IN the annual search for a silver bullet solution to the Middle East problem, activists are rushed into reductionist conclusions. In the process open intellectual inquiry, debate and analysis about the conflict closes down. The resulting dogma and political correctness undermines the struggle for human rights.
In a recent piece, published by IOL, correspondent Azad Essa claims: “Not everyone agrees with the Israeli apartheid terminology, despite its rising legitimacy among many academics and scholars in the field. As a contentious analogy, the UN had never – until last week – officially called it apartheid.”
The statement by Essa is only partially true, since in 1975 the UN did in fact issue a resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism. However after the end of the Cold War, the same UN general assembly issued a resolution 46/86, (adopted on 16 December 1991), reversing its earlier resolution. Thus in 1991 “the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly … to revoke the bitterly contested statement it approved in 1975 that said: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.””
“The official count found 111 nations in favor of repealing the statement and 25 nations, mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists, voting against. Thirteen nations abstained. Seventeen other countries, including Egypt, which recognizes Israel, and Kuwait and China, did not take part in the voting.”
That news-hounds can’t be bothered to do their homework, verifying the facts, can be seen by the persistent belief amongst many activists that resolution 3379 is still in force. A 2015 piece by Ben Norton of Mondoweiss, for example, a news outlet exposed as a purveyor of ‘alternative facts’, (i.e. facts which are not true), proceeded to ignore the revocation, and myopically accuses both the United States and Israel of wanting to rewrite history of a resolution which in any event, is null and void.
Until last week, the equation of Israel’s existence with ‘racism and racial domination’, was considered a foregone conclusion, an emerging fact of international law. This week, things were no longer so certain. The problem arose when a controversial report by a UN agency, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) equating Zionism with apartheid, and touted by IOL as definitive of the problem, was suddenly shelved, albeit from intense political pressure.
Rima Khalaf, the executive secretary of the United Nations agency which had released the report, accusing Israel of implementing “an apartheid regime,” was thus moved to resign from her post on Friday, while editors who had treated the announcement by the press agency Reuters as a sure sign of truth from on high, suddenly appeared to have egg on their faces.
It turned out that none other than U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had requested Khalaf to withdraw the report. Guterres through a spokesperson, said that the report, released by ESCWA, “does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and it was thus published without consultation with the UN secretariat, nor it seems, the UN leader. It was an awkward and embarrassing defeat for the Palestinian lobby.
Palestine as an entity, itself does not have full status at the UN and only gained Non-Member Observer State’ Status in 2012. It is not the purpose of this piece to argue the merits of the UN secretary-general’s decision, nor whether or not Palestine should be accorded full status as a member state, nor consequently whether Israel should even exist — ( nor whether or not both parties, should be superseded by a binational state incorporating Palestinians and Israeli’s under a common constitution). So far as this writer is concerned, oppression in any form, whether state-sponsored, or on an individual basis should end. How we got here and how we arrive there is unfortunately not up to us individuals to decide, but rather a matter for all the parties to the conflict.
The question immediately raised at the outset, is whether the misapplication of law, the equation of our country’s experience in apartheid, with what is happening in the conflict, is absolutely necessary and helpful? That the use of the ‘apartheid analogy’ (and thus a phrase gradually being stripped of any meaning ) was turning out to be merely that, ‘an analogy’ — useful in some respects for political analysis, but awkward as a method of general application impacting on strategy – surely necessitates a return to the drawing board for all activists, even if this means conducting new research?
To find out why this eventuality, presents a serious predicament, the ESCWA report débâcle risks providing a blank cheque to those in office, to once again do nothing about the problem, one has merely to read the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (hereinafter Apartheid Convention), which had it roots in the opposition of the United Nations to the discriminatory racial policies of the South African Government – known as apartheid.
