First it was the British academics union, now the real proletarians have jumped on the bandwagon. Yesterday, Ontario's largest public sector union (CUPE - the Canadian Union of Public Employees) voted to support an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. According to an article published in the Globe and Mail, delegates to a CUPE convention "voted overwhelmingly Saturday to support the campaign until Israel recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination." According to the leader of the campaign, Katherine Nastovski, chairwoman of the CUPE Ontario international solidarity committee,
“Boycott, divestment and sanction worked to end apartheid in South Africa [...] We believe the same strategy will work to enforce the rights of Palestinian people, including the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties.”All of this shallow rhetoric really leaves me wondering how many of these people made an honest effort to reflect and to seek out critical voices before they went on the attack. How many Israeli leaders have to stand up and say that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ergo, that they support the Palestinian right to self-determination? Did anyone even take note of Ehud Olmert's statements in Washington? Hell, did anyone listen to Sharon's public suppport in favour of a two-state solution? Barak? Peres? Rabin (z"l)? If anything, it is the Palestinian government, led by Hamas, which until now has refused to recognize the existence of the state of Israel and is formally committed to its destruction, that could be accused of refusing to recognize the Jewish right to self-determination. (By the way, although I agree that covenants as such do not always dictate the political decisions of a movement which are shaped by the context in which it operates, I urge anyone to skim the Hamas Covenant to get at least a sense of where these people are coming from.
The implication that Israel is an apartheid state is also fundamentally flawed. Usually, this claim is based by its authors on the fact that Palestinians cannot freely move between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel proper. Dumb people somehow consider the restrictions on Palestinian entry into Israel as analagous to the South African apartheid system which prohibited black citizens of that country from leaving their townships and going to white areas without special passes, etc. Well, Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip are not Israeli citizens and for the most part have no desire to get Israeli citizenship. Under international law, they are no more entitled to working in Israel proper than a Canadian without a work permit looking for work in the United States. Just as the United States or Canada have the right to control the entry of foreign nationals into their sovereign territory, Israel has the right, in principle, to prevent the movement of Palestinians across its borders, especially when you consider the threat of terror. Take issue with the route of the security fence that is being built by Israel to protect itself, fine. But to call this apartheid??
Apartheid was a doomed attempt by South Africa's white minority to preserve its hold on power by denying the country's black citizens equal access to health care, education and social spaces. In the Israeli-Palestinian case, we have a majority Jewish state living next to a (disfunctional) autonomous Palestinian state-in-formation. It is up to the Palestinian state in formation to provide its citizens with a functioning goverment, economic opportunities, health services and education and it has been doing so, albeit not always successfully, since 1993. The apartheid argument has to be recognized for what it is: a bunch of crap. Plenty of South Africans (not those with an axe to grind with Israel because of its unfortunate decision to have relations with the evil apartheid regime) have already written about the problem of equating Israel and Afrikaaner dominated South Africa. If you want to criticize Israel, at least do so with some semblance of integrity and intellectual honesty.
Maybe the argument is that Israel is pursuing "apartheid policies" towards its Arab citizens? If so, then it is even more ludicrous. If Israel were an apartheid state, would it be investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in special preparatory English classes to prepare Arab Bedouin students for university? Would Israeli Arabs be allowed to go to the same hospitals as Jewish Israelis, be it as patients, nurses or doctors? Let me cite an article published in the Guardian by Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African and the founder of Yakar's Centre for Social Concern in Jerusalem:
[...] health is a visible indicator of the differences between apartheid South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in 1985 was 78 per 1,000 live births. Among color groups: whites 12, Asians 20, coloreds 60, blacks 94 to 150. In Israel, in the 1950s, the IMR among Muslims was 60.6 and among Jews 38.8. Major improvements occurred in health care during the 1990s and by 2001 the IMR among Arabs was 7.6 (Muslims 8.2, Christians 2.6, Druze 4.7). Among Jews, 4.1. According to the health ministry, the higher Muslim figure was due mainly to genetic defects as a result of marriages between close relatives; poverty is also a factor. Other countries in 2000: Switzerland, 8.2, and 12.3 for Turks living there; United States, whites 8.5, blacks 21.3.In short, the status of Israel's Arab citizens is in no way analogous to that of South African blacks. These kinds of claims are no more credible than equations between the present-day United States and apartheid South Africa. If some shitty union wants to protest discrimination against Israeli Arab citizens, then they should go ahead and protest discrimination. But at least try to make the appearance of being fair and protest against discrimination around the world. Go defend Indian and Bangladeshi day labourers in the United Arab Emirates who are denied basic worker's rights and who are prevented from organizing into unions! Start punishing companies that are linked to Saudi Arabia where foreign domestic workers are regularly abused!
Globe and Mail Article reporting the CUPE decision
Full-text of the CUPE Resolution
The Concerned Presbyterians - a group of Presbyterians calling on the Presbyterian Church in the US to STOP its divestment from corporations doing business in Israel