Sitting on the fence over Israeli Apartheid is no laughing matter

Israeli soldiers stand at the apartheid wall in Israel [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

Israeli soldiers stand at the apartheid wall in Israel [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

There is an old English idiom dating back to the 15th century which says that you can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. To give it a 21st century spin, it’s a bit like telling a comedian that he can’t perform for laughs with the Israelis and then run with the Palestinians.

That comedian, of course, is Eddie Izzard, who showed what some would say is a callous disregard for the plight of the Palestinians by performing at a comedy night in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening while boasting in tweets that he would be running in a marathon for Palestine the next day. Critics urged Izzard, who has ambitions to stand as a Labour MP, to cancel his Tel Aviv gig. Parallels were drawn with those who performed in South Africa or the odious “Bantustans” created during the Apartheid era.

Mention of the South African comparison should have hit the mark, because the multi-marathon-running comedian was there exactly a year ago draped in a Palestinian flag, posing beneath a statue of the legendary Nelson Mandela, an arch critic of the Zionist state and one of Palestine’s most influential supporters. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” said the great man.

Read: Israel is an ‘apartheid regime’

The “Right To Movement” group, which has organised the Palestine Marathon through Bethlehem for the past four years, released a statement on this matter: “British comedian Eddie Izzard cannot run for freedom this Friday if he entertains in Tel Aviv on Thursday.” More bluntly, the organisers insisted, “We refuse to be used as a fig leaf to cover up Izzard’s whitewashing of Israel’s occupation and apartheid.”

Around 6,000 runners did take part in the marathon on Friday and the route rather poignantly snaked its way past the Apartheid Wall in the occupied West Bank. The whole point of the marathon has always been to highlight the restrictions placed on the Palestinians’ freedom of movement by Israel’s brutal military occupation.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel has also accused Izzard of attempting an unconvincing “balancing act”. The Ramallah-based group released its own statement and again used the South Africa analogy. “Eddie Izzard is not welcome in the Palestine marathon after he has crossed our boycott picket line,” it said, “Today, performing in Tel Aviv is equivalent to performing in Sun City [in one of the Bantustans created during White minority rule in South Africa] during the time of Apartheid.”

Read: Rights groups demand adoption of UN ESCWA report branding Israel apartheid state

Eddie Izzard opted not to cancel his first-ever gig in Israel, and told the US-based Electronic Intifada that, like Britain’s Labour Party, he believes in the co-existence of an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. “I decided, rather than doing nothing, to be proactive and play a gig in Tel Aviv and also run the Palestine Marathon the day after.”

When he made his decision, did he know that 36 Palestinian athletes from the Gaza Strip were banned by Israel from leaving the besieged enclave to take part in the marathon? Their enforced absence, condemned by the Palestinian Athletics Federation, is unlikely to make the same headlines as Izzard’s no-show.

Mick Napier, a co-founder of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, dismissed the comedian’s reasoning. “The Palestinians put up a picket line and Eddie Izzard scabbed on it,” he pointed out. “Complicity with Israeli Apartheid and what many people call incremental genocide in Gaza cannot be expunged by trying to hang out with Palestinians. We applaud the decision by the organisers of the marathon to exclude Izzard.”

I’m not sure if the well-read comedian has heard of the hare and the hounds, but since he is in the Holy Land and near the traditional birthplace of Jesus, he might want to ponder on a passage in the Bible’s Gospel According to St Matthew: “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despite the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” In opting to turn a blind eye to the Israeli occupation and go to Tel Aviv as if it is part of a normal state, Eddie Izzard has chosen to ignore the Palestinian call for a boycott of the Zionist state; boycotts, he might recall, brought about the downfall of Apartheid South Africa. He can’t be too surprised, therefore, that he now finds himself shunned by the people he claims to support.

Sitting on the fence in this issue is no laughing matter, no matter how “proactive” the comedian thinks he was. The reality is that he can’t have it both ways until Israel’s military occupation of Palestine comes to an end.


