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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

South African journalist reviews allegations of Israeli apartheid

Published: October 19, 2007
Section: News

South African native and founding director of Yakars Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem Benjamin Pogrund spoke Wednesday at Brandeis about comparisons that have been drawn between present-day Israel and South Africa under apartheid.

In the lecture, which was presented by the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Pogrund acknowledged that Israeli Arabs suffer extensive discrimination. He denied, however, that Israel can be compared to South Africa under apartheid, a claim made at the UN Anti-Racism Conference in Durban in 2001 as well as former President Jimmy Carter in his controversial book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. Its just not a valid comparison, said Pogrund, who worked against apartheid as a journalist in South Africa.

Pogrund began his lecture by stating that Israels practices in regard to the Arab minority are described as apartheidThese are very serious chargesIf true, Israel is deserving of international condemnation, as was Apartheid South Africa.

He quickly continued that Israel and apartheid South Africa cannot be compared, pointing out that in theory, [Arab Israelis] have full citizenship rights.

Pogrund explained that while the Apartheid government of South Africa used legislation to discriminate, discrimination in Israel occurs despite equality in law. Unlike Apartheid South Africa, different groups in Israel share the same facilities, the same doctors, the same theatres, the lot.

Arabs have the voteblacks did not, said Pogrund. It means citizenship and the power to change.
Arabs suffer, Pogrund acknowledged. However, he explained that its a religious issue, not an apartheid racist one as some claim. Pogrund also stated that the occupation [of the West Bank] is brutalizing and corrupting to both Palestinians and Israelis. But its not apartheid. Palestinians [in the West Bank] are not oppressed as Arabs, on racial grounds, but as competitors, he asserted.

He also put forth the opinion that there is change for the better in the status of Israeli Arabs. Its not a revolution. Its going slowly, but there is change, he said, citing affirmative action in government service and the first appointment of an Arab to the Israeli Supreme Court a few years ago.

But according to Pogrund, there is more to the claim of apartheid in Israel than simple misclassification. There is deadly purpose being put into this [by those who] use it as a cloak to question Israels legitimacy and existence, he said of the claims.

Pogrund also responded to questions from audience members, including one from a Palestinian Arab who countered his claim that Israel is not an apartheid state, saying that not long ago in my ID, it said Arab and that she was stopped before Jewish Israelis at the airport. What would you call that? she asked.

Pogrund agreed with her that youre right. Its wrong, while maintaining his stance that Israel is not an apartheid state. Its called profiling, unfortunately he said. Its a problem weve got in this country. Of Israel, he said, at least the change is possiblepeople arent threatened as they were in South Africa for speaking out.

Pogrund also commented about Carters use of the term apartheid to describe Israel, calling it disgraceful marketing, but maintained that the book itself has got some very important things to say.

Ultimately, Pogrund said that Israel is not a perfect societybut we should be condemned for what we docondemning Israel for apartheid is a distraction from the real problems we are facing.
Students and faculty seemed to feel that Pogrunds speech was fair to both sides. It was a very balanced lecture, said Shira Zeliger, a graduate student in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. It shattered many myths.