I Love Israel, and I Am Not Ashamed: Reflections on “Israeli Apartheid Week”

I love Israel, and I am not ashamed. I love Israel because I believe that the Jewish people, like all peoples, have the right to self-determination. I love Israel because after millennia of persecution, it provides Jews a much needed place of refuge. I love Israel because I am an atheist Jew who feels a profound connection to the Jewish people’s historic homeland, from which my people were expelled by the Romans(1).

My love of Israel does not prevent me from admitting that it has faults. Just as I consider it a false notion that American patriotism means enthusiastic flag waving and blind acceptance of every action our country takes, I believe the narrative that a pro-Israel stance must mean supporting all Israeli policy is every bit as unreasonable. Just as I firmly disagree with many policies of the current American government, I am not a proponent of the Netanyahu administration, and I am strongly against settlement expansion in the West Bank. Despite the fact that the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are among the freest Arabs in the Middle East, many suffer discrimination by their fellow Israeli citizens, and work must be done to rectify these injustices. Despite the fact that the majority of the non-Israeli Palestinians in the West Bank live under their own Palestinian administrative control, they do live difficult lives, in part because of Israeli security measures, and there ought to be a collective effort to improve their conditions.

In Gaza, however, Palestinians live under the brutal government of Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the US (2) and EU (3). Unfortunately, after Israel uprooted eight thousand settlers in its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Hamas, which actually calls for the genocide of Jews in its charter (4), rose to power. Hamas has repeatedly orchestrated suicide bombings against Israeli citizens (5), and since its takeover of Gaza, has periodically launched rockets from the Gaza Strip toward civilians (6). Many Israelis desperately want peace, but they are mortally afraid that a withdrawal from the West Bank would soon lead to Hamas control of the area, leaving Israel 9 miles wide at its narrowest point (7) and with its largest city, Jerusalem, directly adjacent to the West Bank extremely vulnerable to further attacks.  

Supporters of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to economically isolate Israel, frequently frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a straightforward case of power dynamics. In focusing primarily on Israel’s current strength while largely overlooking the historic vulnerability of the Jewish people and the dangerous threats Israel continues to face, they turn an exceedingly complex situation into a unilateral condemnation of one side. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has no easy answers, and oversimplifications only serve to discourage nuanced dialogue and decrease sympathy on both sides.

One of the most troubling examples of this concerning rhetorical trend is “Israeli Apartheid Week,” which was held at Haverford this past week and occurs annually on campuses across the world. During these events, organizations that support BDS attempt to sell students a narrative replete with distortions. The very title of this week slanders Israel while ignoring the thoroughly invalidating fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel have equal voting rights in the State of Israel (8) and hold one seventh of the seats in the Israeli Parliament (9). The title additionally conflates occupation with apartheid in the West Bank. Even Richard Goldstone, a South African former chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals who has written highly critically of Israel, explained that the situation in the West Bank lacks the characteristics that defined South African Apartheid, as “there is no intent to maintain ‘an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group (10).’”  Goldstone’s assertion is bolstered by the fact that Israel has offered peace treaty propositions to withdraw from virtually all of the West Bank in both 2000 and 2008 (11). To be clear, I disagree with much of Israeli policy in the West Bank, but the situation just does not amount to apartheid. BDS proponents also generally ignore that the occupation arose in direct response to Jordan’s war against Israel in 1967.

The platform for the international parent organization of Israeli Apartheid Week claims that “Palestinian citizens of Israel are barred from controlling and developing over 90% of the land,” a malicious distortion that omits the essential fact that most land in Israel is owned by the government (12). The Israel Land Administration leases rather than sells land in the state of Israel, and does so to both Jewish and Palestinian citizens (13). Apparently holding a lease for land does not constitute “control.” If we follow this logic, Israeli Jewish citizens are also “barred from controlling and developing” the same 90% of land. The platform also laments that Jews can automatically become citizens of Israel, entirely ignoring the murderous treatment Jews have endured periodically throughout the centuries that makes this Law of Return so necessary. Further, this law is not without precedent, as similar rules allowing ethnic groups to become citizens of their respective people’s countries have been adopted by at least 22 other countries (14). Additionally, BDS supporters often frame the conflict as between white European Israelis and Palestinians of color, overlooking that more than half of Israeli Jews are direct descendants from the Middle East and North Africa (15).

