By Vic Rosenthal
Several organizations are sponsoring a boycott of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, and will be picketing performances in Los Angeles in February. This is in the framework of a boycott of all Israeli products, services, artists, academics, athletes, etc.
At least one of the groups, Women in Black (WIB), has many Jewish members. They accuse Israel of war crimes and human rights violations in the territories, as well as maintaining a system of ‘apartheid’ against Palestinians. They demand an immediate end to the occupation.
I’m not going to refute their charges — which are a combination of outright lies, exaggerations, and part-truths presented out of context — in detail, because the argument would never end. I do want to make a few very general points.
‘Apartheid’ means a system of segregation based on racism, intended to prevent one group from exercising their rights, as existed in South Africa until 1994. Even Jimmy Carter (whom the WIB quote on their website) admits that Israel does not apply ‘apartheid’ to Israeli Arabs. Palestinians living in the occupied territories are certainly subject to many restrictions, although they are not legally Israelis with the same rights as Israeli Arab citizens.
Unlike the case of South Africa, however, there is not a permanent system of segregation applied to residents of the territories, and restrictions are not based on racism. Rather there are security measures taken to prevent terrorist militias that are based in the territories from carrying out acts of war against the civilian population of Israel.
Why then misapply the term? Because the groups doing this would like to justify boycotts and divestment against Israel in the same way that they were employed against the racist government of South Africa. Such actions can comprise economic warfare, as well as being highly effective in delegitimizing the state of Israel in preparation for traditional warfare.
Sometimes Israeli soldiers take actions, sanctioned or not by the higher echelons, which violate generally accepted standards for treatment of civilians. Organizations such as WIB cite these (usually in exaggerated form) as a reason to boycott Israel.
They do not provide the appropriate context in which the violations occurred: the state of war which exists between Israel and the terrorist militias. These militias (e.g., the Palestinian Islamic Jihad which recently bombed the bakery in Eilat) receive funding from various state enemies of Israel such as Iran, and enjoy a high degree of support from the indigenous population of the territories. It is in the context of this war – there’s nothing else to call it – that these human rights violations occur. Although there’s no justification for such actions, it’s instructive to compare the actions of Israeli soldiers to those of other nations when occupying hostile territory in wartime.
The groups supporting a boycott argue that the occupation itself is illegal and that Israel must be forced to withdraw from all of the territories. They claim that the terrorism against Israel that is perpetrated by the militias is a direct result of the occupation and that fairness to all sides requires an end to the occupation.
Israel disputes that the occupation is illegal, but I’ll leave that question for the international lawyers. The fact is that a majority of Israelis voted implicitly for ending the occupation by supporting the Oslo process and then explicitly by electing Ehud Barak in 1999. In 2000, Barak proposed a settlement that would have ended the occupation and created the Palestinian state. The Palestinians, in the person of Yasser Arafat, rejected this proposal, misrepresented it, and began to make war on Israel.
Today the occupation continues because there is no way, given the positions of the Palestinian factions, that it could be ended without imperiling the existence of the State of Israel. Indeed, as time goes by the Palestinians – encouraged by external support – demand more concessions rather than moving toward compromise.
Israel is currently threatened externally from several directions. The danger from the territories is part and parcel of the external threat, because the terrorist militias are working in concert with Israel’s other enemies. Israel’s military strength, in the sense of her ability to achieve her goals by military means, is severely limited as we can see from the recent war in Lebanon. Anyone who does want the state to survive has to understand that the occupation must continue until there is a real alternative which guarantees that the territories will not be used as a launching pad for terrorism.
It’s worth mentioning that Israelis are doubtful that simply ending the occupation would end terrorism because of two indisputable facts: the fact that terrorism began long before the 1967 occupation, and the fact that terrorist attacks from the Gaza strip and south Lebanon increased when Israel withdrew from those places.
The various groups supporting the boycott understand the situation entirely in terms of the Palestinian narrative in which the Jews stole their land (not just the territories, all of it). So they are not especially concerned, even if some of them claim to be “pro-Israel”, with Israel’s security considerations.
In addition, they see Israel as an enormously powerful state entity oppressing individuals. They view individual rights as paramount when opposed to state power. They do not recognize that the terrorist militias are doing their best to violate the most basic human right, the right to live, of individual Israeli citizens, and that the Israeli state is acting to protect this right.
Israel is nothing like the South Africa of 1994, and does not deserve the pariah status that these groups want to give it. Fair-minded people will not support these boycotts.