For many years Apartheid, was annually condemned by the General Assembly ‘as contrary to the Charter of the United Nations ; and was regularly condemned by the Security Council.’ In 1966, the General Assembly labelled apartheid a crime against humanity1 and in 1984 the Security Council endorsed this determination 2. The Apartheid Convention was thus considered the ultimate step in international condemnation of the system, ‘as it not only declared that apartheid was unlawful because it violated the Charter of the United Nations, but in addition it declared apartheid to be criminal.’
However, when the Apartheid Convention was drafted, like today, there was a division of opinion over the exact scope of the Convention. According to the UN human rights high commission, ‘most delegates saw the Convention as an instrument to be employed only against South Africa. Others, however, warned that the Convention was wide enough to cover other States that practised racial discrimination’ 3.
At the face of it, the Apartheid Convention declares that apartheid is a crime against humanity and that “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination” are international crimes. Article 2 of the Convention defines the crime of apartheid –“which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa” – as covering “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”. (my underlining)
It then lists those acts that fall within the ambit of the crime. These include ‘murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest of members of a racial group; deliberate imposition on a racial group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction; legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields; measures that divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate residential areas for racial groups; the prohibition of interracial marriages; and the persecution of persons opposed to apartheid.’ (my underlining)
Despite its UN pedigree, no one was ever prosecuted for the crime of apartheid under the apartheid convention, while apartheid lasted in South Africa. And no one has ever since been prosecuted for this crime. The ongoing difficulty in attaining justice for the victims and survivors of the apartheid system, points to the dilemma faced by anybody wishing to simply legislate away the many problems faced. In any event, if one was to merely rely on the Apartheid Convention and its allied legislation, for guidance, one would surely miss out on the greater lessons in strategy to be learnt, that of peaceful conflict resolution via dialogue, and restorative justice between all the parties? Dialogue which inevitably leads to compromise positions on both sides, and which are assuredly necessary in the Middle East of today?
“The weight of the evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the proposition that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity,” wrote ESCWA in the controversial report it released on March 15
Aside from being an indictment of the status quo, the ESCWA report itself has serious flaws in defining its subject matter. There are far better analytical and intellectual tools available than the use of open analogy instead of first principles. One has merely to locate the very, real experience of hegemony and oppression within the conflict to see why this is so.
Again, analysis of the problematic issue of the existence of the state of Israel, is not the purpose of this piece. Rather, as a person affected by legal definitions based upon discredited race science, one has got to take issue with the reiteration of race science by any report, UN sponsored or otherwise, especially one which argues that in the geopolitical context of Palestine, “Jews and Palestinians can be considered “racial groups”.”
One would not expect that the controversial ESCWA report, touted by activists, should perversely resort to a form of racist dogma of its own, considered anathema in modern South Africa itself? An inversion of the Apartheid Convention, in which race categories are imposed, instead of described according to phenomena on the ground, presumably as an intellectual means to solve the problem? Consider the purported facts, may or may not even be true, but rather, as one critic would have it, the result of ‘a shibboleth of race’, an untrue statement about race resulting from an Anti-Semitic canard’, a thesis which if misapplied, undermines the entire struggle for human rights in the Middle East, along with the peace process?
What is certainly obnoxious and objectionable here, aside from the imposition of apartheid-like race categorisation in grouping persons according to race, is the delineation of race science, albeit via an unproven hypothesis — the authors insistence, as did Adolf Hitler and German eugenicists — that all Jews comprise a distinct race (or are all Israelis now a race?), and hence the necessity to also attribute a race to Palestinians.
The failure to provide any empirical evidence in support of such assertions, aside from a description of abusive power relations, places the report in the terrain of public opinion instead of fact. Are we now expected to simply believe in the apartheid analogy for whatever reason, perhaps on faith alone? As the troublesome founder of modern Israel, Theodor Herzl attempted to point out, “No nation has uniformity of race” — “My associates and I make no distinctions between one man and another. We do not ask to what race or religion a man belongs. If he is a man, that is enough for us.”
It is thus better to remind those parties to the conflict that even the founder of Israel would have disagreed with what is taking place in Israel today. It is therefore important that we state in conclusion: Nations are not races, and people should be free to practice their religion, whatever the national circumstance or geographical location. One can only hope for an end to hegemony and oppression on both sides, and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
The problem of legal exclusion
According to the ESCWA: “Although the term “apartheid” was originally associated with the specific instance of South Africa, it now represents a species of crime against humanity under customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, according to which: “The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
If readers wish to read the actual Rome Statute it also contains words such as “context” and ‘racial group’. The problem arises when the report dodges its own definitions, in cherry picking from statutes, by stating:
“This report accepts the definition of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of “racial discrimination” as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.
In adopting this definition, the same report falls into absurdity by failing to cite the very exclusions of the statutes to which it relies upon:
“This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and non-citizens.”
Why this would be problematic, can be seen in the simple case of nation-statism. Every nation-state discriminates on the basis of nationality. Thus in leaving the report open to the logic of other statutes, a serious flaw is introduced. Arguably, this exception is exactly what the authors of the apartheid bantustans wished to exploit, and what the Israeli government, itself arguably a UN-sponsored bantustan for Jews, has consistently exploited, in approaching the primary problem with regard to the de jure denationalisation of persons considered undesirable by the regime.
As a hostage to the conflict being waged by conservatives on either side, I wish to once again place on record my objections to the war in the Middle East. In particular the internecine, sectarian conflict involving members of various faith groups, who refuse to recognise the rights of secularists such as myself.
The conflict is clearly a long-standing, religious-based conflict involving the deployment of displacement theology by either side, in the battle over identity and the status of Jerusalem, a city regarded as holy by many religions.
I also wish to reiterate my objections to the separation barrier and my rejection of the so-called ‘right of return’ on the basis of my Jewish ancestry, placed on record shortly after the wall was built in 2000, and published prominently in the Israeli media.
As a secular humanistic Jew and subscriber to the principles of the Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment. The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.
As a struggle veteran and war resister, I also wish to remind my fellow South Africans of my objections to the rationalisations of members of the IDF, in a combined ECC-IDF platform on UCT campus during 1987, and also the continued dispute involving my Jewish identity recorded in the decision of a South African court, and involving offensive race testing.
Apartheid, and its sequel in the new South Africa, should never be used as the justification for domination by one group over another, nor should its motivations be forgotten. Dialogue and compromise by all sides, is the only way forward. As objectors on both sides have shown, another reality is possible.
Let peace prevail on earth.
[Letter remains unpublished due to vendetta by SANEF]
Dear Die Antwoord,
The recent letter from the Dagga Party and BDS refers.
There was a time when the solidarity campaign with Palestine tolerated secular Jews such as myself, who do not ascribe affiliation to any particular branch of Judaism as such. Over the years, as the campaign has grown, we have seen the closing down of debate, which has merely short-circuited around an untested analogy — the wholesale relocation of our nation’s own experience under apartheid — with the dire results, that unlike the anti-apartheid struggle, dissident points of view, divergent opinions and alternative solutions are ignored.
At no point has there been any consultation with those like myself, who require special needs, in particular that our justice system recognise that freedom of religion, is also freedom from religion, the right not to be subjected to laws governing a religion. The short-circuiting of debate on Israel and the Middle East, and the closing down of secular norms and values, has occurred hand in glove with the erosion of civil rights and freedoms in our own country.
I currently face religious and discursive sanctions in the newsroom as a music journalist, in a country which, having miraculously escaped its past under a Christian Theocracy and the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), looks set to repeat its historical failures and mistakes. A disputed decision handed down by a civil court in South Africa as late as 2010, and 16 years after democracy, not only slated the late Robbie Jansen and trashed the findings of the TRC Final Report, but it upheld the supposed right of employers to interrogate, to discipline and to enforce conformity, over those persons, like myself, who may not be members of a major religion per se, but merely secularists.
Despite my insistance that I am a secular humanist and progressive, who subscribes to the principles of secular humanism as outlined by the Society for Humanistic Judaism, I have been turned into a pariah, apostate and heretic by our justice system, which seemingly eschews secular Judaism and thus the roots of secularism, as anathema – outside the health and boundaries of acceptable discourse in the community.
