Israel Apartheid week is fast approaching and opponents of the Jewish state are busying themselves on campuses up and down the country. With the Red, Green and Black bunting about to go up, sessions by anti-Israel rap artists being advertised and bake sales for the next flotilla being prepared, one can imagine that there is something almost festive about all of this for the event's organisers.
We have grown used to Israel Apartheid week as part of the scenery at our universities. Yet the danger is that we have allowed this phenomenon to have become normalised in our minds and are no longer able to see this campaign for what it is.
First and foremost what Israel Apartheid Week is is a lie. It is a lie that is at once quite demonstrably false and at the same time incredibly insulting to those who actually suffered under the horrors of the racial segregation witnessed in Apartheid South Africa. Of course the shameful ignorance that most people have about genuine apartheid in South Africa makes it all too easy for those with a sinister agenda to hijack history for their own purpose; always a dangerous business to leave unchecked. By every measure the law in Israel ensures complete equality for all its citizens whereas in South Africa the law was used to enforce racial segregation and inequality. In Apartheid South Africa there were no blacks in parliament, on the Supreme Court or occupying the top positions in Universities but in Israel there are Arabs in the most prominent positions in all of these places. Nor in South Africa did blacks and whites have access to the same health care but anyone who has been to an Israeli hospital can tell you that Jews and Arabs are treated alongside one another equally, in the same wards, as they should be. Furthermore, in Israel Arabic is an official language that appears alongside Hebrew on every bank note and road sign in the country.
Yet the term Apartheid was chosen by Israel's enemies for two reasons. First, because they thought that just as the regime in South Africa had been brought down so too the same could be done to the Jewish democracy in Israel. Secondly, the term 'apartheid' was chosen because apartheid was a racist system and anti-Israel campaigners knew that if they could associate Israel with racism, the most unacceptable evil that people in the Western world could conceive of, then they were sure they could win the public to their cause. That this would involve labelling as racist the Jews, a people, who have suffered centuries of racist persecution and expulsions all of which finally resulted in a genocide by a racist regime that murdered six million of them, seems not to have troubled campaigners. Presumably for them the ends justify the means.
There was another reason also why the image of Apartheid South Africa appealed to opponents of Israel because apartheid was, of course, a system that served as a rather ugly distortion and hangover from colonialism. What is quite apparent about most of the people who involve themselves in the anti-Israel campaign is that they generally embrace a worldview in which people from non-Western cultures can do no wrong but where the West can do no right. With the working class having evaporated and the Soviet Union having collapsed the Left needed new causes that could renew hope in their dream of bringing down bourgeois society; in anti-colonialism they found it. Yet today, with the exception of China plundering Africa, there are few examples of colonialism left to fight against. Of course the war in Iraq was billed as an adventure in neo-imperialism but what was really needed was a sustained and ongoing conflict between a Western and a non-Western society. They could not have hoped for better than what they have found in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The Manichean worldview possessed by those who waged the campaign against Israel was never going to be able to accept that there could be two sides to this conflict. What they were looking for was a struggle between victim and oppressor, absolute innocence and absolute guilt, absolute good and absolute evil. Israel had to be absolutely in the wrong and the Palestinians had to be completely in the right. The failure of the peace process could not be because Arafat had refused to sign the Camp David agreement and had instead sent waves of suicide bombers into Israel's cities, or because Mahmoud Abbas has refused to take part in any serious negotiations with the current Israeli government. It must instead be blamed on Israeli intransigence and militarism. The fact that rockets continue to be fired towards civilians in Southern Israel from Gaza must have nothing to do with the fact that Gaza's Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, repeated only this weekend that Hamas would 'never recognise Israel', comments that were made as he stood alongside Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has vowed to wipe Israel off the map and is currently pursuing the nuclear capabilities by which to do so. No, instead we are asked to believe that the rocket fire is due to the siege on Gaza, seeing as how it can no longer be blamed on Israel's military presence there; that ended almost seven years ago.
Yet, like so much of what is claimed about this conflict, the siege on Gaza is a complete fiction in a very conscious propaganda war. Items that could be used for military purposes are supposed to be prevented from entering Gaza but otherwise goods and people flow across the border all the time so that, as Tom Gross revealed, the allegations of shortages are a lie perpetuated to justify the continuing attacks on Israeli civilians. Indeed, this week hundreds of Gazans will be making the journey to Saudi Arabia as part of an annual pilgrimage; hardly the 'prison camp' that British Prime Minister David Cameron described during his last visit to Turkey. Yet worse lies have been told than this. Only last month I attended a public debate at which Taj Hargey, who was billed as a liberal Imam, compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, justifying his horrendously insensitive accusation with the claim that in both cases nobody was ever allowed in or out, ignoring that not only do people go in and out of Gaza all the time but that hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to their deaths in the crematoria of Treblinka. Still, Taj Hargey went on, saying that he had no problem with Germans but a hell of a problem with Nazis just as he had no problem with Jews but a hell of a problem with Zionists. The comparison was clear.
The alliance between the Left and some of the most hard line fundamentalists in the campaign against Israel was never more clear than last year at the protests outside the Israeli Embassy in London when protesters were heard chanting 'Khyber, Khyber al-Yahud' a chant that calls on Jews to remember how they were massacred by Muhammad's men at Khyber. The acceptance and even promotion of such bigotry is openly accepted by those who lead the Israel Apartheid charge. Indeed, this year as most years, Ben White, author of 'Israeli Apartheid, a beginner's guide' will be a popular speaker at the events at our universities. Yet this is someone who has openly declared that while he does not 'consider' himself anti-Semitic he 'can understand why some are'.
Israel Apartheid week is not about ending Israel's presence in the West Bank and it is not about campaigning for a Palestinian State, it is about attacking and delegitamising Israel for two reasons. Despite the fact that Israel is a liberal and democratic State that affords more rights and freedoms to its citizens and minorities than any of its neighbours in the region, her enemies despise her because in their eyes Israel represents a Western outpost in the non-Western world; a society that is allied to America and embraces the free market and the freedom of the individual. The second reason that Israel is campaigned against is because it is Jewish. For the Left who oppose the nation state and ethnic/religious identities this is intolerable. They do of course tolerate Palestinian nationalism because they like to pretend it is not so much nationalism as a liberation movement and besides, liberals have long stopped holding people in other cultures to the same standards that they demand of Westerners. In the Muslim world Israel's existence as a Jewish State in an otherwise entirely Arab/Islamic region is also equally unacceptable, as seen when the Hamas charter quotes and gives new resonance to passages of the Hadiths that call on believers to bring about judgement day by killing Jews.
This then is the unpalatable truth about Israel Apartheid week. During the 2009 Israel Apartheid week at Canada's York University anti-Israel protestors attempted to storm the Jewish Student centre where Jewish Students had been forced to barricade themselves in until police eventually arrived to escort them to safety. This is where hateful campaigns such as Israel Apartheid week inevitably take us. There is no room for complacency.