To start, let me apologize for the delay. I was in the midst of a move and was unable to access the Internet until now. Fortunately, this gave me the opportunity to further grapple with Israeli Apartheid Week–and my editor Ben’s response–and hopefully formulate a coherent defense of my position.
First off, let me acknowledge where I agree with Ben. Namely, Israeli Apartheid can not and will not ever exist. The term, as Ben correctly pointed out, exists solely within the South African political paradigm; it’s an Afrikaans word that pertains exclusively to that country’s discriminatory series of legislation against members of its own population. But semantics aside, there are undeniable similarities between South Africa’s treatment of blacks and coloureds under Apartheid and Israel’s treatment of Gazans and West Bank residents up to and including today.
So while we can all agree that Israeli Apartheid Week is a misnomer on a number of levels – that is, it’s not Apartheid and it’s not a week – its continued presence, now six years strong, begs examination.
The aim of my earlier post was to do just that. At no point did I, as my editor claimed, join in the chorus of the BDS movement. Rather, I sought to encourage a constructive dialogue within Israel and abroad on the issues and arguments espoused during IAW. My goal was to argue against the knee-jerk reaction of too many Jews and Israelis, which impels them to immediately dismiss any criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Zionist and/or anti-Semitic, thereby dismissing any disparagement of Israeli policy as wholly irrational.
While Ben correctly asserts that IAW was spearheaded by anti-Zionists, this does not make the campaign’s arguments any less pertinent. I’ve spoken with many Zionists who do support calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, if only to protect Israel from further Islamic extremism. Further, I’d argue that the American lobby J Street’sÂ Invest in Peace campaign speaks to the growing sentiment among many Jews who believe in the promise of a Jewish state but are against what they see to be discriminatory Israeli policy, South African nomenclature or not.
Ben also mentioned the capability of the BDS movement to “demonize [Israel] internationally.” Â While this is no doubt true, Israel’s stubborn refusal to accept criticism might be just as damaging to the nation’s image, if not moreso. Â Correctly or incorrectly, people perceive Israel’s confidence as arrogance, its strength as brutality, and its hard-headedness as, well, hard-headedness. Â This, without a doubt, plays into the hands of the Ahmadinejads and the Chavezes, allowing for an increasinglyÂ negative view of the country in international circles, left and right alike.
My modest proposal is that Israel engage the critiques of IAW and the BDS movement head on. Â In fact, to restore calm and perhaps one day attain peace, I believe it must. Â Quite simply, these movements will not disappear. Â The more Israel and its supporters attempt to brush them off, the more they will fester. Â The time to be proactive is now; Israel, show the world you want peace, and I assure you the criticism will abate.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with one final thought. Â I am a proud Jew. Â However, my identity as a Jew does not go hand-in-hand with my identity as a Zionist. Â Rather, it stems from the simple notion of tikkun olam, of repairing the world. Â That is what I strive to do everyday, through my writing and in my daily life. Â For me, respecting each life, Jew or Gentile, is all-important. Â I know enough of Jewish history to realize we need a state of our own, but it pains me to see that miraculous vision tainted by constant violence. Â My hope is that this conviction – for peace and coexistence – shines through in these posts.
And lastly, I’d like to thank Ben Sales for what has turned into a vigorous debate. Â Like any great editor, you’ve forced me to reevaluate my thinking and distill its true meaning. Â If you please, the last word is yours.
Sam Melamed is a Masa participant, participating in Career Israel, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.