On many campuses, BDS supporters put up a “wall” to symbolize the security barrier Israel built to prevent terrorist attacks, without mentioning that it was erected in direct response to the murder of more than 700 Israeli civilians (16). They disregard the 800,000 Jews who became refugees from Arab countries after the 1948 War (17), and instead demand the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, omitting facts about these refugees that are crucial to understanding the situation. The majority of the Palestinian refugee population of 750,000 was created in 1948 after the Arabs rejected the existence of a Jewish state alongside a state of Palestine, and instead waged a war against the Jews (18). Palestinian refugees are the only group in the world who have their UN refugee status passed down through generations by blood (19). As a result of this unique designation, the original 750,000 Palestinian refugees have grown into a current population of more than five million (20), roughly 40 percent as large as Israel’s 8.6 million population.

The narrative that these groups espouse is but one perspective. We should certainly look critically at all sides of a story, and many of the arguments that BDS proponents present are fueled by a myriad of factual distortions. Although they pin the blame for the Palestinians’ situation almost entirely on Israel, much of it unfortunately lies at the feet of Palestinian leaders whose rejectionism, incompetence, and corruption has irrefutably increased their people’s misery. Indeed, Palestinians living in the West Bank should have the right to vote for their own government in the Palestinian Authority, and are only prevented from doing so because their President, Mahmoud Abbas, is inexplicably in the 13th year of his 4-year term (21). Moreover, the Palestinian Authority government provides the school textbooks in the West Bank, and many of these books erase Israel from the map, replacing it with Palestine (22). By indoctrinating the next generation of Palestinians, the government ensures that future Palestinian leaders will feel entitled to nothing less than all of Israel and continue to systematically reject every Israeli peace offer.

I am not ashamed of my love for Israel, although BDS supporters frequently paint a misleading picture that makes this view seem impossible to reconcile with morality. Israel may fall short of the unachievable standards these groups hold it to, but it has long been an oasis of freedom in a very troubled part of the world. I am not ashamed to love a country that has endured and persevered in spite of being repeatedly attacked since its establishment. Despite its current status as a powerful nation, had Israel not emerged victorious from wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973, it would have been destroyed. I am not ashamed to love a country that protects the Jewish people in a world where history has shown time and time again that other countries are utterly incapable of doing so. I love Israel, and I am not ashamed.

1.http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5169-diaspora

2. https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

3. http://www.loc.gov/law/help/EUTerroristLists.pdf

4. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp

5. http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/12/30/hamas.profile/

6. http://www.btselem.org/israeli_civilians/qassam_missiles

7. https://www.stratfor.com/video/israels-geographic-challenge

8. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-status-of-arabs-in-israel

9. http://www.timesofisrael.com/by-the-lists-all-120-incoming-knesset-members/

10. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/israel-and-the-apartheid-slander.html

11. http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=83&x_article=2116

12. http://apartheidweek.org/basis-of-unity/

13. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/israel-lands-privatization-or-national-ownership

14. http://www.rishon-rishon.com/archives/178474.html

15. http://www.cija.ca/resource/israel-the-basics/demographics-of-israel/

16.

https://www.swuconnect.com/insys/npoflow.v.2/_assets/pdfs/fact_sheets/The%20Security%   20Barrier%20Factsheet%20%281%29.pdf

17. https://www.adl.org/education/resources/glossary-terms/palestinian-refugees

18. http://www.mideastweb.org/refugees1.htm

19. https://www.adl.org/education/resources/glossary-terms/palestinian-refugees

20. https://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

21. http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2017/01/today-is-beginning-of-13th-year-of-of.html

22. http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=122

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39 Responses

  1. 5C Member of Team Goat says:

    Great piece, Eitan!

  2. Thank you for writing this, Eitan. Too often, supporters of Israel are unwilling to counter the lies of SJP and similar organizations. Haverford has a long history of encouraging intellectual inquiry from its students, yet at many colleges, SJP tries to shut down debate and prevent people from hearing a more complete picture of this complex conflict.

  3. Anonymous Supporter says:

    Good read!

  4. Anon says:

    The islamophobia and casual racism in this piece is astounding

    • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

      Could you please elaborate?

      • Anon says:

        “Despite the fact that the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are among the freest Arabs in the Middle East”

        Deciding that people who live under occupation and – in the words of actual Palestinians – apratheid are more “free” than their Arab brethren is racist and islamophobic

      • Anon says:

        “largely overlooking the historic vulnerability of the Jewish people and the dangerous threats Israel continues to face”

        I think the persecution of Jewish people and anti-semitism that has existed throughout history and persists to the current day is well understood by most, especially considering that adovactes for Palestine routinely point out the hypocrisy of a persecuted people colonizing and persecuting other people. If Israel continues to face opposition it’s because they continue to occupy Palestinian land

      • Anon says:

        “the government ensures that future Palestinian leaders will feel entitled to nothing less than all of Israel”

        Imagine feeling so entitled to a piece of land that you’re willing to throw the previous residents out and create a dialogue about it being your rightful home. Yup, Palestinians are the only ones who have done that, mhm

        • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

          I fail to see how any of the passages you quoted were islamophobic. The 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are not “occupied,” they are citizens. For more on that and your other points see Michael Harris’ response below. If you have concerns, please reach out to me as I would prefer to have a dialogue about this in person and when you aren’t anonymous.

