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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Proposed Apartheid week creates mixed feelings

Published: February 28, 2014
Section: Opinions

A highly controversial event has been planned for the week of March 3 on campus. The Brandeis Israel Apartheid Week circulated around Facebook rather quickly on Monday night, with ensuing debate among individuals from the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine sides.

The Students for Justice in Palestine, the organization running this week-long event, claim that its purpose is to expose a supposed “apartheid” system in Israel. However, the word apartheid should not be taken lightly. According to Merriam-Webster, apartheid is defined as “racial segregation.” The definition continues to say that apartheid is “specifically a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa.” Under such a definition, the use of the word apartheid would only apply to what occurred in South Africa or similar events practiced in other countries.

A handful of significant world leaders and cultural figures have echoed the notion that Israel is an apartheid state. For instance, Desmond Tutu, a South African human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said, “[the] humiliation [of Palestinians] is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.” Because of Tutu’s convictions regarding apartheid in Israel, he is a keen supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Roger Waters, the former lead singer of Pink Floyd, explained the cancellation of his concert in Israel: “The situation in Israel/Palestine, with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is unacceptable.” Waters is among many other musicians and celebrities who have cancelled trips to Israel because of a perceived system of apartheid in the nation.

With regard to the definition of apartheid, however, one can only legitimately classify a country as an apartheid state if it institutes a system of racial segregation in a manner similar to that of South Africa under apartheid. Is Israel truly guilty of such action? Absolutely not! Israelis are treated equally regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. In fact, there are multiple Arab parties with seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and 12 Arab Members of Knesset. An Israeli Arab serves on the Supreme Court of Israel, and some of the Israeli Defense Forces’ highest-ranking commanders are Arab. All citizens vote in Israeli elections and partake in all sorts of societal affairs throughout the State of Israel. Religions are treated with respect, as Jews, Christians, Muslims and many other religious groups are each given the autonomy to control their own religious justice system (which includes controlling matters of marriage and divorce). These are just a number of examples that reflect Israel’s democratic society and respect for all individuals.

Is Israel perfect? No. There are various cultural aspects of Israeli society, transcending religion and race, that do not reflect well on Israel. For example, there exists a societal behavior of rudeness that, in the most extreme cases, causes a small minority of Israelis to act in a racist manner against Arabs. These actions, however, do not represent the official stance of Israel; more importantly, they do not even embody Israel’s overall cultural character, as it is clearly an open, respectful society.

This points to the main problem of those advocating for an Israeli Apartheid Week. While Israel certainly has its flaws, the overall society is democratic and commendable. Moreover, if one were to examine other countries, even in Israel’s very own neighborhood, it would become clear that too many cases exist wherein other countries commit acts that rank far worse than Israel’s.

My question to those running the Brandeis Israel Apartheid Week is the following: Why does Israel, specifically, deserve such sanctions and boycott, when so many other countries perform heinous, genocidal acts which are not seen in Israel? The suffering of millions of Syrians imposed by the Assad government, including the regime’s brutal murder of hundreds of thousands, should exhibit this exact point. The fact that people are devoting an entire week to slandering Israel, while seemingly putting aside far worse human rights violations, demonstrates the double standard of these advocates. Thus, I oppose all efforts to demonize Israel, especially in the form of the Brandeis Israel Apartheid Week. Perhaps, instead of focusing on the only state with a democratic government in the Middle East, individuals should direct their concern towards other dire situations.