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Israel and “apartheid”

Israel and “apartheid”

The always perceptive Morgan Guyton offers a careful, compassionate take on the recent controversy that ensued when Secretary of State John Kerry said, to quote Guyton, “that unless a two-state solution can be brokered between Israel and Palestine, Israel will either end up with a democratic society without a Jewish majority or an apartheid state in which Palestinians don’t have equal rights.”


Guyton writes:

When we say the word “apartheid,” the word certainly has a “technical” meaning, but it also involves making a particular historical analogy to South Africa. To be fair, South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu is not uncomfortable making that analogy: “I go and I visit the Holy Land and I see things that are a mirror image of the sort of things that I experienced under the apartheid.” I’m not going to say that Desmond Tutu doesn’t have the right to make that comparison. But I don’t.

Because the Israelis are not the “white people” the same way that the British and Boers were in South Africa. Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade are not the same as Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. There really were suicide bombers who blew up buses and discos in the not-too-distant past a little more than a decade ago. I’m sure there have been plenty of cynical ulterior motives at play in the logistics of laying out Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank which purportedly serves the purpose of protecting Israel from terrorism. I don’t think the wall should exist and I’ve protested against it. But there is a big difference between the actual security concerns posed by the ANC to the South African regime and those posed by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to the Israeli government.

So even if “apartheid” has a technical meaning, the analogy it evokes is unfair. Israel is not a straightforward colonial state like the 19th century colonies in the Global South set up by the European empires. It is basically a refugee camp set up by the British Empire on land that was already inhabited as their penance for complicity in the near extermination of the Jewish race.

It’s worth reading the entire essay, especially if you plan to comment. Guyton is a smart guy with an authentic voice, and his blog is worth following, whether you agree with his opinions or not.

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William Gilders

I'll bet Israeli shekels that this piece, which Jim aptly characterizes as "careful" and "compassionate," will be sharply criticized by some of the regular commentators on items in "The Lead." I hope that those who do decide to critique the piece will do as Jim advices and read the whole thing (as I just did). As I noted in response to a previous Israel-Palestine item, "Mainline" Christians need to think very carefully about the implications of taking the strongly pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel (anti-Zionist) stance that is becoming increasingly popular in our communities. Given the fraught history of Christian relations with the Jewish people, and the depth of Jewish attachment to the State of Israel, this is a decision that cannot but have serious consequences. For all of the reasons set out in the piece, we should abstain from putting the "apartheid" label on Israel--and we should listen carefully when our Jewish brothers and sisters explain why they find it so offensive and, frankly, dangerous.

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