‘Accusing Israel of apartheid is not anti-Semitic’: Holocaust historian

A growing number of Jewish academics are using the term apartheid to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

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Palestinians walk in front of a section of the Israeli barrier in Aida refugee camp, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, February 1, 2022 [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

Amos Goldberg, a leading professor of the Holocaust at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has published a scathing retort saying that describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid” is not anti-Semitic, in a guest post in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, said using “apartheid” in such scenarios is “an anti-Semitic narrative” in an interview with Die Welt, one of Germany’s most-read newspapers.

The Israeli government, Goldberg stated, fights against human rights, democracy and equality and propagates the opposite: “authoritarianism, discrimination, racism and apartheid”.

“Accusing Israel of apartheid is not anti-Semitic. It describes reality,” he said.

‘The elephant in the room’

Goldberg’s standpoint was not an outlier, he urged Klein to understand. Rather, it represented a growing chorus of voices, including leading Israeli academics propagating the term apartheid to describe the treatment of Palestinians by the current regime.

In fact, if Klein were right, Goldberg wrote, then some of the best-known Holocaust and anti-Semitism researchers from Israel, the United States, Europe and worldwide would be anti-Semites.

He referenced a petition co-initiated by Omer Bartov, the Israeli-born historian and professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University, titled The Elephant in the Room, which states: “There can be no democracy for Jews in Israel while Palestinians live under an apartheid regime”.

The petition has been signed by more than 2,000 academics, clergy, and other public figures at the time of writing and is emblazoned with an illustration that includes a large elephant with the words “Israeli occupation” alongside a speech bubble that reads “Let’s just ignore it”, and surrounded by dozens of people freely waving placards for various social justice movements.

“Palestinian people lack almost all basic rights, including the right to vote and protest,” the petition reads, “Settler vigilantes burn, loot, and kill with impunity.”

A rhetorical shift in Israeli academia

This represents a significant shift in rhetoric among many Jewish and non-Jewish academics, Goldberg wrote in FAZ.

The recent judicial changes proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently pushed through has forced many people to change their perception of the Israeli regime, including Zionists, he states.

Goldberg referenced Benjamin Pogrund, a South African-born Israeli author who was once quoted as saying anyone who labelled Israel an apartheid regime “is at best ignorant and naive and at worst cynical and manipulative”.

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Protesters hold a poster that reads ‘King of apartheid’ while protesting against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Germany, Berlin, March 16, 2023 [Christian Mang/Reuters]

Pogrund recently wrote an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which he described his new position: “I have argued with all my might against the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state: in lectures, newspaper articles, on TV and in a book. However, the accusation is becoming fact.”

“We deny Palestinians any hope of freedom and normal lives. We believe our own propaganda that a few million people will meekly accept perpetual inferiority and oppression,” he wrote.

Goldberg also cited Barak Medina, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former Supreme Court nominee, who wrote that the untrue statements of Finance Minister and Second Minister of Security Bezalel Smotrich served to justify an apartheid regime in occupied East Jerusalem.

‘Accusing Israel of apartheid is not anti-Semitic’

Klein’s statement that accusing Israel of apartheid is anti-Semitic is not far removed from the position of the right-wing extremist politicians in the Israeli coalition government who demand that the Jewish character of the state take precedence over its democratic character, Goldberg argues.

It is a position shared by Bartov, who recently told the Washington Post: “You can call me a self-hating Jew, call me an antisemite … People use those terms to cover up the reality, either to deceive themselves or to deceive others. You have to look at what’s happening on the ground.”

Klein may not be “receptive to reality”, Goldberg concludes in his FAZ article, “but reality is stronger and more and more people around the world and in Israel are beginning to see it”.

Source: Al Jazeera