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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

AN OPEN REPLY TO PROFESSORS BOESAK AND ESACK

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About Maurice Ostroff
from Maurice Ostroff, in response to their strong criticism of chief Rabbi Goldstein's letter to Archbishop Tutu and their allegation that Israel is an apartheid state
 
 

Dear Professors Boesak and Esack

 

I refer to your, article "IF THIS IS NOT APARTHEID, THEN WHAT IS?"

in the Johannesburg Star of November 10, 2010

 

Professor Boesak, I sincerely respect your role in 1983 as a patron of one of the most important anti-apartheid organizations of the period, the United Democratic Front, as  way back in the 1940's I too, was an anti-apartheid activist as a member of the radical WW2 ex-serviceman's Springbok Legion, the first mass anti-apartheid movement of whites with nearly 60,000 members including a large proportion of Jews.

 

Professor Esack, I also respect and admire your anti-apartheid activities as well as your humanitarian work as a founder member of the Positive Muslims, dedicated to helping HIV-positive Muslims in Africa with its stated objective of encouraging compassion, mercy and non-judgementalism towards all human kind.

 

I therefore observe with sadness that you departed from the non-judgmentalism that you advocate in accusing Israel of being an apartheid state,. However, because I accept your sincere intentions, I believe the accusations you made were based on misinformation disseminated by mainstream media. Please therefore, allow me to provide a few accurate examples that will no doubt convince you that although Israel, like South Africa has its faults, "apartheid" is certainly not one of them.

 

You incorrectly claim that Rabbi Goldstein conflated (did not distinguish) between life inside Israel and life in the occupied territories. The fact is that in response to Archbishop Tutu's call for a boycott of the State of Israel (which by definition does not include the occupied territories) Rabbi Goldstein specifically spoke of the Israel to which Tutu referred. This is what Rabbi Goldstein wrote absolutely correctly. "In the State of Israel all citizens - Jew and Arab - are equal before the law. Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality Act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws, or any of the myriad apartheid laws".

 

I add that they are antithetical to the tenets in Israel's Declaration of Independence, which declares that the state "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations".

 

Supreme Court judgments prove beyond doubt that all citizens of Israel, Arab, Jew, Christian and others are equal before the law.

 

As pointed out by Rabbi Goldstein it is undeniable that Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy with a free press and independent judiciary, and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its 1 million-plus Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, member of parliament, and judge at every level of the judiciary, including that of the Supreme Court of Israel. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multi-party elections.

 

 

Yes you are correct in pointing out that there is a difference between the laws in Israel and the West Bank and here one must distinguish between areas A, B and C as spelled out in the Oslo agreements. There is not space here to discuss the status of the West Bank but I suggest that you will find a booklet by Australian lawyer Ian Lacey very informative. It is available at  http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id160.html

 

Sadly, the Palestinians do suffer serious hardships and disadvantages but in seeking the truth one cannot ignore that the checkpoints and the security barrier did not just happen in a vacuum. They are reactions to very real security problems in which thousands of Israelis died in terror attacks and fair minded people should see the situation in its context.

 

Prior to the outbreak of the second "Intifada" in September 2000, there was no need for checkpoints and the security barrier. Palestinian and Israeli business people and merchandise moved feely between the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) and Israel and Palestinian workers freely entered Israel without interference. 146,000 Palestinians were working in Israel and the settlements with average wages 70 to 75% higher than those in the WBG and in neighboring countries.

 

Israel and the PA cooperated in creating employment opportunities along the "seam-line" and  a successful industrial zone was created at Erez which employed about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. They produced everything from plastics to car parts and continued to do so even as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raged. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs. In addition a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza. But all these positive efforts were unfortunately thwarted when the GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks

 

In today's Israel proper, an unblinkered visit to a hospital or shopping mall will convince the most biased individual about the complete absence of any form of apartheid. Arabs and Jews mix freely in the shopping malls and Arab and Jewish doctors collaborate in the hospitals. In some hospitals Arabs outnumber Jewish patients. The Hadassah Medical Organization which operates two hospitals in Jerusalem, treats thousands of patients of diverse ethnic backgrounds annually, without any trace of discrimination. Its international reputation in the Middle East region by providing equal treatment to Palestinians and Israelis was recognized by nomination for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. All very different from the separate hospitals in apartheid South Africa.

 

The Schneider Children's Hospital, like other Israeli hospitals, provides equal specialized treatment to children from Israel, the PA and neighboring countries. Some 30% of patients come from the Arab sectors and neighboring countries. Even in times of terror, the hospital welcomes Palestinians.

 

Does all this remotely resemble “apartheid”?

 

You justifiably refer to poverty in Arab communities in Israel. Yes, although there are many very wealthy Arabs and Palestinians, very sadly we cannot deny that poverty does exist in the Arab sector as it does in some Jewish sectors as well. According to a BBC report some 50% of Israeli Arabs live in poverty, as do 60% of ultra-orthodox Jews, compared to 20% of all Israelis. See http://tinyurl.com/27e5xv2

   

 

This is an unacceptable situation that must be, and is, being corrected but I ask you to evaluate the situation here in the same manner as you evaluate it in the new South Africa. In fact I admire your courage in publicly criticizing the failures of the new South African government to live up to our high expectations and in your words, for bringing back "the hated system of racial categorization". You were courageous too, in slamming the SA government for applying Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) in a discriminatory manner and for failing to improve the lot of colored communities. Even ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa has been quoted as saying that BEE "has created millionaires and superstars while our people should rather have been equipped with basic skills."

 

I don't for one moment quote these unpleasant facts in SA to justify negative aspects in Israel. But I do ask you to treat aspects of Israel in their proper context. Though you acknowledge that there are manifestations of apartheid in South Africa, neither you nor I would think of advocating sanctions. We prefer to constructively emphasize and support the positive aspects and all I ask is that you adopt an even handed attitude by applying the same approach to Israel.

 

As in South Africa, where, despite the imperfections, real  progress has been made and is being made, so too, in Israel encouraging positive moves to improve the economic situation of the Arab communities are being made that are ignored by those who report only on our warts. For example, the Israeli cabinet recently committed additional 800m shekels to economic infrastructure, housing and transportation in 12 Arab localities.

 

In Nazareth, a unit funded by the government and private investors, known as  Generation Technology is promoting Arab companies that will ultimately impact the world. It is one of 20 similar incubators that each house about 20 startups assisting Arab entrepreneurs. One of their companies, VPSign, has developed a technology that assigns a digital signature in face-to-face settings where an official signature has to be digitally recorded. Another, Lostam Biopharmaceuticals has found a way to overcome bacterial resistance to antibiotics through the development of a new antibody platform.

 

The incubators have already produced about 50 Israeli Arab biotech companies that have made their mark in the business world.

 

Rather than reject Rabbi Warren Goldstein's sincere plea that "Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace" I hope you will agree that we won't make progress towards understanding each other unless we make an effort to think beyond our preconceived ideas in seeking truth and justice.

 

You slate Israel for the fact that it is impossible to marry, except in religious courts. Marriages are not performed in courts in Israel but, as in Jordan, they are performed in religious ceremonies by all religious denominations, Muslim, Christian or Jewish and this has nothing at all to do with apartheid. In fact unlike in our neighboring states there is a great deal of public pressure to introduce civil marriage in Israel. If you consider religious marriage to be objectionable you may perhaps find time to compare the marriage laws in Saudi Arabia for example, where children as young as eight are unwillingly married to older men under religious law, where public worship by any faith other than Islam is not tolerated and where the wearing of crosses or any other religious symbol is prohibited. http://tinyurl.com/d9jnhs

 

The fact is that the great majority of Israelis would like to shake off the burden of involvement with the governance of the Palestinian people and I now ask you, in all sincerity, to offer some constructive suggestions that will help us figure out how we can achieve peace with our neighbors without committing suicide. In doing so please take into account

