Saturday, February 1, 2014

Losing the Propaganda, Moral and Legal War

JERUSALEM — ON Feb. 4, 1965, as a teenager, I left South Africa, the country of my birth, for a new home in a place I’d never been — Israel.

Palestinian Land Loss 1946 - 2010

I loved South Africa, but I loathed the apartheid system. In Israel, I saw a fresh start for a people rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, a place of light and justice, as opposed to the darkness and oppression of apartheid South Africa.

Now, almost 50 years later, after decades of arguing that Israel is not an apartheid state and that it’s a calumny and a lie to say so, I sense that we may be well down the road to being seen as one. That’s because, in this day and age, brands are more powerful than truth and, inexplicably, blindly, Israel is letting itself be branded an apartheid state — and even encouraging it.

In apartheid South Africa, people disappeared in the night without the protection of any legal process and were never heard from again. There was no freedom of speech or expression and more “judicial” hangings were reportedly carried out there than in any other place on earth. There was no free press and, until January 1976, no public television.

Masses of black people were forcibly moved from tribal lands to arid Bantustans in the middle of nowhere. A “pass system” stipulated where blacks could live and work, splitting families and breaking down social structures, to provide cheap labor for the mines and white-owned businesses, and a plentiful pool of domestic servants for the white minority. Those found in violation were arrested, usually lashed, and sentenced to stints of hard labor for a few shillings per prisoner per day, payable to the prison service.

None of this even remotely exists in Israel or the occupied territories. But, increasingly, in the mind of the world it does. This is because of Israel’s own actions and a vigorous campaign by those who oppose its occupation of Palestinians’ land and, in some cases, Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They understand that delegitimization is Israel’s soft belly and apartheid the buzzword to make it happen.

International isolation is potentially more dangerous for Israel than the Iranian nuclear program. The Palestinians and their supporters, particularly the young generation, some of whom have graduated from the best universities in the world, have come to realize that the stones of the first intifada and the suicide bombers of the second are yesterday’s weapons in yesterday’s war.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions are now the way they seek to end the Israeli occupation or Jewish Israel itself. Their message has started to resonate with trade unions, churches, universities and international companies in Europe and the United States, who see Israel as oppressing Palestinians and violating their human rights.

A Dutch pension giant’s decision last month to divest from Israel’s five largest banks because of their ties to occupation rang warning bells in Israel’s business community and the Treasury. According to the finance minister, even a partial European boycott would cost Israel 20 billion shekels (about $5.7 billion) in exports annually and almost 10,000 jobs. But the greatest damage is self-inflicted.

The “apartheid wall,” “apartheid roads,” colonization, administrative arrests, travel restrictions, land confiscations and house demolitions are the clay apartheid comparisons are made of, and cannot be hidden or denied, for as long as Israel continues with the status quo.

Military occupation comes with checkpoints, antiterrorist barriers, military courts, armed soldiers and tanks. That’s the reality, no matter what your politics, and just the ammunition the Palestinians and their supporters need in their new war.

In the coming weeks, the United States is expected to put forward a framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry. The Palestinians have said that if the talks fail to produce an agreement, they will take the battle against Israel and for their independence to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations and its various organizations, and fight for sanctions and boycotts, which they hope will force Israel, like apartheid South Africa before it, to its knees. As South Africa learned in the 1980s, possessing nuclear weapons may deter foes on the battlefield, but it doesn’t help you win a propaganda war. More