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UN agency labels Israel ‘apartheid regime’– and Israel likens organization to Nazis


on March 15, 2017 67 Comments

A United Nations agency today labeled Israel an “apartheid regime,” in a report that found the country guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of the “grave charge” of operating systematic discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people. 

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published the document, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian, People and the Question of Apartheid.” ESCWA is mandated to review Israeli aggressions.  

The findings of the report are non-binding and reflect contributions from professor of political science at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Virginia Tilley and former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk. It concluded UN organs should sanction Israel and coordinate with civil society groups in boycott campaigns. Apartheid, the report described, is “a crime against humanity” and defined as:

Apartheid, the report described, is “a crime against humanity” and defined as:

“[I]nhuman acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial groups or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

While neither Jews or Palestinians are racial groups, the report stated, the apartheid standard was met because ESCWA found a “racial character” to the policies of the Israeli government enacted toward both Jews and Palestinians. This is expressed inside of Israel through separate categories for a citizen’s “nationality” (Jewish or Arab) and in the occupied territories by the absence of citizenship for Palestinians. 

Israel was said to have divided Palestinians into different spheres of governance, each with fewer rights than Jewish-Israelis. Sub-sections of the report outline Palestinians citizens of Israel, West Bank and Gaza residents, Jerusalem residents, and external refugees, all of whom have unequal rights in comparison to Jewish-Israeli citizens.

“Strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime,” ESCWA said. Individual treatment to each group may not meet the apartheid definition, when taken together the report said, it does.

The UN body regarded Israel as producing “one comprehensive regime developed for the purpose of ensuring the enduring dominion over non-Jews in all land exclusively under Israeli control in whatever category.”

Apartheid inside of Israel

Palestinian citizens of Israel total 1.7 million, and while they have voting rights, the report found several quasi-governmental agencies carried out “demographic engineering” in the name of the state to privilege Jewish citizens over Palestinians. Chiefly, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization were both described as exclusively resettling Jewish immigrants and using state land for Jewish-only housing, while at the same time Israel denied the return of Palestinian refugees, and on a smaller scale, denied citizenships to spouses of Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian heritage.

The report further found Palestinians have no legal tools for dismantling the racialized hierarchies enshrined to those agencies, due to a 1958 law (functionally part of Israel’s constitution) that calls for a “Jewish character” of the country.

“Palestinian parties can campaign only for minor reforms and better municipal budgets. They are legally prohibited from challenging the racial regime itself,” the report said.

‘Full apartheid’ already in West Bank

While Palestinians citizens of Israel were noted to hold the same political rights as their Jewish-counterparts, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to harsh Israeli military code and hold no political rights in Israel.

Because some 300,000 Israeli settlers also live inside of the West Bank and are governed by separate rules than Palestinians the UN group said: “the dual legal system, problematic in itself, is indicative of an apartheid regime.”

“The territory is administered in a manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative ‘inhuman act’ listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the West Bank.”

The issue of how the areas under the full security and civil control of the Palestinian Authority fit into the picture was also raised. These urban enclaves in the West Bank were likened to “Bantustans” in South Africa during the apartheid-era and regarded as further evidence of the definition of apartheid.

Bantustans, defined as “separate reserves and ghettoes for the members of the racial groups or groups,” are strictly banned under international law, said the study. Virginia Tilley, the author of this section of the report, added to Mondoweiss that the late Ariel Sharon, who is credited for the idea of Palestinian self-government zones, “closely examined the functioning of the Bantustans in South Africa during his multiple trips there. I think no reasonable doubt can be sustained that this design for a permanently non-sovereign Palestinian ‘state’ was the true aim and so the set-up was intentional and by design and not merely effect.”

Regarding Palestinians who hold Jerusalem resident permits, Israel was charged with “discrimination in access to education, health care, employment, residency and building rights. They also suffer from expulsions and home demolitions, which serve the Israeli policy of ‘demographic balance’ in favour of Jewish residents.”

The report made a specific reference to a 1996 “center of life” law, which it said was a legal mechanism to expel 11,000 Palestinians from the city between the time the law passed and 2014, because their “center of life” was deemed not to be Jerusalem. 

