American Muslims for Palestine launched an ad campaign this week on San Francisco buses condemning Israeli apartheid. (See below.) Predictably, local branches of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Jewish Community Relations Council, immediately issued a statement in effect calling the ad hate speech for using the word ‘apartheid’. They have called on “all civic, ethnic and religious leaders who oppose bigoted lies and demonization to exercise their constitutional rights by condemning these inflammatory advertisements.”
Below is a line by line reading of their media statement.
First, it’s hard to know if the people who wrote this press release actually believe what they wrote. The points they make against the ad are so off the mark, and often offensive, it’s hard to believe anyone could write them sincerely. (I’m deleting the names on the release because I don’t think it’s fair to blame them. I think people at the top should be held accountable for such nonsense.)
The release header:
Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true. The Bay Area JCRC, and local offices of the ADL and the AJC, are not synonymous with the “Bay Area Jewish Community.” In fact, while the Jewish Community Relations Council claims to represent Bay Area Jews, they won’t release the number or names of groups they represent. That certainly makes one wonder if the number is embarrassingly small. And it’s likely shrinking. There is no shortage of Jews around here, from a wide political spectrum, who would be appalled to be associated with an attack on a Muslim group for using a word that Israeli officials use regularly. (More on that later.)
Back to the press release:
San Francisco - Today, another misleading advertisement appeared in San Francisco targeting one segment of our community in an attempt to sow division in our city. The Bay Area’s organized Jewish community strongly condemns the ad’s deceitful claim that Israel is an apartheid state. Placed by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the ad is morally reprehensible as it employs inflammatory rhetoric designed to delegitimize Israel’s very existence.
First we see the predictable talking point about initiatives that seek to pressure Israel to abide by international law seeking to “divide the community.” The irony of course, is that actually the community is pretty united, certainly increasingly so. On campuses, for example, over and over again you have a veritable rainbow of organizations backing these initiatives –including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, secular, Southeast Asian, Latino, African American and so forth, all united-increasingly opposed to “coalitions” of a handful of similar and non-diverse groups. (Kind of like those UN votes for Palestinian rights where nearly every country in the world stands on one side, and Israel, the US, Palau and Micronesia stand on the other.)
This is the gist—the JCRC and ADL claim the ad is essentially a hate crime designed to delegitimze Israel’s existence. This is the de facto talking point these days; it is intimidating language, used for lack of a good argument. It goes like this:
Q “Isn’t the occupation wrong?”-
A “You want to destroy Israel!”
Q “Doesn’t it seem unfair that 93% of the land in Israel is reserved for Jews only-what about the 25% of non-Jews?”
A “You want to destroy Israel!”
It doesn’t really matter what you say or do, the answer always is, “you REALLY want to destroy Israel” (or delegitimize it, which is supposed to be a roundabout way to destroy Israel). Dig a little deeper, and according to the 6 million dollar Israel Action Network, which openly spies on groups like Jewish Voice for Peace* and provides talking points and strategy to defenders of Israeli government policy, the aim of delegitimization is to “isolate Israel as a pariah state and reject the notion of a two-state solution.” If that were at all true, you’d think they’d go after the original two-state solution killers– the settlers, the Israeli government and Bibi Netanyahu whose party openly opposes a two-state solution. But nary a peep. Their harsh condemnations are reserved only for those trying to end Israel’s ongoing violations of international law.
Back to the next paragraph of the press release:
The ad’s false claims diminish the suffering of the millions of people who were truly subjected to apartheid. The term “apartheid” describes the systematic oppression of the racial majority population by South Africa’s minority through comprehensive racial discrimination. In sharp contrast to Apartheid South Africa, Israel is a diverse democratic country that affords equal political and civil rights to all its citizens.
