Saree Makdisi Dumbs Down Apartheid

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at r[email protected]. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Rob Eshman
ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at [email protected]. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

The rule of thumb for opinion pieces in The Jewish Journal is that writers are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.  That standard doesn’t seem to be in place over at The Los Angeles Times.  In today’s Times opinion section, UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi mounts a defense of columnist Helen Thomas, who publicly called on Jews in Israel to go back where they came from.  The logic of the piece is baffling.  Even if you can dredge up instances where Israeli Jews and American Jews undermine Palestinian claims to a homeland, how does that excuse Thomas’s hateful and incredibly ignorant remarks?  Is Makdisi’s basic position that two wrongs make a right?  Brilliant.

But the line that goes beyond opinion to misinformation is this:

Today, Israel is only able to maintain its Jewish identity because it has established an apartheid regime, both in the occupied territories and within its own borders, and because it continues to reject the Palestinian right of return.

Note The Times lets Makdisi assert that Israel within the pre-1967 borders is an apartheid state.  That is simply not true, by the definition of the word itself, and either definitions matter or they don’t.  Apartheid is a systematic and institutionalized discrimination and separation based on minority rule of the majority.  Within Israel that doesn’t exist.  For one, Jews are a majority within the pre-1967 borders.  For another, Jews and Arabs can work, eat, shop, study and serve in the Knesset together, something that apartheid flatly prohibits. Yes, Arabs in Israel suffer from various forms of discrimination in a far from perfect democracy, but discrimination is not apartheid, and it is either sloppy thinking, sloppy editing, or willful deceit to suggest otherwise. Why let Makdisi assert it?  As long as he’s inventing Israeli political systems,w hy not let him say its a monarchy ruled by a giant Muffin King? 

As inventions go, of course, apartheid is a wholly delegitimizing identity.  The best response as to why Israel proper is NOT an apartheid state comes from one of the Arab Israelis who lives there, Khaled Abu Toameh.  In “For Israel’s Arabs It Is Not Apartheid” he writes:

An Arab member of the Knesset who goes all the way to the US and Canada to tell university students and professors that Israel is an apartheid state is not only a hypocrite and a liar, but is also causing huge damage to the interests of his own Arab voters and constituents.

If Israel were an apartheid state, what is this Arab doing in the Knesset? Doesn’t apartheid mean that someone like this Knesset member would not, in the first place, even be permitted to run in an election?

Fortunately, Arab citizens can go to the same beaches, restaurants and shopping malls as Jews in this “apartheid” state. Moreover, they can run in any election and even have a minister in the government [Ghaleb Majadlah] for the first time.

In this “apartheid” state, the Arab community has a free media that many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip envy. Ironically, an Arab newspaper in Nazareth or Haifa that is licensed by Israel enjoys more freedom than the media controlled by Hamas and Fatah, as well as most corrupt Arab dictatorships.

Ironically, this Knesset member who is complaining about apartheid enjoys more privileges than most Jews and Arabs in Israel. As a parliamentarian, he is entitled to do many things that an ordinary citizen cannot do, thanks largely to the immunity he enjoys as an elected official.

His parliamentary immunity allows him to enter areas that ordinary Jewish and Arab citizens do not have access to. This Knesset member, for example, travels to the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories which, for many years, have been off-limits to ordinary Israeli citizens.

This Knesset member also can sometimes even break the law by visiting “hostile” countries like Syria and Lebanon and holding public meetings with Hamas and Hizbullah leaders.

True, the Arab community inside Israel has long been facing real problems that need to be dealt with urgently. The main problem was and remains discrimination by the establishment, especially when it comes to employment, infrastructure and allocation of public funds and lands.

Nonetheless, the Arab citizens are not struggling for separation from Israel. Rather, they are fighting for integration, equality and better services and treatment. The Arab citizens are happy to live in Israel, where they have always had an average of 10 representatives in the Knesset.

By denouncing Israel as an apartheid state, the Knesset member who flew to North America is actually helping those who are trying to avoid the real problem: Discrimination. By focusing on the issue of apartheid, he is actually diverting attention from the real problem and betraying the interests of his own people.

The Arab citizens of Israel would like to see their representatives sitting in parliament and fighting for equality and better services for the Arab sector than participating in Israel Apartheid Week at a university in Ottowa or Toronto.

It is hard to understand how the participation of an Arab Knesset member in Israel Apartheid Week on a university campus in the US or Canada helps the cause of the 1.4 million Arab citizens of Israel. In fact, this could cause damage to the Arab citizens and their battle against discrimination.

The Arab Knesset member’s presence on these campuses plays into the hands of those Israelis who accuse the Arab citizens, the majority of whom remain loyal to the state, of being a “fifth column” and an “enemy from within.” The more the Jews are afraid of their fellow Arab citizens, the more the latter will suffer.

The best way to undermine radicals like this Knesset member is by offering the Arab citizens equal services and full rights. Yes, Israel is not an apartheid state. But Israel must wake up and start dealing seriously with the problems of the Arab minority before it is too late.

Then again, what does Khaled know, he only lives in Israel.


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