To make matters worse, legal professionals such as Kahanovitz SC and Ashraf Mahomed, President of the Cape Law Society, have turned into religious police, and this conservative backlash against progressive values is increasing, with absurd consequences. None other than Jeremy Acton of the Dagga Party has jumped on the ecclesiastical band wagon, who when he is not campaigning for the abolition of cannabis prohibition in South Africa, finds the time to oppose cannabis research in the Middle East. His views on the subject in his recent letter to you, must therefore be rejected as the work of a hypocrite and opportunist.
Israel is the leading proponent of Medical Dagga in a region, where both homosexuals and drug users are routinely faced with capital punishment. In Syria, the death penalty is meted out for drug use and trafficking by a despotic regime, whose Ba’ath party under Assad bears the exact same Pan Arab flag waved around at BDS meetings. Unlike any of the Arab States, Israel has also turned into a technology leader where Cannabis is concerned.
Unlike some Orthodox Jewish sects, whose members in New York recently blessed the herb as Kosher for Passover, attempts to raise the issue of harm reduction, public health, rational drug use, medical cannabis, and the abolition of dagga laws amongst BDS, is guaranteed to raise the ire of affiliate organisations such as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad). The organisation eschews all forms of inebriation, recreational or otherwise. I do not have to explain to you what this means for your band, associated as it is with recreational drug use, and civil liberties.
The conservative assaults against traditional Khoisan herbs and beverages by religious cops and the vice squad in South Africa, supposedly enforcing the fatwas, edicts and religious strictures issued on a daily basis by BDS and others, have occurred in an atmosphere of intolerance and political inquisition. I have only to refer to the closing down of popular Observatory Jazz Venue Tagores, following a campaign against Jazz music by the Woodstock constabulary who perceive music itself as licentious, since it supposedly is a gateway to drug use.
Despite criticism of the BDS movement by academic luminaries such as Noam Chomsky, who has publicly stated that it is “a mistake for BDS campaigners to target Israeli cultural and educational institutions” and who has argued that “parallels between BDS campaign and action against apartheid-era South Africa are misleading”, the campaign continues along its merry way, and now looks set to launch into a vigorous campaign against Die Antwoord.
Chomsky and many musicians and activists like myself, favour a limited sanctions campaign targeting goods produced by Israeli firms actively involved in the occupation. Such a position is both moderate, accurate and reasoned. It gives opportunity to engage both parties at the same time that it places our voices, behind peace and resistance to war on both sides. It also embraces and articulates the bipartisan position of our nation’s founder, the late Nelson Mandela.
Mandela whilst on the Ted Koppel Show shortly after his release from prison, explained his principled position on Israel and Palestine thus:
“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”
Clearly the lesson learnt from South Africa’s bitter and tragic experience under apartheid, in particular its unprecedented resolution, is that until we accepted that the other party was a part of the solution, there could be no solution to the problem. Similarly, unless we recognise the rights of both parties to the conflict, in particular Israel’s right to exist, which includes guarantees of access to Jerusalem and other holy sites in the region, as well as the right of access of all Muslims to Al-Aqsa, there will be no end in sight to to the conflict.
I therefore kindly request that you join solidarity with the global campaign for a secular solution to the problems in the Middle East.
David Robert Lewis
NOTE: A news story Activists request meeting with Die Antwoord over Israel boycott, is not the lead story about the Dagga Party Letter, but merely one of a sequence of events surrounding Acton’s sudden activism on the subject.
SOUTH AFRICA has a long and celebrated history of non-alignment when it comes to the numerous wars between the great powers.
During the cold war, the ANC received funding from members of the Eastern bloc and Warsaw Pact, but the party developed its own policies in regard to the apartheid regime.