 

1)      Israel's willingness and anxiety to make peace with its neighbors has been unequivocally proved by the facts that

a)      under the so-called hawkish government of Begin, Israel  relinquished the entire Sinai with its oilfields in order to gain peace with Egypt

b)      under the so-called hawkish government of Ariel Sharon Israel evacuated settlements in Gaza and transferred 3,000 greenhouses to the PA that offered an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and profitable exports. Instead of the peaceful coexistence Israel expected, the Gazans willfully destroyed the greenhouses and fired thousands of rockets into civilian centers

c)      The offers made by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert when they were prime ministers were rejected.

2)      The question must be asked how peace can be achieved while the Hamas charter, unlike the South African Freedom Charter, declares there is absolutely no room for peaceful negotiation.and while article 13 of the Hamas Charter declares that initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement, that there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad and that initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

 

distances.jpg

3)     

In seeking a peaceful settlement, Israel's security concerns cannot be overlooked, especially in view of the intense rocket attacks experienced from Gaza. A glance at the attached map illustrates the concern at the possibility of rocket firing groups being stationed in the West Bank opposite Ben Gurion airport. What kind of assurance would you offer in a comprehensive peace agreement?

 

 

This letter is being publicized and my readers will be very anxious to learn your considered opinion which will be similarly publicized.

 

Sincerely, Maurice Ostroff

The Star, Johannesburg.

November 10, 2010

 

IF THIS IS NOT APARTHEID, THEN WHAT IS?

 Allan Boesak and Farid Esack

 

 In the opening lines of an open letter to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, leader of the South Africa's Orthodox Jews, makes a plea that: "Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace." If ever there was a case of a single swallow not heralding summer, alas, this is it. The rest of his article bears little relationship to the truth:

 

1. "Jew and Arab - are equal before the law."

Goldstein conflates life inside Israel and life in the occupied territories. Jews and Palestinian citizens in Israel are certainly not equal before the law: one set of laws does provide for equal rights, but another equally formidable set provides for separate and superior rights for Jews. Presently Israel has several Basic Laws that confirm this inequality, so the system is codified and formal: discrimination within Israel is official. A state founded for any ethnic or religious community cannot but be one that must necessarily discriminate against others. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Jews enjoy special protections and rights to settle and conduct business, and Palestinian civilians as non-Jews are denied those rights.

 

In both areas, there is certainly a "Population Registration Act": everyone in Israel and the occupied territories is identified by ethnicity - Jewish, Arab, Druze or whatever -- and this is listed on their ID cards. All rights and privileges in Israel follow from these distinctions. Hence there is a Group Areas Act, too - people who are Jewish can live in certain areas (actually, 93 percent of Israel is reserved exclusively for Jews) and people who are not Jewish are banned from living in those areas. If there is no "Mixed Marriages Act" per se, there are still laws that prohibit Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from living with Israeli spouses, a prohibition of civil marriage (it is impossible to marry in Israel except in religious courts,) and a host of laws, rules and codes that keep the populations strictly apart. Petty apartheid is hardly required where segregation is absolute.

 

Israel indeed has no "Separate Representation of Voters Act" but for two unpleasant reasons. First, half of the entire population under Israel's control (the 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) are not allowed to vote at all. Every one of the five million people living here can attest plenty to Israel's draconian pass laws, which constrict and destroy their life chances every single day. Second, twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians and can vote, but are not allowed to vote for any party or law that alters Jewish national supremacy and special privileges. That is like giving the vote to slaves but preventing them from voting against slavery.

 

2. "Israel accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its people, including its ... Arab citizens."

Goldstein need only ring up any Palestinian mayor, public figure or Knesset representative to be corrected on this. The poverty and isolation of Palestinian Arab communities in Israel is notorious. Of course, there are Arab parties that do provide some Palestinian representation in Israeli politics. But this representation is akin to Apartheid's Tricameral Parliament of the 1980s: they operate in highly constrained conditions and have been unable in those roles to relieve the endemic poverty and isolation of their communities, or to alter the edifice of racism that suffocates their communities. And again, some five million Palestinians under Israeli rule remain entirely excluded from the political system solely because they are not Jews and have no rights whatsoever except what Israeli military law provides them.

