Analysis from Israel

That Desmond Tutu once again accused Israel of apartheid yesterday is nothing new; he’s one of several Nobel Peace laureates who have made second careers out of Israel-bashing (think Jimmy Carter or Mairead Maguire). But it’s far more worrying when similar rhetoric is used by a sitting U.S. president – as Barack Obama did in the most outrageous but widely overlooked line of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month. Culminating a series of rhetorical questions about what Israel would do if no Palestinian state arises, he asked, “Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

As Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, “There is not much distance between this statement and an explicit warning that Israel is liable to turn into an apartheid state.” In short, even if Israel isn’t an apartheid state today, the U.S. president considers it perfectly reasonable to assume it will be someday soon – that instead of a democracy where all citizens are equal before the law, it will become the kind of state that imposes legal restrictions on certain citizens because of their ethnicity. But since Israeli Arabs haven’t been subject to special restrictions since Israel abolished its military administration in 1966, and no subsequent Israeli government has ever contemplated reinstating such restrictions, on what exactly does Obama base this assumption?

The logical conclusion is that he got it from the Israeli Arab leadership and radical Jewish leftists, both of which accuse Israel of apartheid ad nauseam. Yet believing these accusations requires willfully ignoring the facts.

This past December, for instance, one Ahmed Tibi wrote an article for The Hill accusing Israel of treating its Arab citizens like southerners treated blacks in the Jim Crow era. The analogy was a trifle marred by the tagline at the end, in which Tibi admitted he is currently deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset: Blacks didn’t occupy prominent positions in southern legislatures under Jim Crow, much less in South Africa under apartheid. It was further undermined when another Arab deputy Knesset speaker, Hamad Amar, wrote a riposte in The Hill the next week terming Tibi’s claims arrant nonsense. The spectacle of two Arab deputy speakers of parliament publicly dueling, without any fear of consequences, over whether their country discriminates against Arabs isn’t exactly an example of proto-apartheid behavior. But hey, who you gonna believe: Tibi or your lying eyes?

Then there are all the other Arabs in prominent positions – college presidents, hospital directors, ambassadors, army officers, Supreme Court justices and more. The Elder of Ziyon blog has a must-see poster collection featuring these and many other examples that are the very antithesis of apartheid. But hey, who you gonna believe: Haaretz’s Gideon Levy or your lying eyes?

Indeed, on the issue that seems to concern Obama most – freedom of movement, which he highlighted in the rhetorical question immediately preceding the one on Arab Israelis – Arab citizens and permanent residents arguably have greater rights than Israeli Jews: For instance, they can freely visit the Temple Mount, which Israeli Jews can’t; they can also visit the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli law bars Jews from doing. In fact, their freedom of movement is precisely why terrorist organizations consider them prize recruits. It’s a sad day when Palestinian terrorists have a better grasp of Israel’s true nature than the U.S. president.

Obama, of course, is just a symptom of a much larger problem: Too many Western liberals willfully close their eyes to the truth when it comes to Israel, preferring to parrot the current bon ton. But for an administration that explicitly pledged to pursue “evidence-based policy,” a little more attention to the evidence on Israel would be a nice place to start.

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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