          • Martha says:

            How are they citizens? I live in Palestine and have had my houses demolished, my grandma killed, and my school bombed?

          • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

            I think you are intentionally conflating Palestinian citizens of Israel with those in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian citizens of Israel are indeed citizens. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not. If you can please cite the evidence of when Israel bombed a school of Palestinian citizens of Israel, I would appreciate it.

        • Anon2 says:

          I am also pro-Palestine but I don’t agree that this article is islamophobic or racist. All the passages you cite fail to support your argument. I disagree with many points here, but trying to morally justify my disagreement with labels of islamophobia or racism would me searching for moral high-ground to lean on. Anon, by invoking those words here you only make light of real racism and islamophobia that is happening all around us today.

          • Anon says:

            I fail to see how a blanket statement condemning the entire Middle East in comparison to Israel DOESN’T constitute racism???

          • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

            I want to give Anon2 a stab at this response too but it is preposterous to say that acknowledging that Palestinian citizens of Israel have more rights than much of the rest of the Middle East is racist. My claim is easily backed up by the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote in fully democratic elections, which is more than can be said for many other countries. Additionally, you can check out Freedom House which rates countries on freedom: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2016. There’s a pretty large disparity between Israel and the countries surrounding it…

  5. JewishLivesMatter says:

    Fantastic article Eitan! Anyone that fails to recognize Israel’s legitmacy is flat out anti-Semitic or just have a very low IQ. It’s common sense, compare Israel to how other Middle East countries act. In Israel, if a Muslim, Jew, or Christian is gay nothing happens to them. In Saudi Arabia, if anyone is gay they are beheaded or thrown off a building. Furthermore, Jews can’t even live in Saudi. Moreover, one must keep in mind that these settlements are so miniature in size, sometimes the size of 15-40 yards. The amount of land stolen from Israel does not equate to this minuscule plots of land which are being used to prevent crowding and over population.

    • Anon says:

      Thank you for your Islamophobic and racist anti-Arab rhetoric. Yes I believe Israel should not exist. Do I believe there should be a homeland for Jewish people who have been persecuted throughout history? Absolutely. Do I believe it should be Israel, an apartheid regime who colonized and occupies Palestinian land? Nope

      Also way to appropriate #BlackLivesMatter. Really on the ball with your racism today

      • OtherAnon says:

        I wasn’t going to comment because we clearly see things very very differently to the point that any dialogue will probably be borderline useless BUT

        I was incredibly amused by your accusation of appropriating #BlackLivesMatter. Did you know there’s actually a movement called Native Lives Matter which focuses on issues faced by Native American communities? Are they also committing the crime of appropriating a twitter hashtag? Do you comment on their sites and accuse them of racism? Maybe you also go around reprimanding anyone who stands up for their own communities on their various internet pages- LatinoLivesMatter, MuslimLivesMatter, etc etc etc? Why do you think making a username supporting the validity of Jewish existence constitutes racism?? Does arbitrary nitpicking like that happening here not diminish say.. actual racism.. or even actual disrespect to supporters of BlackLivesMatter?

        Regarding your other comments on this specific thread, again- I don’t want to argue basic ideas here, I’m just curious- where do you think Jewish people should go? Also, what do you make of all of the historical and archeological evidence tying Jewish people to the land? I would honestly be interested in hearing your response.

  6. As an alumnus, I’m quite disappointed in the responses of “Anon” above. The Honor Code text has changed somewhat since my days on campus, but the underlying principles remain a key component of life at Haverford.
    “For our diverse community to prosper, we must embrace our differences and be mindful of our varied perspectives and backgrounds; this goal is only possible if students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication. The Honor Code holds us accountable for our words and actions, and guides us in resolving conflicts by engaging each other in dialogue.” Be accountable for your words, Anon. Tell us who you are. I stand by my words- do you?

    “We must consider how our words and actions, regardless of the medium, may affect the sense of acceptance essential to an individual’s or group’s participation in the community. We strive to foster an environment that genuinely encourages respectful expression of differing values in honest and open discussion.” Anon, are you encouraging respectful expression, or are you using language that belittles someone who disagrees with you?

