The Zionism-Racism lie lives – 20 years after the UN’s repeal

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-29-11

Last week, Ha’aretz’s publisher Amos Schocken joined the chorus prematurely mourning “the elimination of Israeli democracy” – although articles like his in his hyper-critical newspaper prove Israel’s democratic vitality daily. Exaggerating further, he accused Israel of practicing “apartheid.” This libel is inaccurate and inflammatory. Tragically, it appeared just before an important anniversary that should not be overlooked – the United Nations’ repeal of its odious Zionism is Racism resolution twenty years ago on December 16, 1991.
A clever polemicist, Schocken appeared more subtle than the average Israel-basher by acknowledging a “difference” between South African apartheid “and what is happening in the territories.” Nevertheless, he found “points of resemblance.” He defined apartheid as “the undemocratic system of discriminating between the rights of the whites and the blacks, which once existed in South Africa.” But he discussed “discrimination” in the West Bank without offering any evidence regarding the offense which made apartheid apartheid, defining people systematically, legally, by skin color.
In a world which abhors racial distinctions but organizes itself around many distinctions between different national groups, justifying the apartheid accusation requires proving a racial dimension. Schocken could have charged “discrimination” – which is devastating enough to a democracy. Using the demonizing word “apartheid” linked him to the Big Lie delegitimizing the Jewish state by calling Zionism racism and comparing Israel to South Africa’s apartheid regime.
The apartheid charge gussies up the Zionism-racism lie with sincere concern about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but both blood libels share common origins, carrying the putrid stench  of Soviet totalitarianism’s rotting corpse.  In the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet and Arab propagandists concocted the Zionism-racism charge to ostracize the Jewish state by identifying it with racist South Africa and Rhodesia. This “Big Red Lie,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it, also echoed Nazi views of Jews as a “race.” Trying to racialize Zionism, to South Africanize Israel, to demonize the Jewish people and the Jewish state, the UN’s General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 on November 10, 1975, calling Zionism racism.
Moynihan, serving as America’s UN Ambassador, saw the resolution as an attack on democracy and decency.  And he recognized the genocidal implications of accusing Israel of the one international crime punishable by national death. Comparing Zionism to Nazism and white supremacism wished the same fate on Israel that befell Nazi Germany and – eventually – apartheid South Africa. Israel’s UN Ambassador, Chaim Herzog, denounced the Hitlerite anti-Semitism shaping the resolution, targeting the collective Jew rather than individual Jews.
Both Herzog and Moynihan believed “words matter” and ideas count. When Herzog became Israel’s president in 1983, he and now-Senator Moynihan began campaigning to repeal the resolution. Everyone said that no General Assembly resolution was ever repealed – although Spain joined the UN in 1950 despite an earlier resolution prohibiting its membership.
Herzog and Moynihan persisted. In 1985, Israel’s UN Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu hosted a conference demanding repeal. Netanyahu explained the resolution’s potency, noting “there is no worse epithet in today’s lexicon than ‘racist,’” the word is “the modern version of ‘Christ killers,’ ‘traitors,’ ‘usurers,’ and ‘international conspirators.’”
Moynihan, a Democrat, cooperated with the Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, then George H.W. Bush, who ultimately secured the repeal. The Jewish community mobilized, uniting grassroots protests with effective organizational advocacy. And history happened. The Soviet Union collapsed.
The liberated Eastern European countries endorsed repeal. Following a courageous intervention by Elie Wiesel, who pointedly asked the Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk how come no one in Kiev opened up a door to save even one child as thousands marched to their deaths toward the forests of Babi Yar in 1941, Kravchuk rejected this “resolution born out of bitter ideological confrontation.” The Czech President Vaclav Havel needed no coaching, saying: “I didn’t approve of it then; I don’t approve of it now.”
Unfortunately, despite the repeal, despite the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Big Red Lie refuses to die. “Zionism is Racism” and the Apartheid accusation have become central memes in modern politics. A meme, “something imitated,” is an idea popularized in a culture through repetition. Israel’s enemies have used these two Killer Memes to make their assault on Israel’s existence constant and cumulative. The Zionism-Racism claim integrates one criticism with the next; the apartheid allegation treats every Israeli misstep as a crime against humanity.
No one involved in Middle East matters, least of all Ha’aretz’s erudite publisher, can claim to be ignorant of the significance of validating the Apartheid-Racism memes. Intentionally or not, in the internet age, Ha’aretz is an important link in the chain of delegitimization that often starts with its incendiary coverage and ends with the Boycott Israel-Kill the Jews crowd feeling vindicated. That realization should never stop Schocken or others from truth-telling. But it should caution them against sloppy rabble-rousing.
Schocken should get a taste of those democratic prerogatives he defends so eloquently. The Jewish Agency, the Federations, the Israeli government, the universities, should stop taking out those ridiculous, expensive front page ads in the English Ha’aretz welcoming this group or that board to Israel — and explain why the gravy train stopped. Charity dollars should not be wasted in such vanity enterprises anyway — especially if they subsidize spreading these modern blood libels.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Jewish organizational world, and the Jewish people should celebrate December 16. We should toast the American-Israeli friendship, America’s bipartisan cooperation on this issue, Zionist activism, and the welcome defeat of Soviet totalitarianism that produced the victory. Our students should learn that sometimes Israel’s advocates, Zionism’s champions, democracy’s defenders, can win. And all Israelis, from across the political spectrum, should learn they have a treasury of words and historical comparisons to use during vigorous democratic debate. However, using the Zionism-Racism and Apartheid memes assaults the truth and encourages Israel’s deadliest enemies.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenge of Today,” his next book is “Moynihan’s Moment: Zionism is Racism, the Rise of Reagan and the Fall of the UN.”
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Center Field: Treat the apartheid slur – the “A-word” – like the “N-word”

