Last week, the Manitoban printed an article by Spencer Fernando titled “Why our generation must support Israel.” Amidst the various boilerplate Zionist arguments, Fernando calls for “set[ting] the record straight” and discussion to reach common ground. While discussion alone cannot end the conflict (only the dismantling of systems of Israeli oppression can), and anyone attempting to discuss or mediate the issue from a distance must be cognizant of our lack of agency to engage in dialogue with an oppressor on behalf of an oppressed people, I am writing this article as a response to actually try to set the record straight.
One of the first things I find curious about Fernando’s article is the central thesis, namely that one could claim to support an independent Palestine in accordance with a two-state solution, yet also that one must also support the state which has been denying the right to self-determination to Palestinians for decades.
One cannot sit on the fence like this and have any sort of moral consistency — it is moral ambiguity at best and an intentional cloaking of Zionist racism at worst. The two-state solution itself which Fernando proposes is also problematic. While I do not wish to tell the people of Palestine what form their national aspirations must take, given the realities of Israeli settlements and the apartheid wall, I am sceptical that a two-state solution will result in anything more than a system of Bantustans.
The first reason put forward to support Israel is the notion of Israel as a democracy. Admittedly, Israel does have most of the trappings associated with our limited concept of liberal democracy. However, it is at best a democracy for Jewish people only. The profound level of discrimination in Israeli society and its apartheid practices in occupied Palestine precludes any application of the label “democracy,” even before we get into a discussion on the banning of Arab political parties. Even then, nominally being a liberal democracy does not entitle a nation to support its imperialist or colonialist adventures — simply look at all the horror that American foreign policy has wrought on this earth for decades.
Fernando goes on to say that Israel deserves support because it shows restraint. The notion that the Israeli state shows restraint is patently absurd in the light of the Gaza massacre 14 months ago, which killed over 1,300 Palestinians. Furthermore, the idea of showing restraint is a poor defence — one should not be supported for doing something wrong simply because they have the capability to do something even worse. It is Israel which has driven this conflict through decades of oppression and apartheid policies.
The tired old “progressive Zionist” argument — that the Israeli state and its apartheid practices should be supported, because Israel has supposedly more liberal policies — is followed by the ridiculous and thought-terminating Bush-esque notion that “they hate us for our freedom.” This argument, aside from resting on a few Islamophobic and racist conceptions of Muslims, does not serve the interests of the women, LGBT* population or religious minorities in Palestine, who are being cynically used in this argument to make political points contrary to their interests.
Women are among the most affected by systems of Israeli apartheid and the poverty which the state of Israel inflicts on Palestine. Due to discrimination against Arab women in Israeli society, employment levels for Arab women in Israel are lower than in Saudi Arabia, the nation Fernando picks as a black spot for women’s rights. If the Israeli state truly cared about the rights of women in Palestine, it wouldn’t bomb them. The notion that Israel respects the rights of religious and national minorities is quite frankly illogical and is not even worth expending energy and ink to refute.
The story of Israel is not inspirational at all as it is a state built upon the oppressions of the Palestinian people. Israel’s alleged respect for human rights has been shown time and time again not to extend to Palestinians. As for technological advancement, such metrics are irrelevant to any discussion of morality and oppression, apartheid and imperialism.
The levels of irony in the article hit a high point when Fernando declares his support for a state denying another nation their right to exist by stating that Israel has the same right to exist as any other nation on Earth. Clearly, “any other nation on Earth” excludes the oppressed nation of occupied (one day to be free) Palestine. Furthermore, self-defence does not include massacring Palestinians, denying their right to exist and turning Gaza into an open-air prison.
Although I vehemently disagree with most of his article, Spencer Fernando is correct to note that the issue is not the people of Israel versus the Palestinians. The issue is the people of Palestine and all peace-loving people against the Israeli state and systems of Israeli apartheid. The conflict is driven not by irrational hatred, but by systems of oppression based primarily on nationality. In order to have any sort of lasting peace based on justice, not surrendering Palestinian rights, we all need to do our part to dismantle systems of Israeli apartheid.
Locally, we can do this by endorsing and promoting the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, including women’s groups, unions and professional associations. Not only is it what broad sections of Palestinian society are asking us to do, but BDS helped end apartheid in South Africa, and can help end Israeli apartheid.
Brian Latour is a fifth year civil engineering student at the University of Manitoba and is in solidarity with Palestine.