Not apartheid by a long shot

December 12, 2006|By Jeffrey Azarva

WASHINGTON -- Because Jimmy Carter orchestrated peace between Egypt and Israel in 1979, many extol him as an honest broker. Others offer praise for his work as a human rights activist. Whether he can maintain his image after publishing his latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is uncertain.

The idea that Israel, the Middle East's lone democracy, practices apartheid is nonsense. South Africa practiced institutionalized discrimination against its citizens on the basis of skin color. The South African government denied the majority black citizens a vote. The white minority established "homelands" to disenfranchise millions of black citizens. Racism prevailed.

To suggest Israel does the same is to distort reality. All Israeli citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin, are equal under the law. Critics may label Israel's "Law of Return," granting any Jew the right to Israeli citizenship, as racist. Under this definition, many European countries are also racist, for they allow the diaspora expedited citizenship as well. The Israeli government often extends its welcome to Muslims and Christians seeking refuge - one example being its 1999 airlift of Muslim refugees from war-torn Kosovo to Israel.

Nor does Israel's treatment of its 1 million Arab citizens resemble apartheid. Israeli Arabs enjoy parliamentary representation and serve in government posts. Israel's Supreme Court prohibits "the state from distinguishing between its citizens on the basis of religion or nationality." No wonder that, according to Fadal Tahabub, a member of the Palestinian National Council, 70 percent of the 200,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem prefer to remain under Israeli sovereignty. Prejudice remains, but it is not endorsed by the state. Contrast this with a closed society like Saudi Arabia, whose law requires that citizens be Muslim.

If racism is not the issue, what is? Mr. Carter argues that the problem is Israeli "imperialism." He endorses the conspiratorial idea that Jerusalem seeks to build a "Greater Israel" incorporating, at a minimum, the West Bank and Gaza. If this were the case, even hawks like former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would not have unilaterally withdrawn from such territory. His successor Ehud Olmert's West Bank realignment plan further demolishes Mr. Carter's thesis. Rather than applaud Israel's decision to withdraw from disputed territories, Mr. Carter vilifies it. He blames Israel for the resulting chaos. Yet, it is the Palestinians who have embraced violence rather than demonstrated they aim to build a peaceful state.

What about the wall Israel is building in and around the West Bank? Mr. Carter portrays it as a "land grab." It may create hardships, but so too does terrorism. Although the fence juts into 7 percent of the West Bank, it has reduced terrorism by 75 percent. And, although condemned by Mr. Carter, it has precedent. India built a separation barrier on disputed land to stop Pakistan-based terrorists. Saudi Arabia built a wall on disputed land with Yemen to deter weapons smugglers. And, in Cyprus, the United Nations constructed a wall to preserve a cease-fire between Muslims and Christians.

Mr. Carter may paint himself as a champion of human rights, but his apologia for terrorism and his emphasis of polemic over fact will not produce peace. The Palestinians will not achieve a state until their leaders recognize that they cannot win concessions through violence and that they must accept Israel's right to exist. It is not Israel that seeks to deny democracy and the rule of law to all its citizens.

Jeffrey Azarva is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute. His e-mail is jazarva@aei.org.

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