|Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva visited Palestine in March of this year and said he dreamt of “an independent and free Palestine.” Links have historically been strong between the two.|
In the opening lines of an open letter to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, leader of the South Africa’s Orthodox Jews, makes a plea that: “Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace.” If ever there was a case of a single swallow not heralding summer, alas, this is it. The rest of his article bears little relationship to the truth:
1. “Jew and Arab – are equal before the law.”
Goldstein conflates life inside Israel and life in the occupied territories. Jews and Palestinian citizens in Israel are certainly not equal before the law: one set of laws does provide for equal rights, but another equally formidable set provides for separate and superior rights for Jews. Presently Israel has several Basic Laws that confirm this inequality, so the system is codified and formal: discrimination within Israel is official. A state founded for any ethnic or religious community cannot but be one that must necessarily discriminate against others. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Jews enjoy special protections and rights to settle and conduct business, and Palestinian civilians as non-Jews are denied those rights.
In both areas, there is certainly a “Population Registration Act”: everyone in Israel and the occupied territories is identified by ethnicity – Jewish, Arab, Druze or whatever — and this is listed on their ID cards. All rights and privileges in Israel follow from these distinctions. Hence there is a Group Areas Act, too – people who are Jewish can live in certain areas (actually, 93 percent of Israel is reserved exclusively for Jews) and people who are not Jewish are banned from living in those areas. If there is no “Mixed Marriages Act” per se, there are still laws that prohibit Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from living with Israeli spouses, a prohibition of civil marriage (it is impossible to marry in Israel except in religious courts,) and a host of laws, rules and codes that keep the populations strictly apart. Petty apartheid is hardly required where segregation is absolute.
Israel indeed has no “Separate Representation of Voters Act” but for two unpleasant reasons. First, half of the entire population under Israel’s control (the 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) are not allowed to vote at all. Every one of the five million people living here can attest plenty to Israel’s draconian pass laws, which constrict and destroy their life chances every single day. Second, twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians and can vote, but are not allowed to vote for any party or law that alters Jewish national supremacy and special privileges. That is like giving the vote to slaves but preventing them from voting against slavery.
2. “Israel accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its people, including its … Arab citizens.”
Goldstein need only ring up any Palestinian mayor, public figure or Knesset representative to be corrected on this. The poverty and isolation of Palestinian Arab communities in Israel is notorious. Of course, there are Arab parties that do provide some Palestinian representation in Israeli politics. But this representation is akin to Apartheid’s Tricameral Parliament of the 1980s: they operate in highly constrained conditions and have been unable in those roles to relieve the endemic poverty and isolation of their communities, or to alter the edifice of racism that suffocates their communities. And again, some five million Palestinians under Israeli rule remain entirely excluded from the political system solely because they are not Jews and have no rights whatsoever except what Israeli military law provides them.
3. “The other untruth is the accusation of illegal occupation of Arab land.”
According to Goldstein, Israel is not “occupying” the West Bank and Gaza Strip but reclaiming these areas for ancient Jewish sentiment dating to antiquity. Only religious fundamentalists insist on their own religious texts as the only arbiter between them and others. God is reduced to a dishonest estate agent who parcels out land to His Favorites, land with borders clearly demarcated as if these were registered in a 20th century title deeds office – all at a time thousands of years ago when national boundaries were rather unknown. This sort of thinking is simply outdated – it belongs to a time of colonial conquest and racial domination.
Remember Uitgegee op gesag van die Hoogste se Hand! (”Given to us on the authority of God” While this is a phrase of Apartheid South Africa’s, Song of the Flag, it may just as well have been an excerpt from Goldstein’s article!)
Considering Goldstein’s misleading analysis for a moment. How then are the indigenous people to express their own ancient claims to the land and their present political, social and cultural rights? This is the heart of Israel’s apartheid doctrine: that, in the same territory, one group – Jews – has superior rights to another. And if the native people protest, or resist this disenfranchisement, this is seen as outrageous, backward, racism against Jews, an irrational blow against the unquestionable right of a hardworking settler society to fulfill its God-given Covenant and right to self-determination. All rather familiar stuff.
4. “… until the National Party was prepared to accept that black South Africans had a place in their own country, there could be no peace. And so too, until the Arab/Muslim world accepts that Jews have a right to a state of their own on their ancestral land, there will be no peace.”
Goldstein had best draw the lesson from his own example: until the Israeli and Zionist movement is prepared to accept that Palestinians have a place in their (own!) country as equal citizens, there can be no peace – there should be no peace! The solution in South Africa was precisely NOT to accept separate black states, but to reject that “solution” for the lie that it was. Israel must give up the premise of separation – apartheid. Only then will the country be able to join the rest of the world (not just the Arab world) as a “normal” country.
The South African story is simple: states founded on ethnicity are unworkable and evil – it is reprehensible to synonimize your God, religion and your ethnicity and culture with an ideological state. The separation of people from people on the basis of religious or ethnic identity – apartheid – and the privileging of that identity over that of others is simply incompatible with the ideas of universal human rights.
It is in this context that we salute our dear friend and comrade, the Archbishop, for consistently carrying through the prophetic vision. This time, in actively responding to the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel until, in the least, Israel abides by international law and the universal principles of human rights.
Allan Boesa is Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Stellenbosch and Farid Esack is a Professor at the University of Johannesburg.