13 August 2009

Why does the UCC think Israel is South Africa?

An interesting article by Margaret Wente from the Globe and Mail. Really makes one wonder, with all the other despicable countries suppressing human rights (Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc.) why the loony United Church of Canada has decided that Israel (a country with free speech and democratic institutions) is their Boogeyman? As Wente illustrates, the analogy of 'Israel Apartheid' just doesn't hold water.

How Israel became South Africa

By Margaret Wente
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Which evil regime finds itself in the crosshairs of Canada's largest church? Israel, of course

It's a bad old world out there. Tens of thousands are being raped in war-torn eastern Congo. In Sudan, a woman faces 40 lashes for daring to wear pants. The Iranians have brutally suppressed a peaceful uprising and shot protesters in the streets. The tyrants who run Burma have sentenced the brave Aung San Suu Kyi to more house arrest.

So which evil regime finds itself in the crosshairs of Canada's largest church? Israel, of course.

The United Church of Canada (which seems to be more interested in social justice than in God) is engaged in one of its periodic wrangles over Israel. Is Israel really, really bad, or just sort of bad? Should the church call for a boycott of Israeli universities or just stop buying Jaffa oranges? These questions are consuming a large portion of its general council meeting this week in Kelowna. To their credit, delegates have backed off from the most offensive stuff. They've decided not to refer to Israel as an “apartheid state.”

The United Church is just one of many institutions obsessed with tiny Israel. There's also the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., the Church of England, Britain's National Union of Journalists, Ireland's largest public-sector union, various British academic groups, and our own beloved CUPE, all of which have passed anti-Israel resolutions. Israel Apartheid Week is a tiresome staple of campus life. In Paris, activists invaded the retail chain Sephora to protest against the sale of Israeli face cream. In Wales, they rampaged through supermarkets and sprinkled Israeli melons with fake blood. In Montreal, gay and lesbian activists promise that this weekend's Pride Parade will include a protest against Israel's “racist apartheid” policies. (Israel is the only country in the Middle East that believes in civil rights for homosexuals, an irony that seems to have eluded them.)

How did Israel become the new South Africa?

After the old South African regime collapsed, social justice seekers in the West needed a new cause – preferably one that extended the narrative of Western racism, occupation and colonialist oppression. After the Middle East peace talks broke down in 2000 (because of Palestinian rejectionism), the “apartheid” label picked up steam. Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner, gave the term his blessing in a series of articles he wrote condemning the Israeli occupation of the territories. Jimmy Carter wrote a book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid , in which he argued that some Israeli policies were even worse than South Africa's. The barrier built to stop the deadly flow of suicide bombers into Israel from the West Bank was nicknamed the Apartheid Wall.

But the analogy with South Africa is badly flawed. Under apartheid, non-white South Africans were denied the right to vote, to organize, to live where they wanted or to marry across racial lines. A small white minority ruled a large black underclass. They settled in South Africa not to escape persecution but to get rich.

In Israel, Israeli Arabs make up 20 per cent of the population, and are full citizens. The conflict is not racial. It is a national-religious struggle for land, not unlike many others around the world. There's another difference, too. As pundit Michael Kinsley put it, “If Israel is white South Africa and the Palestinians are supposed to be the blacks, where is their Mandela?”

Israel can be condemned for many things, including bad judgment, botched military campaigns, unnecessary harshness and occasional brutality. So can lots of other countries. But Israel is often characterized as uniquely awful – scarcely better than the Nazis who ran Hitler's Germany. And so, when someone like Naomi (No Logo) Klein says “Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality” and recommends a global boycott such as the one that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa, I feel like running to the store and buying all the Jaffa oranges I can get.

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