Bus-stops and the Jewish Question

11 October, 2010 at 20:07 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, knowledge, Politics, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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Holiday bus

The bustle around the bus (Image by RahelSharon via Flickr)

I can’t have enough of reading this cute article on the English-language Wikipedia: Judaism_Bus stops (now deleted from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism_and_bus_stops).

Naturally, it is not a “real” article, and it will be deleted eventually. It was written in order to prove that any two issues can be associated, like Judaism and bus-stops or Israel and apartheid.

Many thanks to Wikibias (http://wikibias.com/2010/10/judaism-and-bus-stops) for bringing this information, and to follow its recommendation, don’t forget to read the fascinating deletion discussion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Judaism_and_bus_stops

Had Wikipedia been invented only so we could read such discussions, it would have been enough to justify the effort. Complements to User:Chesdovi who has just won my admiration.

By the way, I have just noticed that pro-Palestinian editors on Wikipedia managed to push the limit a bit further, changing “Israel and the apartheid analogy” into “Israel and apartheid”. Of course we have no proof for such allegations, just politically biased sources and some exaggerated rhetorics, but we’ve never said there are any reliable sources, have we? We’ve just said “Israel” and “Apartheid” in the same phrase. Is that a violation of Neutral Point of View? Come on, can’t a person speak freely these days? Just don’t say Afro-American, it’s offensive, you must say African-American. And don’t say Syria violates human rights or that there is persecution against Copts in Egypt. It is hardly civilized to say such things…

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Further thoughts about apartheid

23 September, 2010 at 12:38 | Posted in Politics | 2 Comments
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My first post on this blog deals with what I perceive as overuse of the term apartheid – overuse that amounts to abuse. I have noticed that many people who accuse certain countries or societies of practicing “apartheid” refer to the UN-brokered “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”, which was opened to signature in the UN headquarters in New York City on 30 November 1973. People often think of international treaties as some kind of holy scriptures, formulated by the word’s sages and acceptable on all. There are indeed treaties that almost became a modern version of the Ten Commandments, but these are few. In most cases, international treaties are documents that are meant to serve political interests of certain countries. Despite their legal language, they are not necessarily binding laws, especially in cases where many countries refused to sign the treaty. Actually, this is exactly the case of the “counter-apartheid treaty”.

The South African system of apartheid was condemned by nearly all countries in the world. This condemnation translated into strict international boycott. However, many of the countries that condemned the South African apartheid and used to boycott the South African government did not sign the “counter-apartheid treaty”. This fact becomes even more significant when considering that most of the non-party countries are veteran democracies.

 

Map from Wikipedia showing (in dark green) the countries that signed the "counter-apartheid treaty"

Map from Wikipedia showing (in dark green) the countries that signed the "counter-apartheid treaty"

 

Here is an incomplete list of such non-party countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, West Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Benelux countries, Scandinavian countries, Japan and several others. Also, when Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Greece became fully democratic, they did not accede to the treaty. How come such countries with respected record of fighting apartheid and racism declined to join a treaty countering apartheid? Actually, according to the data I could find, even post-apartheid South Africa did not bother to accede to this treaty. How can someone treat such a treaty seriously? Could it be that certain countries politically abused the just fight against racial discrimination in South Africa?

Time to be indigenous

17 September, 2010 at 09:23 | Posted in knowledge, Politics | Leave a comment
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A San (Bushman). Probably the most indigenous people in southern Africa.

A San man (Bushman) who pertains to what seems to be the most indigenous people in southern Africa. (Image via Wikipedia)

How long does it takes before a group of “immigrants” becomes “indigenous people”? In our days of post-colonialism, the term “indigenous” has taken all positive aspects that used to be associated with the word “pioneer”. These days everyone wishes to have deep roots stretching from his feet down to the bottom of the earth, and if s/he cannot find such roots, s/he would invent them. The truth is that people are not trees, and immigration is an essential aspect of our lives. Had it not been the case, we would all live in central Africa to this day. It is also a fact that many peoples who present themselves as indigenous had a history of colonialists. The most striking example is perhaps the Arab peoples. The heroic Arabic term futūħ can be described as a series of colonial conquests of people from the Arabian Peninsula who stormed the Fertile Crescent, North Africa and Persia during the 7-8th centuries CE. It took a few centuries before the vast majority of the Middle Eastern peoples gradually Arabized, either willingly or under pressure. But if the contemporary Middle East is to be regarded as indigenously Arab, then one has to admit that it does not take too long before the immigrant or colonial culture becomes the indigenous.

