Israel’s Impunity: Is The Tide Changing?

isreali apartheid palestine

I think it is. The tide of international dissent against Israel’s impunity is becoming a torrent since the introduction by the IHRA, International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance of what they have defined as ‘Antisemitism’.

This new definition has been interpreted and used as a weapon to bash, intimidate and silence any voices of criticism against the government of Israel. Even the man who drafted it, Kenneth Stern, has admitted that this is not what he had in mind. According to Stern it had originally been designed as a ”working definition” for the purpose of trying to standardise data collection about the incidence of antisemitic hate crime in different countries. It had never been intended that it be used as legal or regulatory device to curb academic or political free speech.

Antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, discrimination and denial of rights against any person or persons is abhorrent. But legitimate criticism and condemnation of regimes and political doctrines are a must if we are to keep those regimes and political movements under check. After all, this is what democracy and free speech are all about.

Not, it seems, when it comes to Israel. Every time any one of us opens his or her mouth and speaks of Israel with anything other than complete approval and admiration is automatically labelled ‘antisemite’.

Why am I saying this at this time? Because recently anti semitism has been used, not only to silence freedom of speech, but to damage and destroy the careers and livelihoods of many a political activist who seeks peace and justice and equal rights for all. For those of you who might like to challenge these assertions you need go no further than the recent proclamation by B’Tselem, the Jewish human rights organisation based in Israel, stating clearly that Israel is an apartheid state.

As Hagai El Ad, the director of B’Tselem said, “Calling things by their proper name — apartheid — is not a moment of despair; rather it is moment of moral clarity, a step on a long walk inspired by hope. See the reality for what it is, name it without flinching — and help bring about the realisation of a just future. We can and must bring about a just future for Palestinians and Jews. “

Yes, the tide is turning, and the people of the world, especially young Jews, are saying it out loud. “Not in my name!” and “If not now, then when?” Within Israel itself there is a growing group of dissenters within the Israeli army. They call themselves ‘Breaking The Silence’ and they are doing just that. Speaking up about their experiences of brutality and savagery against the Palestinian people, which they were trained and ordered to do under military command.

Even within the corridors of power in the west there is growing dissent. Politicians are calling on their colleagues to stop using antisemitism as a battering ram against those who defend the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Here is one good example, which happened only this week here is Australia, in Parliament House, Canberra, when Senator Anne Urquhart of Tasmania challenged a fellow senator to come out from under the protection of parliamentary privilege and repeat his accusations of anti semitism against a former parliamentarian, Ms Melissa Parke. Here is the text.

Senator URQUHART (Tasmania—Opposition Whip in the Senate) (20:13):

“I rise tonight to reject a statement made recently in this place by Queensland Senator Scarr, who cynically used the protection of parliament to impugn the integrity of a former parliamentarian, with no basis in fact…He accused her of uttering a vile lie, of spreading vile misinformation and, by direct implication, of being an anti-Semite. His false accusations relate to events that occurred when Melissa worked as a lawyer for the United Nations in Gaza in 2003. One of those events involved a well-documented case of a Palestinian refugee woman being forced by an Israeli soldier to drink a bleach-like cleaning fluid.

“We must engage with what is occurring here. The senator is using parliamentary privilege to defame Melissa Parke. He’s using parliamentary privilege in an effort to silence criticism of the Israeli government for the human rights abuses it has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate against Palestinian citizens.

“I challenge Senator Scarr to reiterate his assertions that Melissa Parke has spread a vile lie and a vile misinformation and that she is an anti-Semite outside the walls of this place…

I put it to my colleagues in this place that the cynical use of the slur of anti-Semitism as a tool to silence critics of Israel for that state’s exhaustively documented human rights abuses against Palestinians must stop. Equally, this place must not be used as a refuge from reality from which false accusations can be hurled against people of greater integrity than their accusers.”

Yes, the tide is turning. Good on you, Senator Urquhart. Ms Parke, I hope that very soon you will get the respect you so richly deserve.

Meanwhile, just a few days ago, as was published in ‘Truth Out’, Rabbi Walt, who grew up in South Africa and knows what apartheid looks like was calling on his fellow Jews to recognise Israel for what it is, an Apartheid state. For years he had hesitated to use the ‘A’ word for fear of alienating fellow Jews, but his moment of truth arrived while in Hebron in 2008 when the street they were walking down, Shuhada Street, was described as ‘a sterile street’. No Palestinians are allowed to use it. Only Jews and tourists. Not even in South Africa, says Rabbi Walt, were there ‘sterile streets’.

“As a student at the University of Cape Town,”he writes, “ I had fought against Apartheid…and throughout my anti-Apartheid activism, Israel was always a central part of my Jewish identity: I was a committed, progressive Zionist.

“But, over decades, in tours and activism on the West Bank I had witnessed disturbing realities that impacted me profoundly: the demolition of Palestinian homes, the expropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements, olive orchards uprooted by settlers, and Palestinians evicted from homes in Jerusalem that they had owned for generations.

“These experiences were so shocking that, if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes, I would never have believed they were true. They reminded me of very similar injustices that I had seen in South Africa.

But, it was the “sterile street” that pushed me over the edge.

At that very moment, when I walked down a street stripped of Palestinians, I decided that I would never again avoid using the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s policies against Palestinians. I know what apartheid is, and I was seeing it in front of me.

Rabbi Walt is no longer alone. Young, thoughtful American Jews are no longer alone. To quote B’Tselem:

“It is a commitment to the foundational principle of Judaism, that every human being is of infinite value, deserving of dignity, freedom, equality and justice. It is time to commit ourselves to the fulfilment of this core Jewish moral value for all people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”

Even inside the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset itself, there are voices which are, at last, calling it as it is. MK Ofer Cassif, while taking part on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story programme last week had this to say.

“Israel is the occupier… I want to mention two things… One, is the Nation State bill, the Basic Law, which actually turned Israel into an apartheid state. The second is the policy, practically speaking, of Netanyahu, especially in the last five years or so, that actually has been pursuing an ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

As I said, the tide is turning.

Jafar M Ramini is a Palestinian writer and political analyst, based in London. He was born in Jenin in 1943 and was five years old when he and his family had to flee the terror of the Urgun and Stern gangs. Justice for the people of Palestine is a life-long commitment.



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