The Lie of Israel Apartheid

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Last week I received a call from Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper, asking me to respond to the charges of 130 New York University professors who signed a petition calling for a boycott of companies doing business with Israel, since the Jewish State has now become apartheid South Africa.

I gave them the following quote: “Any professor who calls Israel an apartheid state is guilty of ignorance, moral blindness, and an assault on the sacred memory of Nelson Mandela, who they are of necessity comparing to Yasser Arafat. Mandela was a man of peace who brought together people of different races in harmony and equality. Arafat is the father of modern international terrorism. And Hamas, whom polls show would win an election in the West bank, is dedicated in their charter to the genocide of Jewish people wherever they may be found.“

The comparison of the Palestinians, rather than the Jews, to black South Africans, has become a regular and deliberate distortion that degrades the peace, harmony, and reconciliation that black South Africans have shown in comparison with innumerable Palestinian terror groups committed to Israel’s annihilation.

On May 28, my organization The World Values Network will host The Third Annual Champion of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in Times Square. The dinner will honor courageous fighters for Israel, like Senators Bob Menendez and Ted Cruz as well as Newt Gingrich and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. It will also commemorate those who perpetuate Holocaust memory, foremost among them Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank’s best friend Jacqueline Van Maarsen, who is making the journey from Amsterdam by ship at the age of 86. It seems incredible to me that just 70 years after the Holocaust, the Jews are being maliciously portrayed not as victims but culprits, not as a nation defending its existence but as a people hell-bent on viciously degrading others for reasons of racial superiority.

The truth, of course, is that in Israel today there are 1.6 million Arab citizens who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. These Arabs enjoy the same rights as their fellow Jewish citizens. They, along with Christians, Druze, Baha’i, Hindus, women and homosexuals all have equal rights to live their lives in freedom and safety. As my friend Mitchell Bard argues to rebut the Israel-is-apartheid lie, among the many notable Israeli Arabs there are two Supreme Court justices, the captain of the Israeli soccer team Hapoel, the Israeli ambassador to Ecuador and a general in the Israel Defense Forces. Arabs have their own political parties and have served in the Knesset as members of their own parties as well as the non-Arab parties. Two Arab women, Angelina Feres and Rana Reslan, were crowned Miss Israel.

Contrast with the treatment of Palestinians in Arab countries where they are denied citizenship and often persecuted. In Lebanon, for example, Palestinians are banned from owning property or passing it on to their descendants, and they are also barred from employment as lawyers, doctors, and more than 20 other professions.

The obscene comparison of Israel with South Africa also ignores the fact that Israel is a multicultural society with people from more than 100 countries and many of them are people of color. Israel is also the first country in history to airlift tens of thousands of black men, women, and children from Africa and give them citizenship rather than enslave them. Today, more than 130,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel and have served in the Knesset, achieved high ranks in the military, served as an ambassador, and won the Miss Israel contest.

When asked whether they would prefer to live in Israel or the Palestinian Authority, 77 percent of Israeli Arabs chose Israel. Furthermore, 64 percent of Israeli Arabs said that Israel was a good country to live, even as they voice other complaints, all part of being in a democratic society where they can fearlessly criticize their government.

In South Africa, skin color determined every aspect of your life from birth until death. Black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Laws dictated where they could live, work, go to school, and travel. And, in South Africa, the government killed blacks who protested against its policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Some of the government’s harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset.

In the West Bank Israeli policy is obviously not based on race but is a result of Palestinian terror attacks against Israel’s population. Since the signing of the Oslo agreements in the 1990s, 97 percent of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria have been governed by the Palestinian Authority and, following Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, 100 percent of the Palestinians there have been ruled by first the Palestinian Authority and now, sadly, Hamas. The denial of basic freedoms these Palestinians face – such as freedom of assembly, speech, and the press – are attributable to Palestinian, not Israeli policies. The serious offers of peace which Israel made under Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to resolve all issues relating to the West Bank were rebuffed first by Yasser Arafat and then by his successor Mahmoud Abbas.

Far from being a white, colonial settlement, the establishment of the State of Israel is analogous to African-Americans who had been forcibly removed from Africa returning to create, say, the country of Liberia. The Jews too were forcibly removed from the Land of Israel by the Babylonians and then the Romans to be slaves and vassals. But they thirsted for freedom and therefore returned in great throngs, joining a smaller number of their people who had always remained in the Holy land. Together, they rebuilt their ruined country.

The comparison of the Palestinians, rather than the Jews, to black South Africans, is unfortunate and misdirected. Whereas Black South Africans inspired the world with their decency and humane capacity for peaceful coexistence with their white brethren even after having been so grievously wronged, our Palestinians brothers have tragically embraced hatred, terror, and racism. Arab newspapers are filled with grotesque caricatures of ethnic characteristics of Jews. Innocent Palestinian youth are brainwashed by the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah to grow up and blow up Israeli buses.

Nelson Mandela rose to become the foremost statesman of the world by preaching forgiveness and reconciliation. Yasser Arafat ushered in modern terrorism and then stole hundreds of millions of dollars from his own people who continue to live in abject poverty despite being the largest per capita recipients of international aid in the world.

Apartheid is one of the greatest moral abominations of modern times and directly contravenes the greatest of all Biblical teachings, that every human being is created equally in the image of G0d. Racism is not only disgusting. It is profoundly heretical, denying as it does a common heavenly father to the human family. It was the Hebrew Bible that taught us, in its very first chapter, that all humanity reflects the divine countenance in every color and in every shade.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.