How would you react if a Stanford student organization announced the establishment of a new group called Students Confronting British Nazism, or Students Confronting Women’s Blame for Rape? Or how about Students Confronting African American Inferiority? Anyone with a moral bone in his body would clearly be flooded by feelings of incredulity, followed by outrage. Why? Because these group names not only assert a blatant lie, they are also deeply offensive and dangerous. The British are no Nazis, women are never to blame for rape and African Americans are not “inferior” to anyone. The purpose of such a group would be purely negative — its very ambition to dehumanize and delegitimize an entire group of people. Surely no Stanford student organization would stoop so low, right?
Wrong! By announcing last week that it was creating a new group called Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel — and launching a series of assaults accusing Israel of institutionalized racism, the Stanford student organization Coalition for Justice in the Middle East (CJME) — demonstrated that when it comes to the Jewish people, even the most abusive and pernicious lies are fair game on campus.
Apartheid — the official policy of racial “apartness” — strangled South African nonwhites for decades, crippling countless lives with laws involving political, legal, and economic discrimination based on racial hatred. The politicized claims of Israeli “apartheid” distort the historical record and denigrate the suffering of Black South African victims.
The analogy between apartheid and Israel is absurd. The revival of national sovereignty in the Jewish homeland is not a manifestation of European colonialism, in contrast to the white settlers (Afrikaans, English and others) who created Johannesburg and Pretoria. Jews are indigenous to the Middle East as is the Jewish national language, Hebrew. Anyone who has ever visited Israel knows that it is one of the most diverse multi-ethnic democracies in the world.
While South African apartheid was based on denial of sovereignty for the black population, Israelis accepted the two-state solution from the beginning, including the 1947 UN partition plan. And while black labor was exploited in slavery-like conditions under apartheid, Palestinians are dependent on Israeli employment due to their leaders’ own corruption and economic failures. Israel does not benefit from cheap and unskilled Palestinian labor. Rather, Palestinian dependency is a drain on both societies. It is not surprising, therefore, that Columbia University president Lee Bollinger called the comparison of Israel to apartheid “grotesque and offensive.”
Apartheid? Israel is the sole liberal democracy in the Middle East. Is it perfect? Of course not. No human society can ever be. However, Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Arab citizens possess equal rights (for more details, visit Freedom House at www.freedomhouse.org). Israeli Arab citizens have full parliamentary representation, vote their conscience, sit on Israel’s Supreme Court, worship freely and criticize the government (constantly!) without fear. Meanwhile, the Saudi government prohibits Jews, by law, from setting foot in Saudi Arabia.
CJME’s actions are not only based on a spiteful myth, they are also dangerous. Racism is the 21st century’s scarlet letter: Once branded racist, you’re an outcast. Those who attempt to label Israel an “apartheid state” are in effect campaigning against co-existence and peace. Does one co-exist with apartheid? No. Does one make peace with apartheid? Of course not, because to do so would be morally wrong. By establishing the new group, CJME hopes that the repetition of the rhetoric of demonization (“apartheid,” “genocide,” “racism”) will come to be accepted as truth, creating an atmosphere of intimidation for Jewish students and animosity toward Israel.
Ah, but what about free speech? While even hate propaganda may be protected speech, this does not mean that it is acceptable to spread offensive lies on campus. Would we tolerate a Stanford student organization whose sole purpose is to trash any other religious, ethnic or gender-based community? Our culture of respect and diversity makes this normatively unacceptable.
Equally disturbing is the one sided, selective nature of the attack. If they truly cared about protecting fundamental rights in the Middle East, the anti-Israel groups would protest gender discrimination throughout the region, where “religious” thugs murder girls who don’t wear veils, or where fathers and brothers kill sisters and daughters who fall in love with a non-Muslims (so-called “honor killings”). They’d protest ethnic discrimination in Sudan, where Arab Muslims have been ethnically cleansing African Muslims and Christians for decades, driving them off their lands, capturing, enslaving or slaughtering them. They may even criticize the wholesale ethnic cleansing of nearly the entire Christian and Jewish populations of the Arab world by Arab governments.
Like many of the student activists at the University, the Stanford students who make up CJME have been blessed with tremendous opportunities, energy and organizational talents. They can choose whether to invest those assets in building or destroying, creating good or doing harm. Demonizing Israel so irresponsibly is wrong and dangerous. Far better to work together towards achieving the goals of the UN Arab Human Development Report — democracy, self-determination, gender freedom, prosperity, security and peace for all in the Middle East: Christians, Jews and Muslims.
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