ESCWA claimed Israel first began implementing apartheid abuses during its early years of statehood when 800,000 Palestinians were made refugees during the 1947-49 war. Israel then prevented their return, while at the same time passing legislation to allow any person of Jewish heritage to become a citizen.

The report comes just days after the latest warning bell was sounded by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who told the Jerusalem Post Israel would embark on an “apartheid system” if it did not reach a peace deal soon with the Palestinians. Former Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing a similar point for several years about the waning time before Israel becomes an “apartheid” regime; although his successor Rex Tillerson stated in his Senate confirmation hearing that the Israelis and Palestinians have time to make a deal (“Sometimes you just need to skip a generation to get rid of all the baggage of the past,” he said).

The reigning view in the U.S. and Europe is that if Israel were to annex the occupied Palestinians territory and take full control, unbridled apartheid would flourish. But the UN report jumps the timeline world leaders have used, and says so explicitly at the top of the dossier: ESCWA reviewed the situation between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as a whole, as if it were all, already, a single state.

Israel has fiercely rejected the apartheid charge, in this report and previously, although it seemingly did not take this report as a seriously as others.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Nahshon directed Mondoweiss to his Twitter feed: “#UN #ESCWA has issued today a ” Der Stürmer”like report, NOT endorsed by @UNSG . Friendly advice- dont read it without anti nausea pills….,” he said today, referencing the Nazi propaganda outlet, Der Stürmer.

In 2010 Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs more clearly outlined its position on why it is not an apartheid state:

While the status of Arab-Israelis in Israel is still open to much improvement, a great deal has already been accomplished towards reaching the goal of absolute equality. Unlike under apartheid, Arab Israelis can vote, live where they want, receive excellent medical care and practice whatever profession they choose. One only has to look at the rise of Arab-Israelis in the public sphere to realize the advances Arab Israelis have made: they can be found on the Supreme Court, in the Knesset (parliament), in ambassadorial positions, as senior officers in the police and army, as mayors, as deputy-speakers of the Knesset and even as government ministers and deputy ministers. Prominent Arab Israelis can be found in almost every sphere of Israeli life, including in the medical fields, media and playing on Israel’s national soccer team.

One of the ideals on which Israel was founded was that of equality. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that the State of Israel ‘will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.’”

Some human rights groups have shied away from labeling Israel as practicing “apartheid” when describing mistreatment of Palestinians. Although that is more or less the contention of a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch, “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” The human rights group only looked at areas Israel occupies and did not address Palestinian citizens of Israel. 

Adalah, the leading human rights group that advocates on behalf of Palestinian citizens of Israel also has yet to use the word “apartheid” to formally describe their situation. But on its website, the group says Palestinians are “unequal” to Jewish-Israelis and lists 50 “Discriminatory Laws in Israel” that codify separate treatment between Jewish and Arab citizens, ranging from regulations about income tax to land-use codes. 

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Why BDS activists can’t shrug off the ban on entering Israel

Image of protesters supporting the BDS movement outside Downing Street during Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the UK on September 9 2016

Image of protesters supporting the BDS movement outside Downing Street during Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the UK on September 9 2016

The cynic might say that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement got what was coming to it when Israel recently banned its activists from visiting the country. You can’t, surely, be advocating the cutting of ties with a country and not expect the government of that country to do the same back to you.

This is what Richard Falk called a “legitimacy war” that needed to be fought, peacefully, with Israel, “combining the mobilisation of a movement from below with global solidarity.” What Falk was less clear about, in an article that was later removed from the Stop the War Coalition’s website, was that war generally has two sides to it. If it doesn’t, it’s commonly called a massacre. Rightly so, the BDS movement should not be in the business of massacres.