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-25-09

Since Neve Gordon published his controversial Los Angeles Times op-ed “Boycott Israel” on August 20, critics have called for officials at Ben Gurion University, his academic home, to punish him or to risk losing donations.

Cutting donations to a university because of an outspoken professor or suspending that professor for his views is as shortsighted and self-destructive as an Israeli citizen endorsing a boycott of his own country. Maybe I am perverse, but I relish these moments to demonstrate that Israel has freedom of speech and Israeli campuses have academic freedom – unlike their neighbors.

At the same time, it is important to denounce Gordon and others for perpetuating the apartheid smear against Israel. Everyone who cares about peace in the Middle East and truth in the world must stop making the false comparisons between the difficult national conflict pitting Israelis against Palestinians and the ugly racist regime that discriminated against South Africans of color for decades.

In his article, Gordon proclaims: “The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state.” This may be the trendiest, most politically correct, and most demeaning way to describe Israel today, but for a professor of politics to claim that it is “the most accurate way” is absurd. The unconscionable, inaccurate apartheid label insults anyone who supports the modern Jewish state of Israel as well as everyone who suffered under South Africa’s evil apartheid system.

Apartheid was a racist legal system the Afrikaner Nationalists dominating South Africa’s government imposed after World War II. The Afrikaners’ discriminatory policies began with their racist revulsion for blacks, reflected in early laws in 1949 and 1950 prohibiting marriages and sexual relations between whites and non-whites. Apartheid quickly developed into a brutal system that attempted to dehumanize South Africa’s majority nonwhite population.

Beyond the historical definition, international law emphasizes that apartheid involves intentional, mandated racism. In 1973 the United Nations General Assembly defined apartheid as “the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

The fact that Israel’s Declaration of Independence – and founding document – promises to “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex,” proves that Israel rejects racism and by definition cannot be accused of apartheid.

Injecting “racism” into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a sloppy attempt to slander Israel with the accusation du jour. It is a statement as trendy and unhistorical as equating Zionism with European colonialism, another folly given Jews’ historic ties to the land of Israel. Since the Nazi attempt to annihilate Jews as a “race,” the Jewish world has recoiled against defining Jews as a “race.”

Zionism talks about Judaism, the Jewish people, the Jewish state. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a nationalist clash with religious overtones. The rainbow of colors among Israelis and Palestinians, with black Ethiopian Jews, and white Christian Palestinians, proves that both national communities are diverse.

In a world organized by nation states, singling out Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism, as racist is so ridiculous even the United Nations ultimately rescinded its infamous 1975 resolution. The application of the apartheid label is an attempt to ostracize Israel by misrepresenting some of the difficult decisions Israel has felt forced to make in fighting Palestinian terror. Israel’s opponents are trying to transfer onto Israel the civilized world’s justifiable contempt for South African oppression.

This charge is particularly ironic coming from so many Arab states, which perpetuate discriminatory citizenship policies against Christians, women, gays and even other Arabs from different regions. But the charge is particularly insidious because it is the centerpiece of the current attempt to demonize Zionism and eradicate Israel. Anyone who claims to be unaware that apartheid is a loaded term forfeits all credibility on the subject of the Middle East and Africa.

Unfortunately, Neve Gordon is not the only Israeli to use the “A-word.” It has entered the conversational midstream. Even when someone from the center says “I oppose a particular policy because I fear it would then make Israel an ‘apartheid state,'” the ugly linkage between Israel and the “A-word” is reinforced.

I do not believe in government sanctions, but I do believe in shunning. People who use the “A-word” in casual conversation or in formal discourse should be named and shamed for insulting Israel, South Africa, and their audience with historically inaccurate demagoguery that slanders the Jewish people.

In the United States, people no longer use the “N-word,” the derogatory term for blacks that once was ubiquitous in American discourse. Americans acknowledge the slur’s emotional power and the lingering scars from its widespread use. We should start avoiding the “A-word” and confronting those who use it – before it is too late.