The Israel-Palestine conflict is a complex and ongoing international issue and dominates headlines around the world on an annual basis. It affects things as diverse as the American presidential races, Chinese foreign policy and international oil prices. In the edition published on 15 February, Perdeby ran a story covering the recently held Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).
In response, we received various letters about the article and the event. Among them was the one published below from, Victor Gordon the Chairman of the Pretoria Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, arguing that there was no such thing as “apartheid” in Israel.
In response to the recent situation at the University of Johannesburg (see page 5) and the amount of feedback we received on the article, Perdeby decided to take a closer look at the conflict. Below, find the letter written by Victor Gordon and a response written by interested members of associated societies on campus.
Few global issues have dominated world attention, including university campuses, to anywhere near the same degree as the Israel-Palestine conflict. Yet it is this very complexity that is so often glossed over in the world-wide campaign to not only delegitimise Israel, but to deny her the very right to exist as an independent sovereign state.
Despite my personal opposition to IAW, I respect the right of UP to support whichever events and causes it regards as deserving. However, with, as always, two sides to every story, this sort of event does little to support the need for fairness, context and sober analysis, all being the lifeblood of any university.
The focus of IAW is to support the claim that Israel is an apartheid state and, if so, cannot claim legitimacy as a true democracy. This, inevitably, opens the door to boycotts, disinvestment and the final isolation of a country.
If this contention is correct, how can it be that within the borders of Israel (with an Arab population of 20%) there is universal franchise that extends to every citizen, that Arabs attend Israeli schools, universities and other institutions of learning without exception, that all hospitals and clinics are open to all sectors of the population, that Israeli Arabs have acted as the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, served as the Acting President of Israel in 2007, served as Israeli Ambassador to Ecuador, that Arabs have sat as judges in Israeli courts while one sits on the bench of the Israeli Supreme Court, that Arabs serve as members of the Knesset (Parliament), while Israeli Arab girls represented the country at the Miss World Pagent and the Eurovision Song Contest, et cetera.
I could go on and on. If this is apartheid then what was it that I lived through in South Africa from 1948 to 1992? As for the validity of Israeli democracy: In Israel there is total freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the press to a level that is regularly abused.
Where news is not forthcoming it is often invented by all the major news services who have been caught out doctoring pictures to back up their claims. The left-wing daily newspaper Ha’artez is openly antigovernment to a degree that many regard as a danger to Israel’s security.
In Israel, there is a fully independent judiciary while Arabs may volunteer to serve in the Israeli defence forces. Understandably, they are few in number. There is something else happening on the world stage other than the mere censorship of this tiny country, comparable in size to the Kruger Park.
The move to demonise Israel and deny her, her legitimate existence amidst neighbours who have revealed themselves these past weeks as some of the world’s very worst tyrants and dictators, is bad enough, the extended move to deny her, through socalled “violations of International Law”, the right to even defend herself, is something altogether different Events like the IAW do nothing but trivialise an already complex situation and do nothing to add to any existing debate nor offer solutions to desperately convoluted problems.
Victor Gordon Chairman, Pretoria Council, SA Jewish Board of Deputies
In response to the letter from Mr Victor Gordon of the SAJBD, we would like to clarify the following: “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” This is what former South African President Hendrick Verwoerd, said to the Rand Daily Mail on the 23 November 1961.
And, all will agree, being the architect of Aparthied South Africa, he knew what he was talking about. “Israel enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied [Palestinian] territories, engaging in theft and fi nding justifi cation for all these activities. … In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied [Palestinian] territories….”
These are the words of the Former Israeli Attorney General, Michael Ben-Yair. Additionally, the Human Sciences Research Council, a South African statutory body, in a government sponsored report, found Israel guilty of practicing apartheid.
The report is available online. Furthermore, on an international level, both the former and current United Nations Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have found that Israel is practicing apartheid.
Finally, many South Africans, with a deep understanding of the struggle against apartheid have spoken of how Israel is similar to or worse than Apartheid South Africa:these include Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, the University of Pretoria’s own Professor John Dugard, former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and many, many more.
Israeli Apartheid Week Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is uncontroversial – some pro- Israel apologetics may try to make it controversial in order to defl ect any criticism of Israel. IAW took place in over 80 campuses worldwide – including 9 South African universities.
It has taken place in South Africa for the last 5 years. Shutting it down (what Mr Gordon tries to suggest) is a form of silencing and a serious curbing of our (students’) freedom of expression. If you speak out against women abuse, you are not obliged to provide ‘the side’ of the women abuser.
If you are in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians, there is no reason why you have to present the view of the oppressor (the State of Israel). Boycotts Calling for boycotts is nothing new. It was the tool used in the American civil rights movement, it was used against the former Apartheid regime in South Africa and it is now the tool being used by Palestinians.
Indeed, just last week the University of Johannesburg voted to end its Israeli links. We hope that the University of Pretoria will soon follow this lead. Finally, even though some may like to make this a religious issue, it simply is not.
To speak out against the state of Israel cannot in anyway be equated to anti-Semitism. Pro-Israeli supporters, like the SAJBD, try to muzzle criticism of Israel by using this red-herring. They used it against our Archbishop Desmond Tutu – it didn’t work.
They tried to call Professor Richard Goldstone a self-hating Jew – it didn’t work. They will try to call us anti-Semitic – it wont work. The issue at hand is far too important for red-herrings and baseless accusations.
And it should be remembered that Israel is by all means and standards and according to innumerous UN resolutions guilty of occupying Palestinian territory and continues to do so through the further building of illegal settlement buildings.
Oppression, occupation, exile, massacre and systematic exclusion from political structures is characteristic of Israeli tactics against the occupied Palestinian people.
This response was drafted by: Sedupe Ramokgopa (Chairperson of SASCO), Goitse Konopi (Secretary of SASCO), Nadine vd Haar & Ehsaan Gani (founders of PSC), Zaeem Ebrahim (Chairperson of MSA) and Imaan Mookadam (Vice-Chairperson of MSA) Muslim Students AssociationThis is an opinion page. The arguments above are meant to stimulate debate and to fairly represent both sides of a particular argument. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the personal feelings of any of the Perdeby staff. Perdeby encourages discourse among our readers and that is why we open the comment section below. If however, any comments should become personal or result in mud slinging we will close the comment section and remove such comments.