 

3. "The other untruth is the accusation of illegal occupation of Arab land."

According to Goldstein, Israel is not "occupying" the West Bank and Gaza Strip but reclaiming these areas for ancient Jewish sentiment dating to antiquity. Only religious fundamentalists insist on their own religious texts as the only arbiter between them and others. God is reduced to a dishonest estate agent who parcels out land to His Favorites, land with borders clearly demarcated as if these were registered in a 20th century title deeds office - all at a time thousands of years ago when national boundaries were rather unknown. This sort of thinking is simply outdated - it belongs to a time of colonial conquest and racial domination.

 

Remember Uitgegee op gesag van die Hoogste se Hand! ("Given to us on the authority of God" While this is a phrase of Apartheid South Africa's, Song of the Flag, it may just as well have been an excerpt from Goldstein's article!)

 

Considering Goldstein's misleading analysis for a moment. How then are the indigenous people to express their own ancient claims to the land and their present political, social and cultural rights? This is the heart of Israel's apartheid doctrine: that, in the same territory, one group - Jews - has superior rights to another. And if the native people protest, or resist this disenfranchisement, this is seen as outrageous, backward, racism against Jews, an irrational blow against the unquestionable right of a hardworking settler society to fulfill its God-given Covenant and right to self-determination. All rather familiar stuff.

 

4. "... until the National Party was prepared to accept that black South Africans had a place in their own country, there could be no peace. And so too, until the Arab/Muslim world accepts that Jews have a right to a state of their own on their ancestral land, there will be no peace."

Goldstein had best draw the lesson from his own example: until the Israeli and Zionist movement is prepared to accept that Palestinians have a place in their (own!) country as equal citizens, there can be no peace - there should be no peace! The solution in South Africa was precisely NOT to accept separate black states, but to reject that "solution" for the lie that it was. Israel must give up the premise of separation - apartheid. Only then will the country be able to join the rest of the world (not just the Arab world) as a "normal" country.

 

The South African story is simple: states founded on ethnicity are unworkable and evil - it is reprehensible to synonimize your God, religion and your ethnicity and culture with an ideological state. The separation of people from people on the basis of religious or ethnic identity - apartheid - and the privileging of that identity over that of others is simply incompatible with the ideas of universal human rights.

 

It is in this context that we salute our dear friend and comrade, the Archbishop, for consistently carrying through the prophetic vision. This time, in actively responding to the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel until, in the least, Israel abides by international law and the universal principles of human rights.

 

 

*Allan Boesak is Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Stellenbosch and Farid Esack is a Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

 

 

From Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein to Archbishop Desmond Tutu

as published in the Jerusalem Post

November 4, 2010

 

Dear Archbishop Desmond Tutu,

 

I write to you with a heavy heart. You are a revered leader in South Africa, and, recently, have added your iconic voice to the campaign for sanctions against Israel.

 

Archbishop, I feel compelled to write because I believe that you are making a terrible mistake. Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace. The Talmud says, “The world stands on three things: justice, truth and peace.” These three values are inseparable. Archbishop, I am convinced that the sanctions campaign against Israel is morally repugnant because it is based on horrific and grotesquely false accusations against the Jewish people.

 

The truth, Archbishop, is that Israel is not an apartheid state. In the State of Israel all citizens - Jew and Arab - are equal before the law. Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality Act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws, or any of the myriad apartheid laws. Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy with a free press and independent judiciary, and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its 1 million-plus Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, member of parliament, and judge at every level of the judiciary, including that of the Supreme Court of Israel. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multi-party elections; there are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals, and also malls, buses, cinemas and parks, and, Archbishop, that includes universities and opera houses.

