In the wake of PennBDS’s latest claims linking the policies of Israel to the apartheid-era of South Africa, I feel compelled to offer some personal perspective on this dissemination of lies. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, but my father reinforced the effect of apartheid (pronounced “apart-hate” as he often reminded me) on my family’s history.
My grandfather was a legal giant, serving as dean of the law school at the University of Durban-Westville for those of Indian descent during the height of apartheid, but was fired by the administration for opposing discriminatory policies toward minorities within the university.
My father fled the South African draft and immigrated to Israel in 1982, leaving his family and home because of his belief in equal rights. After arriving in Israel, he participated in the protest against the government during the first Lebanon war because he felt it did not serve the goals of the peace movement.
Yet 30 years later, my dad’s story encapsulates the misguided nature of the BDS movement: Israel may not be perfect, but it is committed to coexistence, not clinging to racist beliefs.
Israel has an Israeli-Arab, Salim Joubran, serving on its Supreme Court; equal rights in its Declaration of Independence; multiple Israeli-Arab political parties in parliament; and universal access to public facilities. Rana Raslan, an Israeli-Arab, was selected as Miss Israel 1999. While Israel does suffer from tension between Jews and Arabs, there is a legal framework that promotes equal rights.
These facts could not be so in an apartheid country. Omar Barghouti lambasts Israel as an apartheid nation with one hand, while pursuing a doctoral degree from Tel Aviv University with the other. Not only does Barghouti show his lack of adherence to the ideals of the BDS movement, but, in doing so, he proves that Israel protects the rights of all of its citizens.
Aside from his recent appearance at Penn, Barghouti also appeared earlier this month at a Brooklyn College event. Those trying to shut down the discussion were denounced by New York Mayor Michael Blomberg, who suggested they attend a university in North Korea, if they wished to have a government tell them which events on campus were sanctioned and which not.
Barghouti’s comparing Israel to South Africa does a disservice to the history of apartheid, to the obstacles that my grandfather and his students faced at the University of Durban-Westville.
By advocating for an embargo on Israel, the BDS movement harms the Palestinian national cause and chances for a genuine peace within the context of a two-state solution. The BDS model ignores the co-dependence of the Israeli and Palestinian communities.
The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, representing three-quarters of Palestinian workers, has explicitly condemned the boycott movement as detrimental to the Palestinian economy and the cause of peace. By targeting Israel as the source of all of the Palestinians woes, the BDS movement shields Palestinian leadership and other Arab nations from their oppressive and discriminatory policies against their own people.
Most Arab countries, including Lebanon and Jordan, have laws explicitly barring Palestinians from becoming naturalized citizens. (Meanwhile, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been granted Israeli citizenship in the past decade, in spite of the horrific violence of the Second Intifada.) And the Arab treatment of women, the LGBT community, political dissidents, minorities, and Christians in the West Bank and Gaza — all are abysmal.
If there is any hope for a brighter future for the Palestinians, it lies in an independent state alongside its Israeli neighbors, based on the principles of equality and co-existence. Then why does Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement, call for a one-state solution? The sad truth behind this vision is similar to that of the apartheid regime in South Africa: the belief that the “other” (in this case, the State of Israel and its inhabitants) has no right to self-determination or a distinct cultural narrative.
Still, those in favor of a peace based on two states for two peoples can take solace in the fact that BDS lies haven’t penetrated everywhere. Samsung, Apple and Microsoft have recently announced new R&D centers to be opened in Israel.
The technology behind the firewall, instant messaging and cell phones were all created in Israel, and the Israeli 3D printing company, Objet, recently merged with American competitor Stratsys, with a combined valuation of three billion dollars. BDS has had a marginal effect on Israel’s rising status in the world economy. Now is the time to put their noxious rhetoric to rest once and for all.
Jake Gering, from Elkins Park, is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. This piece was written for Penn’s Israel advocacy group in response to PennBDS.