    Finally, Anon, are you being intellectually honest? Are you claiming that 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel live under “occupation”? Can you cite the laws of Israel that determine that? And you claim that opposition to Israel exists “because they continue to occupy Palestinian land”. So please answer this question: If Israel were to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines (which were not recognized by Arab states as borders) and evacuated every Jew living across them, would you then accept and recognize the right of Israel to live in peace, as the state of the Jewish people?

    • Anon says:

      I don’t really believe that Israel is a legal and just state, so no. I’d be happy with returning Palestinian land to Palestinians, just like I support giving land the United States colonized back to Native Americans.

      For another, I do understand quite well why a Jewish state is desired. Indeed, I even support the creation of one. However, under no circumstances do I support a Jewish state that’s created through colonization and occupation.

      Also I’m happy that you feel comfortable enough to share your name. As a current student, I do not feel comfortable sharing my name on this platform, especially since it’s all against one, though I do stand by my words and would be amenable to talking to someone one on one. In addition, the option to add your name rather than necessitating a sign-in invites individuals to present however they wish. Will you ask the other anonymous voices on this forum to identify themselves? Or are you only interested in targeting and isolating the one dissenting voice?

      Is this not the dialogue you criticized SJP for supposedly not being interested in? My voice and my opinions are just as valid.

      That being said, I do not believe that occupation and colonization should be met with respect. Israel is practicing violent apartheid. Indeed, here are reports conducted by the UN on the exact damage done by the Israeli government to Palestinians: https://www.unescwa.org/sites/www.unescwa.org/files/publications/files/ecri-08-1-e.pdf
      https://www.unescwa.org/publications/sg-note-socio-economic-repercussions-israeli-occupation-2016
      https://www.unescwa.org/publications/effects-health-2014-israeli-offensive-gaza-strip

      Please read these and then try to say that Palestinians are more “free” than anyone else in the Middle East.

      Just as I accept and support revolts against a state that oppresses its people – see #BlackLivesMatter, #NoDAPL – so I support the reclamation of Palestine.

      • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

        When you say the report was “conducted by the UN,” you give the false impression that the UN put a stamp of approval on it. The report was conducted by a small organization within the UN, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and EXPLICITLY said that it reflected ONLY the opinions of the authors (like 9/11 conspiracy theorist Richard Falk) and not the broader UN. The UN general also clearly stated that the views in the report did not reflect the views of the UN, and the report was subsequently pulled. Please be honest, the details are important.

        • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

          Also, you say that you “would be amenable to talking to someone one on one,” yet I commented above asking you to reach out so that we could talk one on one and you both ignored the comment and didn’t reach out.

      • JewishHaverfordian says:

        It’s funny that you compared the Palestinians to the Native Americans as if they were the original settlers of Israel. THE ENTIRE POINT OF ISRAEL IS THAT THE JEWS SETTLED IT OVER 5000 YEARS AGO. The Jews ARE the original settlers, so if you really want to use that analogy, the Palestinians should give it back to the Jewish people!

    • Anon says:

      One other thing: I do not have to take as valid any rhetoric that favors the oppression of a group of people. You will not see me normalizing Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants or refugees, I will not defend Obama’s record amount of deportations, I will not side with police. To not just ignore but outright say that a system of oppression is not in place when people are dying and have been displaced is the epitome of privilege and ignorance.

  7. 'ymous says:

    Well done! Sober, well written, and factually supported. A rarity in today’s post truth world!

  8. anonym says:

    Great article! This provided great insight into the ongoing conflict.

  9. Gabrielle Smith '17 says:

    So how would you explain the Ethiopian Jews who are in concentration camps in Israel?

    • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

      I find this incredibly offensive. Concentration camps were for the systematic slaughtering of Jews. Ethiopian Jews, although they face serious discrimination, were airlifted by the Israeli government to Israel in Operation Moses and Solomon. Israel went to save Ethiopian Jews when they were in dire need. The fact that far too many Ethiopian Jews live in impoverished neighborhoods in Israel does not mean that they live in “concentration camps.” Here is some reading about Ethiopian Jews after Israel airlifted them from Africa.
      http://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/26/world/ethiopian-jews-and-israelis-exult-as-airlift-is-completed.html

    • bmc student says:

      I am very uncomfortable with this comment. By equating the treatment of Ethiopian Jews in Israel with the means of extermination used by the Nazis, you are continuing a common problematic rhetoric of social anti-semitism. I am not very familiar with this issue, however, by using this language you are delegitimizing the existence and history of Jewish people.

