Wertheim responds to Adelaide article

May 29, 2014 by Peter Wertheim
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“Peter Goers’ column in last week’s Sunday Mail titled “Why I weep: the 720km wall, a symbol of apartheid” appeals to the emotions, and to outdated anti-Jewish religious motifs, but ignores the facts” wrote ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim.

Peter Wertheim

Peter Wertheim

The simplistic application of the “apartheid” tag to the Israel-Palestinian conflict misses the essential difference between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa.  In South Africa, three different racial groups – whites, blacks and coloureds – saw themselves, and were seen by others, as of one nationality, South African.   The conflict in South Africa was a struggle by blacks and coloureds for equal rights with whites as citizens of the same national community.

Jews and Palestinians do not see themselves, and are not seen by others, as members of a single national community.  Each is a distinct national community in its own right.  Each of them has a combination of shared language, customs, beliefs and traditions derived from a common past which gives them an historically determined social identity in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict has therefore not been a struggle for equal citizenship rights between people of the same national community.  Rather, it has been a struggle by each national community for political independence, statehood and sovereignty.  In short, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is an international one, whereas the conflict between the races in South Africa was intra-national

Within Israel, Palestinians are fully-fledged citizens.  They vote in Israel’s elections, and twelve of them are currently members of the Israeli Parliament.  There are Arab judges in Israeli courts, including Israel’s Supreme court.

Israel’s Jews and Arabs have much the same life expectancy and infant mortality rates, use the same public transport, eat in the same restaurants, get treated at the same hospitals, share the same beaches, theatres and cinemas, shop at the same malls, attend the same public schools and universities and work side by side in many occupations.

By agreement, Israel and the Palestinian Authority currently share administration of the West Bank, pending a final settlement of the conflict.  Any move by Israel to extend its civil law jurisdiction to the West Bank would be considered as an illegal annexation of that territory under international law.

The measures Israel has been forced to take to prevent suicide bombers from the West Bank entering Israel and murdering Israeli civilians have indeed resulted in Israel imposing restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank.

What Goers calls “720km of barbaric wall” is in fact mostly an electronically monitored, wire fence only a few metres high.  It is concrete only in places where Israelis have been targeted by sniper fire.  Even Bob Carr, a severe critic of Israel’s settlements, declared in an interview on SBS radio on April 27 that “If there were bombs going off in Sydney, I would have built a protective barrier faster than the Israeli Cabinet did”.

It is disingenuous for Goers to imply that any but a handful of fanatics want to destroy the Islamic mosques and Christian churches in Jerusalem.  There was an attempt to set fire to the Al Aqsa mosque in 1969. The arsonist was a mentally disturbed Christian fundamentalist from Australia.

Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to protect the holy sites of all three monotheistic religions, and worshippers flock to them from all parts of the world.   Prior to the 1967 war, these sites were under Jordanian control.  Jews were barred from visiting Jewish holy sites and ancient Jewish cemeteries were desecrated.

Goers ridiculously describes Jesus as a “Palestinian”.  How many other “Palestinians” have had their bar mitzvah when they turned 13? And celebrated the Jewish Passover? And prayed in Hebrew?  Israelis are not “oppressive or bellicose”, as Goers suggests. They are a people like any other – heterogeneous and varied. To reduce them to a single, malevolent type is bigotry.

Israel has officially embraced the principle of “two States for two peoples” which the UN endorsed as long ago as 1947.  The continuing denial by the Palestinians and the Arab states of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination remains the true “root cause” of the conflict.   Goers’ silence about this is telling.

Discrimination exists everywhere, including in Australia, but discrimination is not apartheid.  To apply the stigma of “apartheid” to democracies like Israel and Australia is to drain the concept of all substance. Factual and linguistic precision is more likely to enhance understanding of intractable problems. Goers’ reckless and inflammatory rhetoric is demagoguery.  It should have no place in Australia.

Read the original article published here:  http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/peter-goers-the-shame-of-israels-palestine-apartheid/story-fni6unxq-1226921167044


Peter Wertheim is the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.