Over the past few weeks "Israeli apartheid week" events have occurred at a number of campuses throughout North America and Europe. This year’s timing is especially unfortunate: while this political warfare, accompanied by BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign is happening, the Syrian regime is massacring its own people.
In light of this, it is especially sad that people who call themselves human rights activists waste their time and energy attacking Israel. It is clear that the campaign explicitly targets the existence of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. In the words of Professor Irwin Cotler, former Canadian attorney general, "Let there be no mistake about it: to indict Israel as an Apartheid State is prologue and justification for the dismantling of the Jewish State, for the criminalization of its supporters, and for the consequential silencing of their speech."
This campaign immorally exploits the suffering of the real victims of apartheid and racism, and transforms a complex political dispute between the Palestinians and Israel into a racial conflict. The comparison was categorically rejected and denounced by Judge Richard Goldstone in The New York Times. Goldstone, who is a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court, wrote that, "In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute…"
Goldstone added that "while 'apartheid' can have broader meaning, its use is meant to evoke the situation in pre-1994 South Africa. It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations."
Many others who had experienced the real apartheid expressed similar views. Benjamin Pogrund, who was a journalist in South Africa, wrote, "Use of the apartheid label is at best ignorant and naive and at worst cynical and manipulative."
Infinite hypocrisyThis cynicism is especially prominent now that Assad’s regime is mercilessly massacring its own people. During the past month, hundreds of people were murdered just in the city of Homs. But in Syria, where an Alawite minority has been oppressing the Sunni majority for decades, the regime – like other dictatorships – was immune to criticism until the outbreak of brutal violence in the recent months, especially from groups claiming to promote human rights.
Does a state in which a small minority violently oppresses the majority not deserve a week (in Israel’s case, actually a month) of attention focused on its crimes? And what about Saudi Arabia, which bans members of other religions from entering parts of the country, and where women are not allowed to drive or leave their house without a family member accompanying them? Where is “Saudi discrimination week”? And we haven’t even mentioned the situation of Christians in Israel’s neighbors, in Gaza and in the West bank. The examples are infinite, as is the hypocrisy.
In the face of these blatant double standards, the power of the "apartheid" campaign is derived from resources that are available in both political and financial forms. Politically, as noted, this divisive agenda is supported by the Arab and Islamic blocs in the United Nations and associated institutions, with active support from Russia and China. They firmly reject any attempt to condemn real human rights violations, and use anti-Israel campaigns to divert criticism.
Financially, the availability of significant European government funding allows ostensible human rights organizations to actively promote the "apartheid" libel. At the same time, these organizations are embarrassingly silent when faced with human rights violations in the Muslim-Arab world in general and in Syria specifically. At most, they issue belated and half-hearted condemnations.
Finally, the crude exploitation of the "apartheid" libel and the accompanying BDS campaigns are the antithesis of the mutual acceptance required for peace, and serve the purposes of murderous dictatorships. As Judge Goldstone wrote, "The mutual recognition and protection of the human dignity of all people is indispensable to bringing an end to hatred and anger. The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony."
Gerald M. Steinberg is the founder and president of NGO Monitor and professor of political science at Bar Ilan University