Edward Lovo / The Silhouette
Racist discourse becomes so entrenched in everyday language that speakers will defend it as something different from racism. History is rife with examples: phrenology, eugenics and racial jokes. “It ain’t racist, it’s fact!” or “It’s funny!” It proves to be extremely difficult to show the racism latent in these discourses. An astute way to do this is to frame questions that shine light on racism hidden in the shadows.
Both Israeli Apartheid Week and Israel Peace Week receive a lot of backlash for different reasons, including allegations of racism. Israel Peace Week showcases the humanitarian efforts of Israel and also Israel’s efforts to live in peaceful co-existence with its neighbours. The Israeli narrative is that Israel has been in search for peace with its neighbours: unilateral disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank is cited in support of this. No narrative should go unquestioned, especially in the realm of politics, but there are questions that emerge from counternarratives that Israelis will be hard-pressed to answer.
While no one can (or should) deny Israeli philanthropic efforts, there is little question with regards to the absence of such efforts towards Palestinians. If Israel cares so much about the well-being of all individuals, including Palestinians (who are often condescendingly chastised for not seeking peace with their neighbours), there would be no room for the following questions to be asked: why are Palestinian women giving birth in checkpoints in Israel and its settlements? Why do Palestinians have such long wait times to leave the checkpoints? Why are there Palestinian and Jewish-only buses that run from the West Bank to central Israel? Why did the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu decide on building more settlements in the West Bank in response to Palestine’s newly acquired statehood? Why are Jewish Israelis allowed to build homes in some regions of the West Bank and the Israeli Arabs aren’t? Why do the Israeli Arabs have their homes demolished to build new homes for Israeli Jews?
The answer is racism. But the Israeli narrative – in particularly common vernacular – will respond with justifications for their behaviour, such as security reasons. It is common behaviour, especially from governing authorities with specific agendas, to rationalize aggressions to assuage their citizens and to garner support. It is unfortunate and representative of the Palestinian struggle to have atrocities rationalized in diplomatic language for the purpose of perpetuating apartheid.
Does the word “apartheid” make you uncomfortable? It shouldn’t. A common argument is that calling Israel’s regime apartheid diminishes the experiences of the South African black community. One should wonder why Zionists choose to contest the term if Israel supposedly does not mistreat Palestinians; if nothing bad is happening, what is there to contest? Furthermore, several South African anti-apartheid activists have spoken out against Israel, and it is disrespectful for their firsthand experiences to be silenced by Israeli officials.
Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have spoken out against Israeli apartheid. A famous example of a South African activist speaking out is Denis Goldberg, who is also Jewish (mentioning this is important because non-Jews are often seen as illegitimate points of view for many Israelis). In 1964, Denis Goldberg was sentenced to life imprisonment for his activities against the South African apartheid regime. With the help of his daughter and top Israeli officials, Goldberg exiled himself to Israel. However, upon seeing the similarities in the oppression of blacks in South Africa and the oppression of Palestinians in Israel, he refused to remain in Israel and moved to London. And Goldberg is just one of many scholars, activists and educators who have spoken out.
Asking those sorts of questions and taking into consideration the outspokenness of South African anti-apartheid activists, surely the dams that language has placed on racism will burst and reveal the oppression that Palestinians and Israeli Arabs undergo in Israel and its settlements.