 

The other untruth is the accusation of the illegal occupation of Arab land. Like the apartheid libel, this is outrageously false. There is no nation on earth that has a longer, deeper and more profound connection to their country than the Jewish people have to the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.

 

Archbishop, you and I as religious leaders always turn to the Bible as a source of truth. What does it mean that Israel is the “promised land”? It means, as we both know, that it was promised by G-d to the Jewish people as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This promise was delivered upon by G-d, more than 3300 years ago when Joshua led the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Since then there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in the land of Israel, albeit small during the exile. All the books of the Hebrew Bible - Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah etc. - describe the deep connection between Jews and the land of Israel, including the West Bank, whose biblical names are Judea and Samaria, the area that contained the great cities of the two previous Jewish commonwealths, such as Jericho, Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood for hundreds of years, Bet El, where Jacob had his vision of the ladder, and Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried together with their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.

 

Three thousand years ago great capitals of today did not exist. There was no London or Paris, no Washington or Moscow, no Pretoria or Cape Town but there was a Jerusalem, a Jewish city, capital of a Jewish state. “If I forget thee O Jerusalem let my right hand forget its cunning ... if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.” Those words from Psalms are recited by Jews at every wedding; at every funeral the statement of comfort to the mourners refers to Zion and Jerusalem. Jews pray for Jerusalem three times a day and also in the grace after meals.

 

Archbishop, the Arab/Israeli conflict is not about a struggle against apartheid or occupation. It is a century-long war against the very existence of Jews and of a Jewish state in Israel. There have already been seven major Arab/Israeli wars since the birth of the modern state of Israel. Today the war front includes an alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the latter now with 40 000 rockets aimed at Israeli cities. Iranian officers train Hezbollah forces, while Iran pursues nuclear weapons and openly declares its aim of wiping out Israel. Hamas, the Palestinian government in Gaza, sides with Iran and Hezbollah in rearming with the declared aim of destroying Israel.

 

Since 1967, one aspect of this century-long conflict has been the demand for a Palestinian state. In spite of the deep historical and religious roots of Jews in all of Israel, generations of Jewish leaders have been prepared for the sake of peace to give up ancestral and covenantal land to establish a Palestinian state. So why has there not been peace? The ANC taught us that you can’t make peace on your own. No matter how much the ANC was committed to a peaceful resolution of the South African conflict, until the National Party was prepared to accept that Black South Africans had a place in their own country, there could be no peace. And so too until the Arab/Muslim world accepts that Jews have a right to a state of their own on their ancestral land of Israel, there will be no peace. Jews accepted the United Nations Resolution establishing a Jewish state and a Palestinian state in 1948 but the Arab world rejected it and 5 countries invaded Israel to destroy it. After that, the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967. There was an opportunity then - every day for almost twenty years - to establish a Palestinian state. It never happened. And since then there have been numerous opportunities - each rejected by Arab leaders. Why? Because this war has been more about the destruction of the Jewish state than about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even today so-called moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

 

In 2000, the Palestinian leadership launched a massive war of suicide bombers into Israel, leading to more than 1300 Israeli civilian deaths and 10 000 injuries. Proportionately such carnage in South Africa would mean more than 10 000 killed and more than 80 000 injured. Israel erected a security fence with checkpoints to shield it from the attacks launched from the disputed territories. Archbishop, you compare these checkpoints to apartheid South Africa. But they are not about pass laws, which don’t exist in Israeli law. They are on the border between sovereign Israeli territory and the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza in order to protect civilians from being murdered, and have been very successful in doing so. These checkpoints - like those which are found at all airports, where people undergo careful security scrutiny, and often invasive searches - are there to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up innocent people.

Archbishop, do not bestow respectability on the immoral sanctions campaign - an affront to truth and justice, which prevents peace and prolongs the terrible suffering of people on both sides of this painful conflict. Archbishop, let us pray for an end to all this agony, and for the fulfilment of the verse in the Book of Isaiah, “And the L-rd G-d will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

 

Yours sincerely,

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

 

 

 

 

 

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