, but unlike the argument for apartheid, there is nothing with which to back it up.

No comments: