BDS and South Africa – 2

I’ve always been curious whether certain words create their own power or simply draw upon the power of that which they describe. The term “Holocaust,” which starts with soft vowels implying vastness and ends with knife-sharp consonants, seems like it would be evocative regardless of what it describes. Yet once this term came into general use to describe the Nazi’s extermination of European Jewry, it drew upon the massiveness of that event, eventually pushing out other terms (some foreign like “Shoah,” some euphemistic such as “Final Solution” – a simple phrase which itself can mean only one thing to today’s ears) to become synonymous with history’s most horrific crime.

Fights over the term simply demonstrate its unique power to move people emotionally. As horrific, vast and mind-numbing as other historic mass murders have been (such as the Armenian genocide, which many see as an historic “warm up” for other 20th century ethnic exterminations), there is a reason we describe these as the “Armenian Holocaust,” the “Rwandan Holocaust,” etc., rather than describing the Shoah as the “Armenian genocide of the Jews.”

“Apartheid,” meaning “seperateness”, resonates as a word, even to those unfamiliar with the Dutch dialect used by South Africa’s white Afrikaans population, implying as it does the English terms “Apart” and “Hate.” And yet the ugliness of the system it describes, a form of mass racial discrimination masquerading under formal legalism, certainly contributes to this term becoming synonymous with bigotry as state policy.

As with the term “Holocaust,” there are legitimate fights over whether the term “Apartheid” belongs to the world, or just to those who experienced the original phenomenon. Anyone looking over the past century will see enough political murder and racism to shake their faith in humanity. But are all murders of any scale a “Holocaust,” and is all institutionalized bigotry a variant on “Apartheid?” Many (but by no means all) Jews and South Africans would argue that by allowing these terms to be used to describe anything remotely smacking of large-scale killing or racism, one is not universalizing them but draining them of any meaning whatsoever.

In the cauldron of debate over the Middle East, arguments over the use or misuse of these words are particularly acute. While some attempts have been made to describe the Palestinian experience as a new “Holocaust,” this runs into a problem when you realize that, unlike other historic genocides, the Palestinian population has skyrocketed since Israel’s birth (especially in the disputed/occupied territories that are supposed to be serving as stand-ins for Hitler’s concentration camps).

“Apartheid” is by far the more frequent term of abuse hurled at the Jewish state for its alleged “crimes.” Thus the barrier built to stop mass bombing campaigns originating from the West Bank is not a fence, a wall or even “the New Berlin Wall,” but the “Apartheid Wall.” Jimmy Carter’s book “Peace Not Apartheid” has basically been translated to the single phrase: “Jimmy Carter says Israel is an Apartheid State,” (even if the author himself has tried to weasel out of the implication of his chosen title).

Web sites such as It Is Apartheid are dedicated solely to the purpose of making Israel synonymous with Apartheid South Africa (especially in the mind of people too young to remember the original), with BDS itself simply a component of a wider “Apartheid Strategy” whose practitioners believe that by replacing the term “Israel” with “Apartheid Israel” in all of their communication and correspondence they can, over time, turn their preferred version of reality into common wisdom.

But who gets to draw boundaries around where the term “Apartheid” is used, even in debate over the Middle East? Some supporters of Israel have responded to the “Israel Apartheid” slur by charging Israel’s accusers of practicing, supporting or ignoring crimes of “Gender Apartheid,” “Sexual Apartheid” and “Religious Apartheid” within the wider Arab world. And unlike some of the more fanciful charges against the Jewish state, repression of women, homosexuals and religious minorities by Israel’s neighbors is undisputable.

But who gets to decide if they are all variations on “Apartheid?” If enough people started using the phrase “Apartheid Saudi Arabia,” “Apartheid Syria” or “Apartheid Gaza” in their daily communication, does that legitimize an accusation masquerading as a descriptive phrase (a la “Apartheid Israel”)?

This is why the involvement of South Africa and South Africans in this debate is so significant. Absent the ability to characterize the Middle East conflict in Apartheid terms, it becomes a less charged (and, as an aside, potentially more solvable) political dispute. That being the case, is it as clear as BDS advocates would like everyone to believe that South Africans who participated in the fight against the original Apartheid see the Arab-Israel conflict in the same terms as their own struggle?


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8 Responses to BDS and South Africa – 2

  1. commoncents October 2, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    Interesting post! Keep the great work!

    Common Cents

  2. Anonymous October 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    Israel occupies land, builds settlements on these lands in defiance of the international community and international law, builds a wall that in many instances cuts through Palestinian villages and farms (destroying peoples lives), builds “Jews only” roads, puts up road blocks/checkpoints, treats it's 20% Arab population in Israel proper as second class citizens….the list goes on and on regarding water distribution, property ownership, etc. And the world cannot call a spade a spade

    As is so typical with zionists, a discussion about the Israel/Palestine conflict cannot occur without some reference to the holocaust and the jewish victimhood. I guess it is the fate of the palestinians to have to pay for the crimes of a European nutcase/criminal and the fate of all Israeli critics to be labelled as antisemitic.

    You can hide behind your fancy words/blogs, talk the talk and spin and spin, but at the end of the day truth and justice will prevail. In the meantime the population in the settlements has doubled, a right wing government is in power in Israel with a Moldovian settler/thug as it's representative to the world, israel's standing in the world appears to be eroding while the Palestinian cause appears to be gaining support by the day.

    This is a great time to be involved with the long awaited justice due the people of Palestine.

  3. Jon October 3, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    Look, I get it. For you, the entire Middle East (if not the known universe) consists of nothing more than “settlements” and “The Occupation” (bogga bogga bogga). Thus, it doesn't matter if words discussing some other aspect or some other explanation are fancy or plain, since they seem to reach you as little more than the sounds grown ups make to Peanuts characters.

    Given that your cause is so close to absolute triumph you can practically taste it, I wonder why you keep coming here to post non-sequitors every chance you get (including ones where you projects the BDSers penchant for accusing all of their critics of bigotry onto Israel's supporters). As BDS projects continue to fail across the country (another co-op gave you the finger just last week), I can assure you that my enthusiasm for this project is no less than you for yours, and I am just getting warmed up.

  4. Anonymous October 3, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    Jon –


    1) No one ever says that using “Apartheid” to describe Israel and the Palestinians is insensitive to the suffering of the indigenous people of South Africa. I think Blacks in South Africa suffered far more than Arabs in Israel and the territories. I don't believe the ANC ever deliberately targeted civilians, opposed peace with the Whites, and called for killing all Whites. I don't think the ANC should be equated with Hamas.

    2) If someone is concerned about discrimination against Palestinians, does their concern extend to the descendants of the 1948 refugees of the Israel conflict? These Arabs are denied citizenship in their host countries, barred from entry into certain professions and employment, and limited in many other ways. Could you imagine if the US had refused to provide rights and citizenship to the refugees from Vietnam who came here in the '70's?

    3) To your troller – the Palestinian leadership – specifically Haj Amin al-Husseini – were quite involved in the Final Solution. The Arabs do not have clean hands in this matter. I believe that the influences of Nazi indoctrination and Arab Jew Hatred should not be ignored in understanding the conflict.


  5. Anonymous October 3, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    Nycerbarb : if I may summarize 1. Yes Israel is an apartheid state but not as bad as SA was. 2. Arab countries should have absorbed refugees with more open arms and support (agree with you completely). 3. Arabs hate Jews, are antisemitic, the Nazis are to blame, and this plays a big role in the conflict.

    The second paragraph of anonymous post at 3:18 PM points out one of zionism's most affective tools: victimhood. Item 3 above is living proof of this phenomenon.

  6. Anonymous October 4, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    Anonymous @ 2:18AM –

    I apologize for not being clear in my comments.

    1) I did not intend to imply that I agreed “Apartheid” was an accurate word for describing Israel. I wanted to say that not only is not accurate, but using it is also an insult to the Blacks of South Africa. So thanks for pointing that out.

    2) I am glad you agree. I would be interested to know what activities/movements/programs there are to promote the rights of Palestinians in Arab countries.

    3) Again, I was unclear. Arab on Jewish violence (in Israel) begins in 1921. The Arab leadership promoted riots against the Jews. They used the excuse that Jews wanting to pray at the Western Wall on Yom Kippur with chairs and a divider was unacceptable. Arab Jew hatred preceded the Nazis. Further riots in 1930's resulted in the White Paper, which severely restricted Jewish emigration to the British Mandate. This left the Jews of Europe with no refuge from the Nazi extermination program.

    During WWII, Hitler, expecting Rommel to be victorious in North Africa, wanted to get the support of the Arabs. Husseini obliged by providing a narrative that included their common enemy the Jews, who controlled the whole world and had to be stopped. Jeffrey Herf, Paul Berman and others have researched the influence of Nazism on the Arab world. Nonie Darwish and others have documented the continuous anti-Jewish indoctrination that goes on in the Arab countries.

    I was answering the anon @ 3:18PM, who brought up the Holocaust, saying that Palestinians “have to pay for the crimes of a European nutcase/criminal.” I wanted to say, that the Pal. leadership had a hand in those crimes, and it is well documented.

    What you did is a typical strawman tactic. Anon #1 mentions the Holocaust inaccurately. I correct him. Then you criticize me for mentioning the Holocaust.


  7. Anonymous October 4, 2010 at 6:08 am #


    Whether Israel is now an apartheid state or not is up for discussion, but the notes of anon @ 3:18 PM paragraph 1 hold true.

    The palestinian refugees are a result of the dispossession, expulsion, and ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948 and israel has clear responsibility for reparations.

    Your comment that the “Palestinian leadership had a hand in those crimes” (of the holocaust) is pathetic. The Palestinians had nothing to do with the nazi massacre of 6 million Jews. Using (i should say abusing) the holocaust to justify the indefensible behavior of israel is unconscionable and disrespectful to the real victims of the holocaust.

    Your comments about the “arab hatred of jews” is without context and typical hasbara. The zionist movement in palestine starting in the late 19th century and continuing for a half century up to 1948 and the creation of israel and actually continuing to this day is an expansionist, racist, and brutal policy meant to judaize the area between the river and the sea and should be resisted by the local population.

  8. Anonymous October 4, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Dear Anon @ 2:08AM –

    All I can say is that I gave you the names of some very reputable sources. The historical record is documented and accurate. If you can provide sources that refute what they say, then I would be very interested in reading them.


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