Why pick on Israel?

2010-10-16 08:50

A few years ago, I ­visited a Palestinian house ­demolished by ­Israeli soldiers near the Mount of Olives. A deeply distraught woman told how, as the Israelis stormed the house, she cradled her baby and pushed it towards one of the ­soldiers, screaming: “What about her? What about her?”

The soldier had his duties to perform and shoved her out of the way. Later, with her home in ruins, the woman was charged with ­assaulting a soldier and interfering with the duties of a soldier.

The assault weapon listed in the charge sheet? “Baby”. Stunned by this tale of cruelty, I picked up a small stone from the rubble – a symbol of my commitment to do something. I still have the stone with me to this day.

Getting the University of ­Johannesburg to end its ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University is a part of the commitment I made.Why single out Israel when there are other examples of ­human rights abuses in the world?

Firstly, I have no doubt that there are numerous individuals and organisations driven to ­“support” the Palestinians because of a deep, irrational and ­despicable hatred for Jews and everything Jewish.

The application of this disaggregated view of a community, race, ethnic group or gender is ­downright despicable and has ­disastrous consequences. Likewise, in the case of ­Palestine, the logic underlying such misrepresentation is equally problematic.

To present a ­historical community such as the Jews as eternal or ahistorical is to consequently view the entire ­spectrum of anti-Israeli activity as proof of anti-Semitism.

Second, I have seen the relationship between sexism and racism, and have not remained silent. I have seen the interconnectedness between all forms of racism and have not remained silent. I have witnessed the way that my theological and scriptural ­tradition has been exploited to ­advance religious chauvinism, ­gender injustice and homophobia, and have not remained silent.

I have witnessed the impact of man’s greed on the earth, and have not remained silent.As a scholar of the Qur’an, I have been looking at Jews and started reflecting on the way Jews seem to be frozen in much of the Muslim imagination as unreliable and devious.If apologists for apartheid Israel want to imagine that I have ­singled it out, there is preciously little that I can do about their ­accusations of selective morality.

Thirdly, South Africans are all too familiar with the argument “the other oppressors are equally bad, or even worse” or “we treat our blacks better than blacks are treated elsewhere in Africa”. This argument ascribes to the Palestinians a simple Arab identity, hence the related bewilderment as to why the other Arab countries simply do not

absorb the Palestinian refugees. “They’re all Arabs, after all.”For Palestinians, the question of how Arabs are being treated ­elsewhere is irrelevant to the ­question of their oppression.

Fourthly, there is a good reason for demanding pressure on Israel because Israel is the only serial human rights abuser on the planet that enjoys consistent and ­enthusiastic support from all the ­liberal democracies of the North. It is also allowed to repeatedly ignore United Nations resolutions without any opposition from the North.

And so Israel has to be the priority – at least until the powerful care as much about Israeli abuses as they do about those of others.

Fifthly, speaking up for the ­Palestinian people is also about salvaging our dream of a moral society that will not be complicit in the suffering of other people.

As a South African who understands the invaluable role of international solidarity in ending ­centuries of oppression, I have no choice but to make my ­contribution to the struggle of the Palestinians.

The “why are you out to get us?” argument is in some way premised on the racist idea that all the “non-us” will always be out to get “us”.

If some Jews insist that there is only one way to be Jewish in the world today and that is through Zionism – with its associated ­implications of destroying the land rights of the indigenous ­population – then tough.

Apartheid diminished the ­humanity of white people in the same way that gender injustice ­diminishes the humanity of males.The humanity of the oppressor is reclaimed through liberation, and Israel is no exception in this regard.

In the destruction of ­machismo lies the seeds of the birth of a new man.

»?Esack is a professor at the University of Johannesburg and one of the initiators of the petition calling on the university to end its co-operation agreement with Ben Gurion

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