Israeli human rights groups have much to say about the very unequal apportioning of rights to Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, but why bother to argue the obvious? Instead, let’s just take one of the organizations behind this press release that defines apartheid for South Africans (because really, how dare Archbishop Tutu do so). Michelle Goldberg wrote in The Daily Beast about the ADL’s moral standing on defining South Africa, describing the NYT’s Sasha Polakow Suransky’s (no relation) writing on the issue:
In the 1980s, at a time when Israel maintained close ties with South Africa, the ADL went on the attack against Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. As Sasha Polakow-Suransky reported in his recent book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, ADL National Director Nathan Perlmutter co-authored an article implying that the ANC was “totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American.” The ADL sent spies into the American anti-apartheid movement, as well as other movements critical of right-wing American foreign policy. Eventually, the organization was surveilling much of the American left. In 1993, a California police raid on the offices of the ADL and one of its investigators yielded files on Greenpeace, the NAACP, Act Up, New Jewish Agenda, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and several Democratic politicians, among hundreds of others. The ADL eventually settled a class-action lawsuit brought by several of its targets.
The ADL apparently had no problem with Apartheid South Africa when it existed, but now they claim authority to dispute the many South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who decry the many similarities between that regime and Israel’s occupation.
The release, again:
We hope for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and an end to the suffering on both sides. In stark contrast, AMP’s apartheid rhetoric is profoundly misleading, and harms good faith efforts toward a peaceful resolution based on two states for two people. Locally, the campaign promotes polarization and division among San Franciscans, who pride themselves on fostering strong inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. (For a detailed report outlining AMP’s established record of using false, biased and offensively anti-Israel materials please visithttp://www.adl.org/israel-international/anti-israel-activity/profile-american-muslims-for.html)
The Jewish Community has long stated our concern that the repeated appearance of offensive anti-Israel and anti-Muslim ads is making our public transit system a battleground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While protected by the First Amendment, extremist language directed at any group has no place in our city. We call upon all civic, ethnic and religious leaders who oppose bigoted lies and demonization to exercise their constitutional rights by condemning these inflammatory advertisements.
Finally, and here’s the heart of the matter: if calling AMP’s use of the term “apartheid” is, as the release describes it, “misleading, inflammatory, divisive, offensive and bigoted,” where is the AJC’s, ADL’s and JCRC’s outrage about these Israelis who have used the same term to describe the decades-long and ever-expanding Israeli occupation? Surely they didn’t miss these statements, as attuned as they are to the “A” word. But once again—it’s perfectly alright for high ranking Israelis to regularly use the word apartheid, but it’s not OK for Muslims to do so? What kind of message about bigotry does that send?
Former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel: “If you, President Obama, intend to come here for a courtesy visit - don’t come. Don’t come! We don’t need you here for a courtesy visit. You cannot come to an area that exhibits signs of apartheid and ignore them. That would simply be an unethical visit. You yourself know full well that Israel is standing at the apartheid cliff. If you don’t deal with this topic during your visit, the responsibility will at the end of the process also lie with you.” (2013)
Israeli Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” (2010)
Former Israeli Minister of Education Yossi Sarid: “What acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck - it is apartheid… What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself… The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk. “(2008)
Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni: “Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.” (2007)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” (2007)
Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorial: “The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side - determined by national, not geographic association - includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community, who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future. ” (2007)
Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair: “[In 1967] We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.” (2002)
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem: “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime … is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa.” (2002)
Former Israeli admiral and Knesset member Ami Ayalon: “Israel must decide quickly what sort of environment it wants to live in because the current model, which has some apartheid characteristics, is not compatible with Jewish principles.” (2000)
David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, (cited): “Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible. If it did not Israel would soon become an Apartheid State.” (1967 - cited in Hirsh Goodman, 2005)
* When my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, recently launched a pro-divestment website, rabbisletter.org, as part of high profile Methodist and Presbyterian church divestment votes, we were stunned when just 24 hours later, the Israel Action Network launched rabbis-letter.org, an anti-divestment website. We looked into it further and they had registered their site name just 45 minutes after we registered rabbisletter.org. The group, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, which my family and many others have given much money to in the past, had gone to the effort of using (perfectly legal) means of spying on our activities.
–Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace