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Israel: more than 900 academics and artists denounce occupation as ‘apartheid’

August 15, 2023 at 2:34 pm

Protesters stand are holding a banner that equates Israel with apartheid [Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

More than 900 academics and public figures engaged in cultural activities including artists, museum professionals and art historians, have signed an open letter condemning Israel’s apartheid system, New York’s Hyperallergic magazine has reported. Under the heading “The Elephant in The Room”, the letter has been circulating over the past week within academic and cultural spheres as it establishes a “direct link” between the Israeli coalition government’s judicial overhaul and its control over Palestinian territories. It urges the Jewish community in North America to break their silence on the matter.

“American Jews have long been at the forefront of social justice causes, from racial equality to abortion rights, but have paid insufficient attention to the elephant in the room: Israel’s long-standing occupation that, we repeat, has yielded a regime of apartheid,” say the signatories, more than 100 of whom are currently associated with Israeli academic institutions. They include prominent Israeli historian Benny Morris and Avraham Burg, who previously headed the Jewish Agency and is a former member of the Knesset.

Lior Sternfeld, an Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Pennsylvania State University, is one of the organisers of the letter, which “shows that the moment is ripe to consider serious policy changes.”

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He noted that the significance of this letter is that there are several Israeli academics who have signed the letter who, in the past, would have declined to draw a parallel between the occupation and apartheid. He particularly highlighted the support from Morris and three former Israeli ambassadors. Coincidentally, two former US ambassadors to Israel have called recently for an end to Washington’s aid to the occupation state. 

The open letter’s signatories note that the Palestinians have been overlooked in the ongoing demonstrations about the future of Israeli democracy that have persisted for more than seven months. “Palestinian people lack almost all basic rights, including the right to vote and protest. They face constant violence: this year alone, Israeli forces have killed over 190 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and demolished over 590 structures. Settler vigilantes burn, loot and kill with impunity.”

Moreover, they point out that the issues with Jewish supremacy did not originate with the present right-wing government, but with the 2018 Nation State Law, which defines self-determination as unique to the Jewish people within the “State of Israel”. One fifth of all Israeli citizens are non-Jews, nearly all of whom identify as Palestinian Arabs.

“Despite its obvious flaws, this statement, signed by almost 1,000 predominantly Jewish and Jewish-Israeli scholars, is a substantial step forward towards recognising the comprehensive rights of the indigenous Palestinian people and towards dismantling Israel’s 75-year-old regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid,” commented the co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Omar Barghouti. “The main flaw in the statement is its omission of the true elephant in the room: the UN-stipulated rights of Palestinian refugees, who constitute two-thirds of the indigenous Palestinian people, to return and to receive reparations.” 

Over the past few years, a number of major human rights organisations have said that Israel has passed the threshold for being described as an apartheid state, including B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

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