Remarkable here are the historic ties with non-aligned Nordic countries, who also funded and supported the campaign against apartheid, so too, the significant role played by the African unity movement (and African Union) in developing a cohesive platform of independence and non-alignment.
Lately there are disturbing signs that our country is once again being drawn into a partisan global conflict, effectively taking sides in the Middle East War and the war in Syria. It would be foolhardy to ignore the recent hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal by the ruling party and what appears to be pro-Assad, pro-Iran policies slowly developing in relation to Syria, and of consequence, the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Early this year, South Africans were stunned to hear that a family of Syrian refugees in Cape Town have been told by a Home Affairs official that their asylum application was “unfounded”. The department declared their home country “stable” and rejected claims they feared for their lives if they returned to the war-torn country.
“Humanitarian aid was, therefore, not warranted,” the department’s finding is reported to have said. This is in line with the fiction created by Russia and other nations, that the diminished Assad regime is the only legitimate role player, and since it is officially not at war, and the conflict is ironically merely a “civil war” at best, the 450 000 people who have died in the region never existed.
Nelson Mandela shortly after his release and whilst on the Ted Koppel Show explained his principled position on the Middle East, in particular the Israel and Palestine conflict:
“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. “
“We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.”
“We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”
While Mandela’s position may no longer be considered relevant to the ruling party, any political pundit worth his or her salt would be abrogating responsibility in failing to consider the following facts, which present significant obstacles so far as the BDS version of history is concerned:
Firstly, the Assad regime has been at war with Israel since October 1973, when it attacked the country on the holiest day in the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur. Any support for the regime may thus have unintended consequences, that of deteriorating further into a religious war.
Secondly, the flag of Assad’s Ba’ath Party is the exact same Pan-Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies. BDS supporters may thus justifiably be accused of supporting the deaths of civilians in Syria in the name of Empire.
The influx of Arabs into Israel from Arab States, following the 1948 war, is well documented. Many of these Arabs were also Jews and Christians. Thus the problem in the region is not between black or white, but between right and wrong.
The position of Mandela continues to enjoy resounding support amongst South African Jews, the position of BDS on the other hand, in its evolving campaign, most recently articulated by the Media Review Network and others — namely that Israel has no right to exist, and consequently should be replaced by an Islamic State — has absolutely no support within this community, and where it does, such support should not be misconstrued as support on behalf of any one of the major religions.
Ideologically, those Jews, such as myself, who happen to be non-Zionist (and thus also non-Theist per se), have provided solidarity with the Palestinian cause over the years.
There was a time when such solidarity provided by the left was one of unconditional support. After so much death and destruction in the region, doing so without conditions is nothing but irresponsible madness. One has merely to point to the problem of 13 million Syrian-Palestinian refugees, many of whom are now in refugee camps in Jordan. That South Africa has a role to play in a negotiated peace, is clear. Our country also has a humanitarian role in assisting these Palestinians in relocating to our fine country.
I therefore wish to affirm here, that we are all hostages of the crisis, and thus hostages of the war, irrespective of our religious affiliation or otherwise, and that a secular solution — a negotiated settlement between the parties — is one that involves all parties, and thus both points of view. Such a solution, necessitates that we avoid taking sides as a nation, in what appears to be nothing more than a sectarian conflict, a partisan religious conflict as is the one over the Jerusalem-West Bank, which mirrors the neighbouring wars involving religion cascading around the Middle East.
THE HIGH court is allowing 16,000 protesters to gather outside US singer, Pharrell Williams‘ concert in two days. Williams, who recently performed in Tel Aviv, has come under fire from several pro-Palestinian groups for partnering with retailer, Woolworths, accused of trading with the Jewish state. South Africa currently has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and Pharrell Williams’ tour thus has full support of the country’s laws.
BDS is comprised of mainly religious groups and the anti-Secular left.
The move comes days after a fact-finding mission by opposition leaders, including Mosiuoa Lekota (Cope), Bantu Holomisa, (UDM), Pieter Mulder, (FF+) Kenneth Meshoe (ACDP), and Mangosuthu Buthelezi (IFP) who returned from Israel and the Palestinian territories, after meeting with the Palestinian Authority ambassador to South Africa.
