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The Rhetoric of Race and Amnesty International's Antisemitism

02/03/2022 01:16:13 PM


In South Africa, apartheid was the racist ideology that justified minority, white rule over non-white populations. Supporters of apartheid were white supremacists.

Amnesty International issued a report earlier this week labeling Israel an apartheid state and advocated the dismantling of its apartheid system. By deploying the rhetoric of apartheid and race, Amnesty International accused Israel of that which is considered most diabolical in contemporary society. It’s no longer the Jew who is of the devil, but the Jewish state.

The great irony of their twisted accusation is that Jews and Palestinians are both considered to be of the semitic “race.” To mislabel the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians as racial—so that the libel of “apartheid” might be appropriate—willfully ignores history, both ancient and contemporary.

We Jews, like Palestinians, are native to the land of Israel. But we were the only people, ever, to form a nation in that land. “Palestine” was never a nation, nor were there any people who identified as “Palestinian” until the twentieth century. There were Palestinian Arabs—Arabs who lived in Palestine. The name “Palestine” was a punitive Roman substitution for Judea after two Jewish rebellions against Roman colonial rule in 66 and 132. The Romans chose the name “Palestine” to echo the Israelites’ biblical enemy, the Philistines.

I don’t begrudge the Palestinians for their relatively recent nationalism. Nor do most Israelis who are, in theory, supportive of a two-state solution. These are the same Israelis, nearly twenty years later, who supported the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to preview an independent Palestinian state adjoining Israel. Hamas’ political ascendancy and refusal to live at peace has undermined Israeli confidence.

It would not be inaccurate to describe the Israeli-Arab conflict as having religious roots. Muslims controlled that piece of real estate for a thousand years, on and off. It was part of the Islamic world, dar al-Islam, and to have a non-Islamic sovereign state there is an affront to some.

More accurately, the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, is political. The Jews returned to their historical homeland and established a sovereign state. They paid for it in money and blood, repeatedly. Israelis have been, and continue to be, receptive to negotiating for peace. Both Egypt and Jordan are signatories to peace treaties with Israel, and while the peace with Israel’s neighbors may not yet be warm, the borders have not been hot. Equally importantly, the Abraham Accords are bringing increasing numbers of Arab countries to recognize the reality of Israel’s presence in the Middle East.

What is wildly inaccurate is to describe Israel’s conflict as racial! Israel’s discriminatory practices and laws have never been justified by any sense of “Jewish supremacy” over Arabs as the apartheid label would suggest. The purported objectivity of Amnesty’s report is undermined by its use of such terms. And its demand to dismantle the apartheid system wreaks of the same antisemitic stench.

Race is fuzzy. The majority of Israel’s population is not even of “white” European Ashkenazi ancestry. (European Ashkenazis were not ascribed “whiteness” by Americans until after World War II.) In the years surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948, more than 600,00 Jews were forced out of Arab countries and immigrated to Israel. How would Amnesty International characterize Arab Muslims expelling Arab Jews?

Amnesty International’s calumny distracts from the progress being made by Israel’s new government, which includes an Arab party for the first time, to achieve greater equity for the Palestinians living both in Israel and the West Bank. More insidiously, less sophisticated antisemites are bolstered by such reports to confirm their beliefs that the Jews, like the Jewish state, are singularly evil. The writers at Amnesty International might not walk into a synagogue with a gun, but when the FBI searches the computers of the next temple terrorists, they’re like to find Amnesty’s report on their hard drives.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784