All that begs the question, why does it all matter? What difference does it make if a person or a people is immigrant or indigenous? Actually it doesn’t. As I said, people are not trees, they wonder around all the time. Interestingly enough, the Apartheid regime in South Africa is often described as despicable discrimination of indigenous peoples by colonialists. The facts suggest otherwise. People of European origin have been living in South Africa for hundreds of years, and most people of African origin, particularly the Zulu and Xhosa peoples arrived in South Africa about the same time as the first Dutch settlers, after constant migration from central parts of the continent down south. Furthermore, had the Apartheid discrimination been based upon religion rather than race – suppose Christians of all races had been favored over non-Christians – would it make the discrimination less despicable?

Post-colonialist theories are a mirror-image of the colonialist ideas, and as we all know, the face reflected from the mirror is not much prettier than the one present before the mirror. Switching the villain-righteous roles between the “indigenous” (formerly known as “savage”) and the “colonialist oppressor” (formerly known as “pioneer”) leads nowhere. Also, ignoring the complexity of identity, whether it is an individual’s identity or a people’s identity, is just another form of oppression. Are the people called “African American” really African, having been born in North America to families who have been living in the “New World” for at least 300 centuries, and being part of a culture that is closer to European traditions than African ones? Is a French citizen who immigrated from Algeria a Frenchman or an Algerian? Considering the long French government of Algeria, is he really an immigrant? Where exactly should we draw the line, and more importantly, why should we draw it at all? If our objective is to minimize oppression of peoples and individuals, why do we need to divide them into “indigenous vs. colonials/immigrants” categories?

Apartheid denial

5 September, 2010 at 09:22 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Politics | 1 Comment
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Excessive, almost abusive, use of the word “Apartheid”

South African patriots, as well as human rights activists throughout the world, should be very concerned about the abuse of the word “Apartheid” and the excessive comparison of the South African dark page in history to conflicts and problems elsewhere in the world. While comparisons and analogies are necessary tools for understanding phenomena and problems and choosing the right way to deal with them, they are too often abused for propagandist purposes. In fact, this is why Jews are shocked when the Holocaust is compared with other events in history or recent time. Most Jews (and many non-Jews as well) regard such a comparison as taboo, because even in cases where it is justified to a certain extent, and perhaps even useful for stopping a tragedy, it is still likely to herald a future abuse of the memory of the Holocaust and its victims (who, by the way, include many non-Jews as well).

Labeling Israel by efficient propaganda

Multilingual signs in Israel for serving all communities vs. old sign in South Africa for a different puprose

Multilingual signs in IL for serving all communities vs. old sign in SA for a different purpose

The main victim of the abusive use of the word “Apartheid” is currently Israel, mainly due to the efficiency of the Palestinian campaign groups in Europe. This situation is hardly new. In 1975, Arab countries were able to pass a strangely phrased resolution at the UN General Assembly, arguing that “Zionism is a form of racism”. The General Assembly did not term other nationalist movements “racist”, which begs the question, if Quebec nationalism, for  example,  is okay, let alone Palestinian nationalism, why not Zionism? And how should one settle this resolution with GA resolution 181, which implies Zionism is legitimate and welcomed? I suppose erring is human – In 1991 the General Assembly revoked the 1975 resolution. By the way, the GA never declared Bolshevism as a form of racism or oppression. I wonder why.