      • Memes says:

        Wait, concentration camps existed exclusively in the Holocaust? Such a model has never been applied before and after the Holocaust? Ok

        • Eitan Geller-Montague says:

          Do you agree with Gabrielle Smith’s claim that there are concentration camps in Israel for Ethiopian Jews, and if so, can you please provide evidence for this accusation?

  10. JewishLivesMatter says:

    Wow utterly shocked anon. Racist? My ass. As an interracial Jew whom is anything but racist and has faced overt discrimination. I love the typical undeducated ideology of accuse, accuse, accuse. Keep using trigger words and see where it’s gonna get you. “Islamaphobic” “Racist”. Please articulate how I’m these things without providing any support. Please go ahead and call out Muslim Lives Matter, Latino Lives Matter, and Gay Lives Matter before starting with a race of people whom have been attempted to be wiped off the face of the earth mere decades ago. #JewishLivesMatter

  11. JewishLivesMatter says:

    Furthermore Anon, you are one big bigot and a racist to suggest Jewish Lives Don’t Matter. Typical anti-Israel, BDS supporter whose real motives lie with anti-Semitism.

  12. Jeffk says:

    Good article. It covers a lot of area well.

    Just a personal opinion but I would have spent less time defending the charge of apartheid and a couple more sentences promoting the idea of a two state solution once both sides are ready (they aren’t currently) and the need for both populations to be prepared and understand the the sacrifices that would be required for a two state solution.

  13. Welton says:

    Accusations of Islamophobia are simply ways to shut down the discourse and silence criticism

  14. Excellent piece in the NY Times yesterday by Ben Pogrund, a South African Israeli, who calmly and rationally examines the differences between the two countries.
    His conclusion is entirely appropriate to some of the comments here, as well as to the tone of the hypocritical “Israel Apartheid Week” overall:
    “South African apartheid rigidly enforced racial laws. Israel is not remotely comparable. Yet the members of the B.D.S. movement are not stupid. For them to propagate this analogy in the name of human rights is cynical and manipulative. It reveals their true attitude toward Jews and the Jewish state. Their aims would eliminate Israel. That is what’s at stake when we allow the apartheid comparison.”

    Israel is not immune to criticism– Pogrund lays out quite a bit of reasonable criticism in this piece. But there’s a difference between criticism based on facts, and epithets (“Racism! Islamophobia!”) that are not based on facts, but rather are designed to shut down debate.

    At least I’ll give Anon credit for one point of honesty– he/she is very open about refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state within any part of the indigenous Jewish homeland at all. And THAT is indeed the true goal of BDS.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/opinion/why-israel-is-nothing-like-apartheid-south-africa.html?smid=tw-nytopinion&smtyp=cur&_r=0

  15. Brandon West '07 says:

    So many people here trying to speak for people they haven’t probably ever met or interacted with. You want to know what Palestinians and Arab Israelis think? Read their books and articles. Or better yet, talk to Palestinian alums of HC. They exist. But by all means stay siloed in your own notion of what this conflict is about and make it fit your world view. That’s another option.

    • JewishHaverfordian says:

      You’re also speaking for Jewish people… Are you Jewish? Do you know how this affects Jewish people?

  16. Jeff Kerper says:

    Well said and researched, fact based and from the heart. I appreciate you standing up for Israel. What I’ve come to realize, backed up by many of the anon comments here, is that the Palestinians don’t really want peace, don’t really want their own state. What they want is Israel, or revenge, or some mix of the two. When Palestinian supporters use the term ‘the occupation’, they are not referring to the West Bank. They mean Israel proper. They didn’t accept the UN partition in 1948, they (and the greater Arab world) attacked in ’56, ’67, 73…….and yet, Israel clearly wants peace. They gave back the Sinai to Egypt, they have been at peace with Jordan, the pulled back from the buffer zone in Lebanon, and they withdrew from Gaza. But the Palestinian leadership wants none of it. They’ve turned down peace offers because it will undercut their main goal, which is the destruction of Israel. What have they done to make anyone think otherwise? Their charter calls for it, they teach it in their schools, Gaza, which was supposedly going to be come ‘the Singapore of the Mideast’ has been turned into an armed terror camp with the populace suffering and all resources going to building terror tunnels to kidnap and kill children. (Yes, I lived on kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the kibbutzim that had a tunnel dug with right under the children’s nursery). So while a two state solution sounds nice, the example of Gaza and all of the actions and rhetoric of the Palestinian leadership leaves any rational observer to realize there is no partner of peace. As has been said, if the Palestinians would accept Israel’s right to exist in peace, anything is possible. As long as they won’t, nothing is possible.

  17. HalfJew says:

    Great article, kudos to speaking these thoughts aloud!

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