I was deeply offended by the recent op-ed by Alaa Milbes and Dina Zbeidy, which compares Israeli society to apartheid South Africa and Jim Crow in the United States (April 8, 2011). Its allegation is false and offensive to anyone who champions universal equal rights and wishes to uphold the memory of detrimental practices. The authors' blatant insensitivity to these landmark events undermines the significant progress the world has made with regard to race relations.
Examples of Israeli-Arab success in Israel are not examples of tokenism or attempts to whitewash Israeli society. The truth is, Israel is not perfect, and neither is any other western democracy. The United States suffers from various forms of discrimination that affect several of its communities. However, no rational person would label the United States as an apartheid system. Similarly, while there are female members of Congress, they certainly do not comprise 50 percent of representatives. Does this lack prove the United States is misogynistic? If the existence of prejudice and inequality were to demonstrate apartheid, then every country in the world would fall under this indictment. So the real question is this: Why did the author not equate every nation to one of South African apartheid or Jim Crow? Why is there a double standard applied to Israel?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the author’s most offensive claim, namely that Israel (and, subsequently, Zionism) is a colonial enterprise. The author implicitly claims that just as European colonists oppressed the indigenous South Africans, Jews expelled and continue to oppress the Palestinians. Any historically-minded person should have serious qualms with this claim. Unlike European colonists, Jews have had a long connection to Israel, and Zionism is largely an answer to two thousand years of anti-Semitic discrimination and violence—a cause with which any promoter of civil rights should empathize. What this claim does is compare the Israeli-Palestinian relationship to the uncontrolled exploitation of black people by Europeans, something that is a gross mischaracterization of the Zionist movement. Rather than denigrate the national aspirations of the Jewish people, the authors should recognize that Jews deserve the same right to self-determination that every group ought to enjoy.
By misrepresenting Israeli society and belittling Zionism, the authors diminish the suffering of segregation’s victims. Apartheid and Jim Crow are not simply tangential anecdotes that can be used for political expediency, but are devastating historical episodes that ravaged the lives of millions and still play a part in the very real racial resentment that exists today. Jim Crow is a system that reinforced the persisting idea that black Americans are second-class citizens. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, segregation’s crippling side effects can be found in major American institutions and still have profound psychological impacts within black America. The reality is that no other nation on earth has the complex race problems that exist in America. It is clear that the authors don’t understand this sensitive historical matter, or they would have reconsidered making such a comparison.
But my problem with this incident goes further. It is so much more than just a hyperbolic comparison—it is the underlying issue at hand: hatred. This on-campus tension comes from misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge. Instead of resorting to behind-the-back, petty attacks, both sides need to grow up and act like adults. Demonizing each other will not further either side’s cause but will only lead to more ignorance and hatred. As a student at one of the most advanced institutions of higher education, I am pained to see students willingly forego a logical approach to problem-solving to act on their feelings of disagreement in a hateful, childish manner.
Rather than taint the Columbia campus with hateful rhetoric, both Palestinian and Israeli activists at Columbia should promote peaceful negotiations to the Israel-Palestine conflict. While it may seem clichéd, the real solution is to come together and identify areas of agreement between the two groups. I’m sure the entire campus would see the situation in a much more positive light.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in economics. He is a member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Columbia University College Republicans.