In an interview on Radio Islam, Holomisa and Lekota explained their reasons for the mission, and the group’s findings.
The opposition group believes that Israel is not an apartheid state per se, and supports South Africa’s bipartisan role, drafted by the late Nelson Mandela, in bringing both sides to the negotiation table. The country must rather support peace though negotiations they say.
“I don’t see the signs of apartheid there,” says Lekota, “in Israel today, in the Knesset, their parliament, are sitting Jewish people, both supporting the party in power and other parties, and also sitting there are Palestinians with their representatives, and Muslim elected representatives. We could never sit in the Assembly under apartheid.”
Both Lekota and Holomisa met with their counterparts, leaders of the opposition in the Knesset and the Palestinian Authority. Holomisa, has travelled previously to Ramallah, as a guest of the late Yasser Arafat.
“They indicated their dissatisfaction, for instance, the Israeli flag does not express them. They don’t have equal language rights, the national anthem does not express them, when it comes to land rights, they don’t have equal land rights. Now those elements are there, but to say this is apartheid is a misnomer.” says Lekota.
This view is backed up by Holomisa who concurs: “What we have seen in Israel, we went to hospitals, we saw that Israelis and other communities are treated equally. We also saw in the streets that we don’t see taxi ranks, this one is for Israelis, that one is for Arabs. We also heard from minority MPs in the [Knesset], who say they don’t have access to land, and when we asked this question, they didn’t give us any answers. If Israel was an apartheid state, South Africa, I submit would not have established diplomatic ties with [the country], under the ANC.”
Lekota says he holds the firm views which Mandela taught him. “When we were here under apartheid, we understood from him that it was critical on our part to convince our oppressors that there would be no solution unless there was negotiation between us and them.The situation is not very dissimilar. It is critical to find a counterpart to negotiate with in Israel.”
Both agree with the Palestinian Authority, that the conflict in that part of the world, will never end “as long as USA is the sole mediator of peace”, in order to solve this problem, they would like to see a similar thing, as the team which negotiated in South Africa. But in order for this to happen, “we need to recognise the realities of people who have lived in the area for centuries”.
FOR years the tragic conflict between those who want Israel to be replaced by an Arab state from the Jordan to the sea; those who want a greater Israel to include the ancient sites of Judea and Samaria; those who demand that Israel retreat to the 1967 borders (which could mean giving up Jerusalem); and those who believe in the possibility of a binational solution in which all Israeli’s whether Jewish or Arab, Muslim or Christian, can live side by side, has raged on, and on and on.
The sheer complexity of the many issues surrounding the 1000-year-old conflict surrounding competing monotheisms has meant honest, open debate, has been near impossible.
Now, as Israel faces an election — with the real possibility that Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu will be replaced by Isaac Herzog, whose center left block “Zionist Union” party along with co-leader Tzipi Livni, has emerged as a primary rival — a number of articles have appeared in the international press. Each one tackling the unthinkable: Could a binational state, or one state solution be on the cards?
For celebrated author Amos Oz, writing in Haaretz, the one-state solution presents too many difficulties. He says: “If there will be one state here, it will be an Arab state, from the sea to the Jordan River. If there will be an Arab state here, I don’t envy my children and my grandchildren.” Oz goes on to discuss binationalism.
“With the exception of Switzerland, all the existing binational and multinational states are creaking badly (Belgium, Spain) or have already collapsed into a bloodbath (Lebanon, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union).”
Surprisingly, Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlen, quoted in the New Yorker by David Remnick in a provocative article entitled “The one-state reality”, and who has long been an ardent advocate of a greater Israel that includes Jerusalem, is not adverse to a federalised “binational state plan”, since as many critics point out, “there is too much history and not enough land.”
