Predictably the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), a body that chooses to be deliberately blind to the real situation in the Middle East, this week chose to see only what it wanted to see.
In a statement on the escalating conflict inside Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the SAJBD said: “For the past week rockets fired from Gaza have rained down on Israeli towns in the south of Israel. Yesterday, it was Jerusalem’s turn to be targeted. Rockets are indiscriminate.”
Never mind that scores of bodies were piling up on the Palestinian side as the Israeli security forces indiscriminately attacked and killed men, women and children under the guise of self-defence and targeting Hamas.
Never mind that the conflict was sparked by the Israeli government’s apartheid-style forced removal actions in East Jerusalem and escalated by security force incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in the holy month of Ramadan.
Although the conflict is lopsided and that its origins lie in the oppression of Palestinians and discrimination against Palestinians and Arab Israelis, the SAJBD insists that it is a conflict of equals who share equal blame.
“If government, and indeed all political parties, wish to be part of ending this latest tragic outburst of violence, they must show genuine even-handedness. Those who unquestioningly endorse the claims and actions of one side while completely ignoring those of the other do nothing to resolve the conflict. In fact, they only make a bad situation worse,” the SAJBD opined.
The organisation called on “our government and indeed all political parties and media to show even-handedness, and acknowledge the complexity of the situation. Demonising Israel, as we have seen in certain statements coming out are irresponsible, inflammatory and dangerous. Tensions are already heightened around a number of issues, including a domestic land dispute in East Jerusalem.”
Perhaps the most laughable but insensitive comment was that “tensions are already heightened around a number of issues, including a domestic land dispute in East Jerusalem”.
So seizing territory from powerless people who have resided on it for generations in order to hand it over to the dominant ethnic group is “a domestic land dispute”.
The defence of the atrocities was right out of the script of the Israeli government which, through its embassy, has said: “Israel has the right to defend itself and will do its utmost to protect its citizens from Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians while continuing to take every measure to prevent conflict or violence. It’s the right and duty of every state.”
A note here: Hamas are no boy scouts either, but the scale of the response and the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by a state under the guise that militants hide among ordinary people is not justifiable.
As many others have pointed out before, the likes of the SAJBD and others conflate being Jewish as meaning they have to automatically support the state of Israel, regardless of the atrocities it commits and the inhumane and ungodly acts inflict on those it has control over.
They conflate principled stances against this inhumanity with anti-Semitism, which is the furthest thing from the truth.
This type of thing is no different from those Africans, many of them in this country, who unquestioningly supported the late Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF’s terror against Zimbabweans, simply because he claimed to be continuing the struggle against colonialism and western imperialism.
Likewise, those in the Indian diaspora who embrace Narendra Modi’s discriminatory brand of Hindu nationalism has inflamed tensions, rendered the once progressive democracy unstable, and struck fear into the hearts of minorities.
Injustice is injustice, regardless of who commits it.
Amnesty International has spoken repeatedly about how Israel “has continued to impose institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians living under its rule in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. It has cited forced removals, blockades that cause humanitarian crises, cruel and invasive checkpoints and roadblocks, holding them in “administrative detention” without charge or trial and subjecting detainees to “torture and other ill-treatment”, which are carried out with “impunity”.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia took a strong stance in 2017, stating in a comprehensive report that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole”.
The agency’s executive secretary Rima Khalaf said the report “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people”.
Although this was not formally adopted by the UN, where major powers are very protective of Israel, a UN agency needed to go as far as applying the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (Apartheid Convention) on any state other than National Party-ruled South Africa.
Adopted during the international onslaught against apartheid, the convention’s far-reaching aim was that even when the racist policy was defeated in South Africa and then Rhodesia, there would be an international framework to prevent it from rearing its head elsewhere in the world.
The Apartheid Convention defined “the crime of apartheid” as the policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa and the concomitant “inhuman acts committed for establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”.
