If this were Hollywood Variety, I’d have called this post “Brit Snit Over Hits.” Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz’s Arab affairs editor and member of the newspaper’s editorial board, has landed himself in hot water with the British Zionist community. He had the temerity of saying something outside Israel 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 unfurled a “not welcome” sign and cancelled its co-sponsorship of a September 3rd London speaking engagement for the New Israel Fund. This Jewish Telegraphic Agency article mistakenly claims the event was cancelled when in reality the British Zionist Federation, as I wrote above, merely withdrew its sponsorship and the event went on without it:
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.
This was as much a mutual decision as when a nation declares a diplomat persona non grata and tells him to leave the country.
Is such a decision “mutual?” If the diplomat leaves then I guess you’d call that “mutual.” Though it certainly wouldn’t be what the diplomat (or Rubinstein) would’ve wished to happen.
Listen to British Zionists define 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 not. 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 progressive 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 might be.
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 British Zionists are up in arms over the use of “apartheid” is they know what happened to the apartheid era government. It was eventually felled by the internal contradictions inherent in its own 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 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.
The JTA, from which I quote this report, betrays unacknowledged prejudices that unfortunately typify much of Jewish journalism. 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 American Jewish Committee 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 rebuttal? 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 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 what I call defensive, insular reporting.
After complaining to JTA’s editor about its first report, the news service published a second report about the Rubinstein event in which the latter defends his use of the term:
“I am not apologizing for what I said,” Rubinstein told a crowd of about 100 Monday evening at the New North London Synagogue…”People do use the word apartheid in my circles. My newspaper increasingly uses that word. This is nothing new.”
“I only started using the word apartheid recently after Jimmy Carter’s book…” Rubinstein said, referring to “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
JTA also quoted NIF supporters who defend Rubinstein’s use of the A. word.
It’s important to note the difference in the way the story has been reported in Israel. Israeli-Australian peace activist, 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 considered 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.
The New Israel Fund should be commended for not bowing to pressure to muzzle Israelis willing to speak forthrightly about the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its spokeperson said this about its decision to host the event:
New Israel Fund is hosting an event featuring Danny Rubinstein…[which] was to have been co-hosted by the Zionist Federation. [It] has decided to rescind its involvement, amid concern about Mr. Rubinstein’s comments at a UN-sponsored conference in Brussels on Thursday…
New Israel Fund does not endorse Mr. Rubinstein’s view, nor his use of the term “apartheid” but, as an organisation dedicated to equality, freedom of speech and social justice, it cannot censor an expression of views from someone whose dedication to Israel’s future and knowledge of current affairs are exceptional.
We recognise that many people will find the use of the term “apartheid” extremely objectionable in a context related to Israel. Nonetheless, New Israel Fund feels it important to understand Mr Rubinstein’s views and the rationale behind them.
Monday evening’s event will, therefore, take place as scheduled.
If anyone out there schedules speakers for their shul, college or Jewish organization, Danny Rubinstein would be a worthy speaker to engage. It would show British Zionists that, like New Israel Fund, we want to hear all sides in this debate and that hearing the term “apartheid” from the mouth of an Israeli will not lead to Israel’s demise. And a hat tip to Muzzlewatch for catching this story.