Strategists behind BDS might even say that this ban works in their favour; it proves that they are onto something, and it proves that Israel is more authoritarian than it likes to make out. Israel, in fact, is increasingly illiberal and BDS seem to be among the enlightened minority of international observers who have realised this. The delicate sensibilities of neoconservative and muscular liberal supporters of Israel, who are in love with the idea of the state but aren’t too plugged into its political realities, don’t like to use the word “apartheid,” upon which the case for BDS rests. According to them, apartheid is a ridiculous term, because Muslims live alongside Jews in Israel. They do, kind of, but it turns out that not only are there a number of discriminatory laws now in place which affect the non-Jewish minorities, but also quite a few Israeli dignitaries who happen to think that Israel is indeed practicing apartheid.

Read: Israeli general’s son: ‘BDS is how you bring about change’

Shulamit Aloni, who served as Minister for Education under Yitzhak Rabin, said in 2007 that, “Yes, there is apartheid in Israel.” With considerable insight, she added that, “It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds.” It is this awkward truth – that the self-styled Jewish state, created because so many Jews were persecuted for centuries, has now become the oppressor — that makes “the A-word” so hard to use in polite society. BDS, which is undoubtedly a radical movement, is also by this radical nature brave enough to make this association, something that the chattering classes of London are far too prim to engage with.

That Israel has become the oppressor is a particularly awkward truth to acknowledge, if you are observing from a country where Jews do still face hate. Only this week, a fake road sign was found in a proudly Jewish area of north London stating pictorially, “Beware of Jews“. This turned out to be a tasteless art project, but when viewed alongside other incidents involving swastikas and a spike in anti-Jewish hate crime following the European Union exit referendum result — plus the fact that children attending Jewish schools in this country do so under the watchful eye of CCTV cameras and security guards for fear of anti-Semitic attacks — you can understand, perhaps, why British observers of Israel sympathise too heavily with the state on matters related to the Palestinian semi-state that it lords over.

Nevertheless, the clamour of Israeli voices using “the A-word” has long been growing. In November 2014, the former attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair repeated his 2002 claim that his country had “established an apartheid regime in the occupied Palestinian territories.” Yossi Sarid, who served as an environment minister under both Rabin and Shimon Peres, stated bluntly that “the white Afrikaners, too, had reasons for their segregation policy; they, too, felt threatened – a great evil was at their door, and they were frightened, out to defend themselves. Unfortunately, however, all good reasons for apartheid are bad reasons; apartheid always has a reason, and it never has a justification. And what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck—it is apartheid.”

Read: British government on trial for blocking BDS

Look only to the concept of “Jew-only roads” and you will find it hard to refute this strain of anti-apartheid Israeli thinking. Imagine if such roads were erected in Britain.

The ban on boycotters will almost certainly explode in the current Israeli government’s face, not least because liberal Zionists — Jews or Gentiles — are finally realising that being a liberal Zionist is rather pointless if you have authoritarian Zionists actually running the show. Taken with the fact that the ban was expected, these three points make the perverse case that BDS activists might do well to shrug it off as just one of those things. In strategic terms, though, the ban may even be a help to their cause.

Beyond these analytical curiosities, there is something far more sinister going on. The focus on foreign activists being denied entry to Israel — most notably, for example, Simone Zimmerman from the US or Hugh Lanning from Britain, not to mention the leader of the Labour Party — is misplaced. The real victims of this ban will not be earnest Westerners, but Palestinians.

If it wasn’t hard enough for Palestinians to travel before all of this happened, those who try to do so now risk not being able to return. It is an excellent way for Israel to whittle down the Palestinian activist population, upon which anti-occupation civil society rests.

The reason why BDS activists must fight this ban, and not simply let it do their work for them, is because the ban in itself represents another sophisticated form of ethnic cleansing. BDS is an international movement but it has its roots in Palestine. If you rip the roots out, as this ban intends, the movement will slowly fall apart. BDS is arguably the Palestinians’ last hope. Will those of them who leave and are not allowed back to their homeland ever be able to return? Of course not. That’s why BDS activists can’t shrug off this ban as if it is nothing to fret about; although it is, perversely, working in their favour, it is Palestinians, as ever, who continue to suffer the most from the effects of Israeli apartheid.


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