It listed a whole host of crimes of apartheid could be committed, including denial of the racial groups the right to life and liberty; murder of members of a racial group or groups; infringement of their freedom or dignity; arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment; deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part; deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group; and subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Other multilateral formations, international non-governmental organisations, religious bodies and think-tanks have also taken a firm stand against Israel’s oppressive policies and actions.
Just last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the pre-eminent players in this field, stated categorically that the international community needs to accept that the Israeli government fits the description of a regime that practices apartheid in terms of the Apartheid Convention’s definition.
“Israeli authorities have deprived millions of people of their basic rights by virtue of their identity as Palestinians. These longstanding policies and systematic practices box in, dispossess, forcibly separate, marginalise and otherwise inflict suffering on Palestinians.
It stated that the term apartheid was increasingly being used in relation to Israel, “usually in a descriptive or comparative, non-legal sense, and often to warn that the situation is heading in the wrong direction” the Israeli authorities had “already turned that corner”.
“Today Israelis are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” HRW’s Kenneth Roth said the launch of the report.
“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” he added.
In light of Israel being confirmed to be carrying out apartheid policies and activities, the world had a responsibility to its relationship with it.
HRW called for UN member countries to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate “systematic discrimination and repression in Israel and Palestine”.
The body recommended conditions placed on arms sales and military and security assistance to Israel and the vetting of agreements, cooperation schemes, and all forms of trade and dealing with Israel to screen for those directly contributing to committing the crimes against humanity.
It also said the International Criminal Court should investigate and prosecute “those credibly implicated in the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” and for individual countries to impose travel bans and asset freezes on those associated with human rights infringements.
HRW also wants the international community “to re-evaluate the nature of its engagement in Israel and Palestine and adopt an approach centred on human rights and accountability rather than solely on the stalled ‘peace process’.”
On a more ambitious note, HRW specifically called on the president of the US, the US Congress and state department to condemn Israel’s apartheid activities and impose sanctions similar to the ones mentioned above.
This is a long shot since if there is anyone issue on which the Democrats and Republicans see eye to eye, it is the need to keep Israel as a reliable ally, regardless of the evils it commits.
As author and conflict analyst CJ Wellerman wrote this week on the TRT website, the US’s mantra is that there should be no limits to Israel’s supposed right to defend itself. This was the sentiment expressed by US President Joe Biden this week, echoing his predecessors.
“Israel has a right to self-defence,” is what the Obama administration said when Israeli forces killed 2 200 Palestinian civilians, including 500 children, during its 2014 invasion of Gaza.
“They are the same words the Trump administration offered when Israeli snipers shot and killed hundreds of unarmed Palestinian protesters, journalists and medics during the Great March of Return protests in 2018-19,” wrote Wellerman.
Pricking Washington’s conscience was worth a shot nonetheless because it will keep them having to justify why they can condemn dictatorial regimes elsewhere while turning a blind eye on one of the most heartless perpetrators of human rights violations in the world.
HRW called on the EU to do pretty much the same and further to “conduct a holistic assessment of the implications for EU and member states’ relations with Israel arising from the findings of the crimes of apartheid and persecution, identifying, in particular, the legal consequences and obligations under EU and international law”.
What HRW was essentially saying is that the Israeli regime should be treated the same way South Africa’s apartheid regime was treated by the international community, particularly in its last two decades in power.
Not surprisingly, the Israeli government dismissed the report by saying that “Human Rights Watch is known to have a long-standing anti-Israel agenda”. And then less than two weeks later it was out there doing exactly what HRW had spoken about.
It is probably what the SAJBD also did as it simply refuses what everybody else sees. It is a pity because South Africa’s Jewry has a proud and long-standing record of commitment to human rights, equality and justice.
Some of the most outstanding stalwarts of our liberation struggle and liberal cause came from this community. They knew right from wrong and stood against inhumanity regardless of the costs.
It is time for the SAJBD to remove its blinkers and see the Israel regime for what it is: a brutal regime enforcing apartheid in manners that are often even harsher and more rigid than the inventors of the original heinous system.