Banalizing “Racism” then moving on the “Apartheid”

Time goes by, and the term “racism” became too banal due to overuse. When the adjective “racist” is used to describe even a person who prefers feeding only white street-cats on his porch, it is hardly surprising that campaigners look for another word with stronger impact. But how this affects the way we view Apartheid in South Africa’s history and our ability to learn the lesson? Sadly, it means that we are going to become indifferent to this word, treating it as another buzz word of political mouthpieces.

Common errors about “Apartheid”

Talking about Apartheid, it might be useful to shed light on some common errors. I found some of these reading an article by Leila Farsakh on Le Monde Diplomatique.

  1. Apartheid is not about “colonialists” versus “indigenous peoples”. It is about profound racial discrimination and segregation. If the French Government decided to segregate and discriminate Muslim Algerian immigrants in the same manner dark-skin people were discriminated in South Africa, would it not be Apartheid?
  2. To continue the first point above, dark-skin and white-skin peoples arrived in South Africa more-or-less at the same time in history. The former came via land from the north, the latter came by ships from the south.
  3. The Arab population of Israel/Palestine cannot be called “indigenous”, because many of its members are descendants of immigrants from other parts of the Middle East. Of course the Arab culture and ethnicity has been part of this country from ancient time, but so has the Jewish culture and ethnicity, and even to a greater extent.
  4. The population of Israel/Palestine was indeed very small when the Zionist movement started advocating for a Jewish homeland. It was not empty of course, but it was not very populated either. Furthermore, most of the initial Zionist territorial demands were rejected, first when the 1917 Balfour Declaration was limited to a territory of approx. 27 thousand sq km, then when it was further limited to about 55% of this territory in 1947. Eventually Israel was recognized on land stretching on approximately 21 thousand sq km. The reason for these limitation was indeed the fact that the local Arab community has its rights too, including the right for self-determination.
  5. One cannot judge an action or a policy unless considering the circumstances surrounding it. I don’t know about the specific circumstances in South Africa, but I do know that Arabs regarded themselves as enemies of Israel and Zionism. Arab Palestinian leaders went as far as developing deep relations with the Nazi-Germany and about 20 years later declared that “armed struggle” was the only way to “liberate Palestine”. Strong suspiciousness toward Arabs in general is an extremely sad, yet hard-to-evade, consequence. However, when the late Egyptian President, Anwar A-Sadat, took a noble courageous step and talked with the Israeli People from the Knesset’s podium, Israel was washed with wave of tolerance and even enthusiasm toward the Egyptian and Arab culture, and Israeli citizens were willing to accept almost all of the Egyptian demands.

Some interesting quotes

  • Mohammed S. Wattad, Zafed Law School, SPME Legal Task Force

    (…) I came to realize that those who argue of Israel as a regime of apartheid – even if they have a good argument, and I do not believe so – still do not have sufficient evidence, based on the reality and facts on the ground in Israel. Among the weirdest arguments against Israel I heard of Israel granting its Arab population a different marked passport than the one granted to Israeli Jews. Moreover, it has been argued that a regime of segregation exists in Israel public transportation, public educational institutes etc. Such arguments only prove that the presenters of Israel as a regime of apartheid lack the basic knowledge of what have been taking place in reality.

  • Ontario, Canada: “MPPs unite to condemn ‘odious’ Israeli Apartheid Week” (“The Star”, by Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, 25 February 2010)

    ‘Resolutions in the Ontario Legislature send a message. They are about moral suasion,’ said [MPP Peter] Shurman, adding ‘it is close to hate speech’ to liken democratic Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.

  • Irshad Manji: Modern Israel is a far cry from old South Africa (The Australian, 9 February, 2007)
  • (…) Of course, certain Israeli politicians have spewed venom at Palestinians, as have some Arab leaders towards Jews, but Israel is far more complex – and diverse – than slogans about the occupation would suggest. In a state practising apartheid, would Arab Muslim legislators wield veto power over anything? At only 20per cent of the population, would Arabs even be eligible for election if they squirmed under the thumb of apartheid? Would an apartheid state extend voting rights to women and thepoor in local elections, which Israel didfor the first time in the history of Palestinian Arabs?

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