I like and respect Benjamin Pogrund enormously, but he is wrong on three counts ("Israeli policy is not apartheid," August 25.)
Since 2002, apartheid has been defined as a crime against humanity in international law. That definition is enshrined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which refers to the definition of apartheid in the 1973 United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
South Africa (or to be accurate southern Africa) is only mentioned once in the ICSPCA, as providing an example of the “policies and practices” of racial discrimination. It then goes on to define them in detail, without reference to South Africa. The Rome Statute doesn’t mention South Africa at all, other than specifying it as a signatory to the treaty (from 1998) and in various footnotes and references.
All of which means that apartheid has an international legal standing beyond and irrespective of its roots in South Africa. It is the exemplar of apartheid, but by no means the required model.
All that is necessary is that a country commit “inhumane acts,” as defined by the statute, in the context of an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime,” as paraphrased in the first paragraph of Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
Anyone who thinks Israel fits that description can legitimately and accurately describe it as an apartheid state. Those are the facts. The rest is just semantics – and the pedantic flogging of a dead horse.
The fact that Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute has no bearing on the validity of its definition of apartheid in international law.
But it’s another statement by Pogrund that’s the real hair-raiser. “What [Bradley] Burston insists is apartheid,” he writes, “are the actions of a right-wing government behaving like a right-wing government.”
Really? As if the occupation began with Benjamin Netanyahu and he, rather than Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, was the godfather of the settlements. As if it was a right-wing government that conducted the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and developed Israel’s clandestine nuclear capacity (according to foreign reports), thus thrusting the entire region into a nuclear arms race.
As if Israel’s current government is a Jewish version of Margaret Thatcher’s or Silvio Berlusconi’s – a little rough around the edges, a bit too strident in its pronouncements and no friend of the working man – but basically well within the Western, democratic consensus.
Israel’s colonial dispossession and subjugation of the Palestinians began long before Netanyahu and long before the first right-wing government took office in 1977. In fact, it began long before the first so-called left-wing government took office as well.
The Israel of today – irredentist, paranoid, intolerant and increasingly unhinged – is the culmination of a process that began at the turn of the 20th century, when the early Zionists created the myth of a “land without people for a people without land” and set about expropriating Palestinian land. (Not dissimilar, by the way, to the hundreds of years of racial discrimination that preceded the formal system known as apartheid.)
It took more than one group of right-wing Israeli politicians, however toxic, to create the “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime,” described by the Rome Statute. It took over 100 years of determined effort – including wars, massacres, population upheavals, mass detentions, discriminatory legislation, military administration, arbitrary killings and so on – until Israel got to where it is today.
Rather than Pogrund’s blithe “right-wing government behaving like a right-wing government,” (with its promise that everything could just change at the next elections,) Israel is a solid, seemingly immovable edifice of colonial revanchism and ethnic superiority, led by a fanatic cult bent on ultimate glory or suicide.
In such a situation, I’m afraid Pogrund’s prescription of "Keep strong, stay on track" is of little comfort.
And then there’s Pogrund’s outlandish statement that “Opponents [of the apartheid regime in South Africa] felt helpless to stem the tide. But they stood firm and went on believing in a nonracist and democratic South Africa.”
Come on, Benjy, that’s just a little too much icing on the rainbow-nation cake. Some, mainly white, opponents stood firm and kept on believing, but many others – black, white and in-between – turned to violence. The regime deliberately turned tribes against each other; hundreds of thousands of people died in ethnic violence. Even more left the country in despair. The economy collapsed and South Africa became a failed state. Over 20 years later, it has yet to recover.
That South Africa didn’t disintegrate into civil war was more luck, Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk than anything else. It could easily have gone the other way. Is Pogrund really recommending that we chance the same thing here in Israel?
Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv and an editor at the English edition of Haaretz. He has worked on newspapers in both South Africa and Israel.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now