David Suissa: Murdering Israel’s name

While five Israeli Jews were being murdered in Itamar last week, something else was being murdered on college campuses across America: Israel’s name.

This murder rampage is called Israel Apartheid Week.

There are few things worse for a country today than being labeled apartheid. This insult has it all: racism, decades of violent and racist oppression, international boycotts, even a global hero (Nelson Mandela) who conquered the demon.

No wonder the accusation has done so much damage to Israel. As Natalie Menaged, a pro-Israel activist, wrote recently in the Jerusalem Post: “Passing through many North American campuses this month — from New York and Boston to Chicago and Los Angeles — students are likely to draw the conclusion that Israel is a brutally oppressive regime, worthy of global boycotts and sanctions.”

In fact, if there is one word that has fueled the global campaign to delegitimize Israel, and the ensuing BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, you can be sure it is the dirty word apartheid.

Even groups like J Street, who are not known for their passionate defense of Israeli policies, have gone on record against this racist accusation.

And yet, despite the obvious slander, the “Israel is apartheid” movement grows stronger every year.

What can Israel do to defend itself?

One approach would be to go positive, like many pro-Israel activists did this year, by playing up messages like Israel’s desire for peace and its history of making compromises for peace.

This approach is noble, but it is not enough.

It is not enough because the forces that hurl extremist accusations like “Israel is apartheid” are not looking for peace. They claim that all of Israel is apartheid and worthy of boycotts. Their aim is not to engage in debate but to destroy Israel’s name.

And let’s face it: They’re winning.

They have lodged a racist accusation in people’s heads that can’t be dislodged with feel-good language. The only way to get at this poison is with a specific and powerful antidote.

In other words, Israel must develop a PR message that will destroy the enemy’s accusation while reclaiming the higher ground.

Here’s my candidate: “Israel is the ONLY country in the Middle East that is NOT apartheid.”

Now imagine if Israel took this PR message and made it the focus of a global campaign on banners, Facebook pages, billboards, print ads, T-shirts, YouTube clips, etc. Who would be on the defensive then?

Unfair, you say? Not accurate? My answer: It’s certainly a lot more fair and accurate than “Israel is apartheid” — but if you disagree, well, then, let’s debate!

With the widespread revolts going on right now in the Middle East against decades of oppression, the world could use a debate comparing the democratic policies of Israel with those of her neighbors. 

As Arsen Ostrovsky, an attorney for human rights and international law, writes: “The real apartheid today is in places such as Saudi Arabia, where the government totally forbids the public practice of non-Muslim religions, the presence of a Bible there, officially labels both Christians and Jews ‘unbelievers’ and cautions Muslims not to befriend Christians or Jews.”

He goes on: “If Israel were an apartheid State, people like Arab Israeli Salim Jurban would not have been elected to Israel’s Supreme Court … and there would not be five different Arab parties and 14 Arab Israeli members of Knesset, some of whom are the most outspoken and harshest critics of Israel.”

But what about the suffering of Palestinians, you ask? In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post (“Where Is the Outcry Against Arab Apartheid?”), Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Tomaeh reported on the “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in impoverished refugee camps in Lebanon and who are the victims of an apartheid system that denies them access to work, education and medical care.”

Tomaeh also reported on the 180,000 Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, who, in the past year alone, were welcomed into Israel to receive some of the finest medical care in the world, whether they could afford it or not. I can think of a few hundred million Arabs in the Middle East who wouldn’t mind this kind of service.

So, yes, let’s debate. Let’s hear Israel’s apartheid accusers defend the apartheid abuses in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Jordan and other Middle East countries — where, as Ostrovsky notes, “people are being jailed, tortured and often killed fighting for their human rights.”

Let’s compare those regimes with Israel’s democracy, and let’s see who’s apartheid and who’s not.

The truth is, when you look at the Middle East, the more liberal you are, the more you should defend Israel. At the very least, you should push back against the absurdly unfair apartheid slander. Israel might have an imperfect democracy with its share of flaws and inequities, but it hardly merits the vicious and unjust apartheid libel — a libel that even leftist groups agree goes way beyond the dispute with the Palestinians.

If you call yourself pro-Israel, you must fight this injustice.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”suissa@olam.org” title=”suissa@olam.org”} or davidsuissa.com.