“The map of Ireland is a veritable continent compared with Israel and the Palestinian territories,” says Rivlen “…the West Bank, as Israelis are quick to point out, is seven miles from Ben Gurion Airport. Any two-state solution with a chance of working would have to include federal arrangements not only about security but also about water, cell-phone coverage, sewage, and countless other details of a common infrastructure. Talk of a one-state solution, limited as it is, will never be serious if it is an attempt to mask annexation, expulsion, or population transfer, on one side, or the eradication of an existing nation, on the other. Israel exists; the Palestinian people exist. Neither is provisional. Within these territorial confines, two nationally distinct groups, who are divided by language, culture, and history, cannot live wholly apart or wholly together.”
For Oz, the only persons who thus agree on the need for a binational state are the far left and the far right.
The rather convoluted New Yorker article by Remnick, carries informative background to the origin of the concept of a binational state, which is also favoured by persons such as Noam Chomsky, and Peter Hain.
Martin Buber, the eponymous Jewish philosopher, he says “warned of excessive nationalism in Zionist thought and counselled against the creation of a “tiny state of Jews, completely militarized and unsustainable.”
“The idea of two states for two peoples came together in official form in 1936, when Lord Peel was charged by the British Mandate with investigating unrest between Arabs and Jews. His commission set out the initial boundaries of partition. By the time the United Nations voted in support of partition, in 1947, the binational idea, and its array of supporting factions … had dissolved. The surrounding Arab states rejected partition and invaded the new state of Israel, which emerged victorious.”
“The reappearance of a one-state discussion in Israel came out of frustration over the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank following the Six-Day War and the failures to gain an agreement with the Palestinians. Meron Benvenisti, who was the deputy mayor of Jerusalem from 1971 to 1978, years when Israel kept expanding the city, spoke out against the occupation of lands won in the 1967 war and what he saw as Israel’s broader intentions. By the early eighties, he concluded that the leaders of both Labor and Likud were complicit in the ever-widening construction of settlements throughout the territories and were making it impossible to lay any groundwork for Palestinian independence. “
With the possibility of the overthrow of the Likud party, all solutions are now on the cards, bringing fresh ideas.
Is a two-state solution in itself racist, as implied by Remnick and other critics? Is the possibility of several satellite Arab states existing inside Israel going to result in a dictatorship by far-right Jews according to Oz?
Is all of this merely the politics of “divide and rule” or a real step in the right direction?
Questions such as these are inevitable as some of the political notions that have dogged the 20th Century seem no longer to hold water in the 21st century and its version of the Middle East.
UPDATE: Response from the Jerusalem Post.
TWO incidents involving campus politics in South Africa need some explanation.
The first involved the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Last week its SRC chair was calling for all Jews to be deregistered and in particular, those Jews who support Israel.
This week, the SRC was issuing a retraction. The announcement was shortly followed by news that members of the University of Cape Town (UCT) students council would be visiting Israel, ostensibly on a fact-finding mission.
The predictable anger from the vocal Palestinian lobby on campus looks set to disintegrate into yet another round of name-calling. So far as PSF is concerned, issues in the Middle East should not be debated, Jews must be banned or restricted from holding any opinions not authored by the BDS central committee.
It is not surprising then that some of the basic tenets associated with the campaign are falling apart, since BDS appear to be living in a Cold War time warp, cherry-picking UN resolutions to back up their arguments.
After the end of the Cold War, the same UN general assembly issued a resolution reversing the earlier resolution.
Thus in 1991 “the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly … to revoke the bitterly contested statement it approved in 1975 that said “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
“The official count found 111 nations in favor of repealing the statement and 25 nations, mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists, voting against. Thirteen nations abstained. Seventeen other countries, including Egypt, which recognizes Israel, and Kuwait and China, did not take part in the voting.”
The earlier 1975 resolution 3379 is the basis for several conferences in South Africa, each one arriving at the conclusion that Zionism is Racism and worse, apartheid.
The 1975 resolution is also the basis for a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) research paper reiterating its findings.
No resolution has ever been issued by the UN for any similar form of ethnic nationalism, for example: Kemalism.