Updated: March 24th, 8:26 p.m.
A few weeks ago the Internet community was engulfed in a heated debate about the true colors of a dress. The dress itself is ultimately of little importance, but what emerged from the subsequent scientific explanations was the understanding that perspective is everything. Because of the tricks of light that changed the perception of the pigments, those who saw the dress as white and gold fervently believed in their perception of reality. But the truth—that the dress was blue and black—ultimately prevailed.
This week on campus, during Israel Apartheid Week, some students will be making the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. But Israel is no more an apartheid state than the dress is white and gold. The claim of Israeli apartheid is a trick of the light; with good lighting, the truth—that Israel is a modern nation state struggling to strike a balance between maintaining security and preserving the liberties of free speech, press, movement and more—is illuminated.
As has been done for several years on Low Plaza, students have erected a copy of what they claim is Israel's apartheid wall. In reality, this "apartheid wall" is a security fence that mostly traces the 1949 demarcation line and was built in response to the surge in terror attacks during the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli government and people that lasted from 2000 to 2005. It was not built for the purpose of dividing Israel along race lines, as is claimed by its detractors. Even former South African judge Richard Goldstone, who has often been critical of Israel, wrote in the New York Times that "the charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one."
In U.N. Resolution 3068, apartheid is defined as "policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination … committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons." In Israel, no such system exists. The security fence is not a beacon of "apartheid," but rather a security measure. This is substantiated by the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shalah, who acknowledged that Israel's security fence was a defensive structure that "limits the ability of the resistance to arrive deep within to carry out suicide bombing attacks."
In an apartheid state, such as the one that existed in South Africa, the oppression of minorities is enshrined in law, and as such, minorities are unable to voice their opinions in mainstream media or develop into a political force. In the recent Israeli elections the Joint List, an amalgamation of four smaller Arab parties, became the third largest party in the Knesset, Israel's legislative body. Many of these members deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Hanin Zoabi, the first Arab woman elected to the Knesset, has denounced Israeli soldiers as terrorists and has compared the Israel Defense Forces to ISIS. In most countries, these statements would be grounds for removal from public office. But in Israeli civil law, the very laws that in a true apartheid state would prevent Zoabi from ever seeking public office have allowed Zoabi to continue to serve.
The claim of apartheid becomes more complicated in the West Bank. Unfortunately, the security fence does in fact create problems for West Bank Palestinians who travel back and forth and within the West Bank. Israel, which exists in a tumultuous geopolitical environment and is constantly threatened by terror and extremism, must navigate the balance between security and liberty. To say that Israel has perfected this balance would be dishonest, but so is claiming that Israel is an apartheid state. The term "apartheid" is just a quick way for Israel's detractors to delegitimize Israel by conflating a complex conflict with a simple matter of right and wrong.
There are legitimate problems in Israel that need to be addressed; however, we cannot honestly engage with them if we are operating under inaccurate terminology. We cannot deny that discrimination exists in Israel and, unfortunately, in every country in the world. But as Dr. Mohammed Wattad, a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East clarified, "the existence of discrimination in a state does not mean it is an apartheid state."
This year, unlike past years, Aryeh (formerly LionPAC) is not out on college walk. Instead, that space is being used by Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish group that advocates the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel. We feel it is important to clarify that no one group—not JVP, not Aryeh—is the definitive "Jewish voice." The Jewish community is diverse, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated. Working toward a fair solution means discussing these uncomfortable realities openly and honestly—not with theatrics and chants. That is the beauty and success of the marketplace of ideas. We need to differentiate between what is subjective, and the tricks of light that veil facts that are as objective as the colors of a dress.
The simple fact is that Israel is not an apartheid state. To claim otherwise is to intentionally misrepresent and manipulate facts. Don't be fooled by the illusion.
Marissa Young is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science. Daniella Greenbaum is a Barnard College sophomore majoring in English. Daniel Parmet is a School of General Studies and Jewish Theological Seminary Joint Program senior majoring in economic history. All are members of Aryeh's executive board. This piece is written on behalf of Aryeh.
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