An Israeli Issues a Dissent over Alleged "Apartheid"

One prominent Israeli gives voice to a nation struggling with issues of democracy, occupation and apartheid.

When one monitors the policy discourse in Israel, one often finds expressions far different from the normal outlook found in the United States regarding Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. A notable case in point is an article published in the left-of-center and influential newspaper Haaretz on November 25 by the newspaper’s publisher and owner, Amos Schocken. He expresses a point of view that deserves attention in America because it is an integral part of the national debate in Schocken’s country, though he concedes that it seems to be a minority view there.

Schocken begins by quoting from a 1993 Knesset speech by then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who raised the specter of an Iranian nuclear capacity by 2003 or so. Israel, he said, must position itself to respond to this threat, and that meant it “must take advantage of the window of opportunity and advance toward peace.” That in turn meant, as Schocken explained, the pursuit of a strategy encompassed in the Oslo Accords of that year—“put an end to the priority granted the settlement project and . . . improve the treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens.”

Had that strategy been pursued, Israel would be much better positioned today to face the Iranian threat. But this strategy collided with “another, stronger ideology,” called Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful)—which, said Schocken, has dominated Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians since the 1970s, with the exception of the immediate Oslo Accords period and the time of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Even governments that never overtly embraced the Gush Emunim strategy, writes Schocken, implemented it in practice.

This strategic framework perceives the 1967 Six-Day War as a continuation of the 1948 War of Independence, “both in terms of seizure of territory, and in its impact on the Palestinian population.” In other words, there is an underlying conviction that those captured lands of 1967 must become a permanent part of Israel, notwithstanding what anyone says publicly. And those who found themselves on occupied lands “must be subjected to a harsh regime that will encourage their flight, eventuate in their expulsion, deprive them of their rights, and bring about a situation in which those who remain will not be even second-class citizens, and their fate will be of interest to no one.”

Schocken declares bluntly: “This is a strategy of territorial seizure and apartheid.” The writer is quick to explain his use of the incendiary term “apartheid,” which of course references the undemocratic system of anti-black discrimination in South Africa before that system crumbled under the weight of domestic pressure and international opprobrium. There are certainly differences between the two systems, Schocken acknowledges, but he insists there are also similarities. “There are two population groups in one region, one of which possesses all the rights and protections, while the other is deprived of rights and is ruled by the first group. This is a flagrantly undemocratic situation.”

This outlook dominates Israeli politics, says Schocken, adding that “the government is effectively a tool of Gush Emunim.” It also dominates, he adds, the politics of the United States, “of all places.” Schocken notes that President George H. W. Bush sought to take on Gush Emunim by tying financial guarantees for Israel with actions of forbearance on the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories—which, after all, was (and remains) the stated policy preference of the United States as well as the United Nations. But ultimately he did not succeed. And now, says Schocken, “candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination are competing among themselves over which of them supports Israel and the occupation more forcefully. Any of them who adopt the approach of the first President Bush will likely put an end to their candidacy.”

In pondering the origin of this state of affairs, Schocken suggests it may be related to the large number of Republican evangelicals who support Israel for reasons of religious doctrine; or perhaps to the West’s difficult relations with Islam; or “the power of the Jewish lobby, which is totally addicted to the Gush Emunim ideology.” Whatever the origin, he adds, the result is clear: “It is not easy, and may be impossible, for an American president to adopt an activist policy against Israeli apartheid.”

Schocken wraps up his analysis with an exposition of how this ideology has served to distort Israeli democracy. “Because of its inherent illegality, at least in democratic terms, an apartheid regime cannot abide opposition or criticism.” He cites “the so-called Boycott Law,” which encourages sanctions against those, inside or outside the country, who seek to pressure Israeli officials through product boycotts of the kind that helped bring down South African apartheid; laws requiring loyalty oaths from Palestinian citizens of Israel; and “a campaign of incitement and intimidation” against critics of Gush Emunim in academia.

But, says Schocken, the Gush Emunim forces have a problem in the Israeli Supreme Court, which once generally approved their actions but recently has turned against many of their initiatives. This institution thus has become “an obstacle that needs to be removed.” And adherents of the dominant ideology are actively trying to get control over it.

Schocken concludes by asking whether an Israel as reflected in these ideas and impulses has a future.

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