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Still making excuses for Israel

The late Palestinian scholar Edward Said pointed out famously that "Israel is unique in the world for the excuses made on its behalf". These excuses have become more prevalent today than they were in the late Professor Said's time. The gutless decision taken this week by Israel's Haaretz newspaper to remove from its website an article exposing appalling Israeli racism against black people just hours after it was published did not stop two major newspaper, the Financial Times (FT) and New York Times, from addressing this hideous phenomenon. The timing was perfect because it coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the revocation of UN Resolution 3379, which determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.


Despite their principled intentions, the message from the FT and NYT commentaries were not as clear and forceful as they should have been. Both paid lip service to the myth of Israeli democracy but the authors were a bit like swimmers wanting to swim but not get wet.

In its editorial "Freedom in Israel" the FT demonstrated this worrying ambivalence. It pointed out that a key divide in Israel's modern history has been between those who place democracy above all else, and those for whom building the Jewish state is paramount. And, in the same breath, it asserted that the Likud Party has a tradition of being a strong defender of democracy and that its incumbent leader Benyamin Netanyahu should remind his colleagues of this tradition.

Should Mr Netanyahu follow the FT's advice this would be a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. This week, the Israeli prime minister gave his support for a Knesset bill which would ban the broadcast of calls to prayer on mosque loudspeakers across Israel. This is nought but a spiteful assault on the religious freedom of one-fifth of his country's citizens. Being the mercurial politician that he is, Netanyahu used the rampant double speak from Europe to justify his position claiming. "There's no need to be more liberal than Europe", he said, in a reference to bans affecting mosques and Muslims in Belgium and France.

Indeed, under his watch, racism in Israel has spiralled out of control. Israeli fanatics demonstrated shamelessly in Tel Aviv earlier this week calling for Africans to go home because Israel is a Jewish state. The demonstrators chanted, "The people demand the expulsion of the infiltrators"; "We have come to expunge the darkness"; and "Tel Aviv is for Jews, Sudan is for Sudanese." Perhaps the only other demand they forgot to make was that the dark-skinned Jews of the east should also return from whence they came. Their time "to go home", it seems, has not yet arrived, but the demonstrators illustrated their racism nonetheless.

How did these hapless victims, Africans and eastern Jews, find themselves in this debased condition? They were obviously misled to believe in the myth of Israeli democracy. They didn't learn from the experiences of the Palestinians, who have been made refugees in their own land and second class citizens under the yoke of Zionist nationalism-cum-colonialism.

The problem evidently is the jumbled message emanating from Western capitals, the media and Israel itself; the half-truths and outright canards. After more than six decades since it was carved out of Palestine, no one, not even the British and Americans, know where the exact borders of Israel lie. It still refuses to define them and changes them with alarming frequency. First, Israelis refused to accept the UN partition borders, taking instead the 1949 Armistice Line as their borders (giving themselves more of historic Palestine). In September of that year Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared that Israel's national security needs were "utterly unique and without parallel among the nations". His country went on to use this exclusivist logic to conquer, expand and occupy more Arab lands. It still occupies the Syrian Golan Heights and the Lebanese Shi'ba farms, not to mention, of course, the Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. Today, the fanatical settlers who influence official policy are threatening to establish a new colony on Jordanian territory, ostensibly in retaliation for Jordan's opposition to Israeli plans to close the Maghareba Bridge to the Al Aqsa Mosque.

In retrospect, it was clearly the destabilising and abhorrent nature of such policies which led the UN to adopt Resolution 3379 in 1975 determining that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination". Like the apartheid regime in South Africa with which it was organically linked, Israel became a pariah state until 1991 when the Madrid process was launched.

On September 23, 1991, President George Bush Senior told the UN General Assembly, "To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and indeed throughout history". On December 16, 1991 the UN General Assembly revoked Resolution 3379, with a vote of 111 to 25 (with 13 abstentions). How different things would have been today had the Palestinian leadership and Arab states rejected the US-Israeli condition for participation in the Madrid conference; that's right, the revocation of UN Resolution 3379. They have only themselves to blame today.

The FT was absolutely right to draw attention to the objectionable discriminatory laws passed in Israel over the past year. However, the Nakba Law which bans state-funded bodies from commemorating the Palestinian Catastrophe of 1948, and the Boycott Law, which penalises Israelis who call for a boycott of illegal Israeli settlements, are only the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole raft of similar laws which MEMO has pointed to in the past.

Twenty years after the revocation of Resolution 3379, the time has come for more action and less talk. It must start with the PLO itself which enjoys undoubted global support for its just national cause. Its leaders must now work tirelessly with and without UN agencies in the global arena to expose and mobilise support against the plague of Israeli racism. Western politicians who continue to give unconditional support to Israel and make excuses for these policies should be held accountable by their people for the irreparable damage they cause to their national interests. Israel asserts its own right to exist and yet negates the rights of others to do likewise. Politicians in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels who back Israel and its apartheid-like policies cannot complain if they are accused of complicity in the crimes it commits. The time for excuses is over, even for Israel.

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Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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International perspectives on apartheid and decolonization in Palestine
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