An Error in Israel Advocacy Reasoning by Phil Cohen

I’m writing this post in response to a piece written by a Swarthmore student that appeared in yesterday’s Algemeiner regarding the arrival on the Swarthmore campus of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine that launched a BDS campaign.

The student, Matthew Stein, identified as a CAMERA fellow, writes passionately and impressively about the errors of the SJP reasoning in favor of BDS. But in his argumentation Mr. Stein himself commits an error which leaves his argument open to a powerful rebuttal, and it’s his error I wish to focus on.

This is not because I wish to duel with an undergraduate who wrote well enough for his piece to be accepted by the Algemeiner, but because the error is characteristic of a certain fallacy among Israel advocates’ reasoning when defending the Jewish state. I am also writing this piece to elicit responses, as what I am about to discuss is, as one hears about Israel-Palestine all the time, complicated.

Mr. Stein writes, “Many speakers repeatedly slandered Israel as an “apartheid state.” This claim was made dozens of times, and its total lack of veracity becomes apparent with the most cursory attempt to investigate it. Israeli Arabs, the supposed victims of “apartheid,” have a political party called the Joint List that is the third-largest in the Knesset. They also have full and equal legal rights — the same rights as all Jews. Furthermore, an Arab judge sits on the Israeli Supreme Court, and Arabs and Jews interact with each other every day, side by side, as equals.”

Good enough as far as it goes. Anyone acquainted with of the lives of Israeli Arabs knows well how there remain serious inequities between Jews and Arabs on most societal levels, though there have been important, positive changes in the lives of Israeli Arabs in recent years. It doesn’t do much good to paint the picture as rosy as Mr. Stein does, as if full equality between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis has been achieved. Nonetheless, Israeli Arabs are Israeli citizens who do sit in the Kenesset, on the High Court, who work in the professions and study in Israeli universities, and so forth. One can envision a day when full equality will be achieved.

The real issue between Jews and Arabs lies beyond the Green Line and into the world of settlements and Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank. There, the picture of Arabs and Israelis is muddy, and it is there that the argument of Israel as an Apartheid state might gain traction and therefore it is on those grounds that Mr. Stein’s interlocutors need to be met with a solid argument.

As I say, the picture is muddy. We all know stories of Israelis abusing Palestinians, taking land, destroying olive groves, creating difficulties at checkpoints, committing occasional acts of physical violence with impunity, and more.

Were Mr. Stein to address that situation and come away with the quite possible but nuanced conclusion that Arab and Jewish life on the West Bank does not constitute a case similar to South African Apartheid, he would do the cause of Israel advocacy a terriric service. But since he did not, since he chose instread, to focus on the lives of those Arabs who live in Israel proper he’s left himself open to a mighty rebuttal by his SJP interlocutors. Fortunately for him, such an attack is unlikely to come from an Algemeiner reader.

I conclude by sincerely congratulating Matthew Stein for his thankless labors as a CAMERA fellow on the Swarthmore campus, and wish him all the best in his future writings.

My question to the readers of this blog is: How best to respond to the Apartheid claim? Perhaps we can generate some conversation on the matter.


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2 Responses to An Error in Israel Advocacy Reasoning by Phil Cohen

  1. Geoffrey Dennis says:

    Unfortunately, the A-B-C zones with non-contiguous territories for the Palesrinians looks a lot like the Bantustans South Africa created in the 1980s, though they came about by a completely different political process. The main difference is that Israel, unlike SA and their black population, does not maintain the Palestinians under a discriminatory legal regime. 90+% of Palestinians in the disputed territories are subject to their own government jurisdiction, law enforcement, and legal system (unless they engage in terrorist acts in Israeli jurisdiction). Does that get any closer to a useful response to the accusation of Apartheid?

  2. Nevet Basker says:

    There are two different political systems and two different legal systems in the West Bank, one of each for Jewish residents (a.k.a., “settlers) and one for Arab residents. Jews are Israeli citizens, can vote in Israel, and are subject to Israeli laws. Arabs are Palestinian Authority subjects (many are also Jordanian citizens), could vote in the PA if it ever held elections, and are subject to PA laws. You may call this “apartheid” but it’s actually a *requirement* of international law: To maintain and keep in effect the laws of the previous sovereign of occupied territories. (See Articles 64 & 67 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Applying Israeli law to the civilian Arab population of the West Bank would be tantamount to annexation, which Israel has not done. (East Jerusalem is a different case, as is the Golan Heights, each of which have been officially annexed. While some dispute the legitimacy of Israel’s rule in these areas, all their residents are subject to Israeli law as well as Israeli benefits like healthcare and social security, so no dual system/split sovereignty in effect there.)

    The Oslo Accords that created the Palestinian Authority further delineate the division of authority (or one might call them rights of sovereignty) between Israel and the PA, by mutual agreement and international recognition.

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