If this were Variety, I’d have called this post “Brits Snits Over Hits.” Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz’s Arab affairs editor and member of the newspaper’s editorial board, has landed himself in some hot water with the pro-Israel crowd. You see, he had the temerity of leaving Israel and saying something that could be read in his own newspaper and others quite regularly. He called Israel an “apartheid state:”
Rubinstein, the Israeli newspaper’s Arab affairs editor and a member of its editorial board, [said] “today Israel is an apartheid state with different status for different communities,” according to sources at the event, held at the European Parliament in Brussels. He went on to say that Palestinians living in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel each had “a different status,” according to a summary of his speech by a United Nations web site.
…Rubinstein also said “Hamas won the election of the international community and Israel cannot ignore that” and argued that the security fence Israel was building could not be justified, sources said.
And for this, British Jewry has put out a “not welcome” sign and cancelled his speaking engagement:
The British Zionist Federation canceled a London appearance by Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein the day after he called Israel an “apartheid state” at a United Nations conference on Palestinians.
…The British Zionist Federation issued a statement Friday saying that it had read about Rubinstein’s quotes in a JTA news report Thursday and verified them with him the next day. According to the Zionist federation, the result was a “mutual decision” to cancel Rubinstein’s event.
I’d like to hear Rubinstein confirm it was a “mutual decision.” This sounds like the federation trying its best not to look like a Zionist enforcer, which is what it IS in this case.
Listen to how the British Zionists determine what is kosher and treif discourse regarding Israel:
“Criticism of Israeli policy is acceptable,” the Zionist federation’s chairman, Andrew Balcombe, said in a prepared statement. “However, by using the word ‘apartheid’ in a U.N. conference held at the European Parliament, Danny Rubinstein encourages the demonisation of Israel and the Jewish people.
Criticism of Israel is “acceptable.” But too much criticism of Israel is treif. Apartheid, a word which connotes that Israel maintains racist policies is verboten because it is a term used by anti-Zionists to argue against Israel’s existence. This apparently means that Zionists may not use words used by anti-Zionists no matter how much truth there is in them and no matter how different the ideological commitments of the different groups.
You see, no one is intelligent enough to understand that Danny Rubinstein is not an anti-Zionist and is not arguing for the extermination of Israel. No one is intelligent enough to understand that Rubinstein is making this statement as a warning to Israel to turn away from a doomed policy which ensures endless war and bloodshed for its inhabitants. No one is intelligent enough to understand that Rubinstein loves his homeland and that it hurts him to have to speak the truth about it in the way he has. That’s why, you see, British Jewry needs an enforcer to decide what can and cannot be said by Jews about Israel.
To most reasonable observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Rubinstein’s comments will appear self-evident. Israel certainly treats all its ethnic communities differently and accords them each varying levels of rights and denies them varying level of rights. And of course, Israeli Jews are king of the heap enjoying the most rights and denied the least.
The comparison with South African is certainly apt though I’m not sure I’d go as far as some activists and say that Israeli apartheid is worse. It also seems self-evident that Israel, like South Africa’s apartheid government before it, thinks it can game the system and so ensure the continuation of a comfortable status quo. For more on this subject, read Henry Siegman’s distressing, but cogent new essay, The Great Middle East Peace Process Sham.
The reason pro-Israel nationalists are up in arms over this comparison is they know what happened to the apartheid era government. It was eventually felled by the internal contradictions inherent in the system. Though it was also helped along by almost universal world condemnation. That example angers Israeli hardliners who refuse to consider Israel may eventually suffer a similar fate.
I believe though, it is still not too late to change course. Unlike in South Africa, where its whites were forced to give up power and accede to a new system in which they were a small minority with considerably reduced power–Israel could retain its sovereignty if it acknowledges a mutual Palestinian right to sovereignty.
JTA, from which I quote this report, and its reporter Dinah Spritzer, have engaged in another piece of shoddy journalism that betrays its unacknowledged prejudices. In this article, Rubinstein is not quoted verbatim. The quotations are reported by those who were shocked at what they heard. There is no transcript. Rubinstein does not speak on his own behalf. And the only people quoted in the article are those who were appalled by what he said. One AJC staffer (are we surprised) said the fact that the Israeli journalist would:
full-throatedly join the jackals and call Israel ‘an apartheid state’ is an outrage.
Doesn’t such an extreme statement call for a rebuttal? Not if you’re JTA. I find this shockingly poor journalism. Can the JTA not find a single source to say anything positive about Rubinstein’s comment? Far be it from me to suggest that they contact liberal Jewish bloggers like myself, Jerry Haber, Cecilie Surasky or Phil Weiss; or that they interview Henry Siegman, Michael Lerner, or any number of Israeli analysts who would place Rubinstein’s remarks into context for its readers. This is typical insular JTA reporting.
Indeed, my friend Sol Salbe tells me “it’s a much bigger story in English than in Hebrew.” In fact, he notes there are no stories about this in the Israeli press. Could it be that within Israel this is consider acceptable discourse, while in the Diaspora the pro-Israel nannies haven’t yet cottoned on to the fact that you’re allowed to use words like these without being excommunicated from the Jewish people.
If anyone out there schedules speakers for their shul, college or Jewish organization, please consider booking Danny to make up for the Brits’ shameful actions. He deserves our support. And a hatip to Muzzlewatch for catching this story.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.