There’s a yearly event that takes place in cities across the world, from Albuquerque to Ljubljana. All across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia there will be speakers and movie showings to mark the occasion. Chances are, however, that if you get your news from the mainstream media you may not have heard of it. That’s because it links the words “Israeli” and “apartheid” in the same sentence.
Do a Lexis-Nexis search for any article that mentioned “Israeli Apartheid Week” over the last year and you’ll get 46 results. Out of these, 12 come from The Jerusalem Post. One is from The Irish Times. All of the rest are from the Canadian press, either The National Post, The Gazette, or The Globe and Mail. None of the results come from the U.S. media.
While the mainstream media in the U.S. refuses to run “Israeli” and “apartheid” within the same sentence, it hasn’t put the same restrictions on journalists against combining “Islam” and “fascism” into a new hybrid word: “Islamo-fascism.” Outside of extreme conservative circles, the term seems to have fallen out of favor these days. But in 2006 The New York Times gave columnist William Safire a platform for his opinion piece defending the term.
Why does the very mention of the term “Israeli Apartheid” seem to be so controversial that American media refuse to whisper it, even in reference to a worldwide event? And who are the editors who allow its use when referring to South Africa and what was formerly Rhodesia, but shrink from using the same term in reference to Israel?
Webster’s Dictionary defines apartheid as “racial segregation, specifically a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa.” The Israeli government has several laws that specifically discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. Jewish-only roads are constructed with government funding that lead to Jewish-only settlements. Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip can’t become Israeli citizens if they marry an Israeli citizen. Even within Israeli territory, in some cities three-meter-high fences have been erected to separate Jewish neighborhoods from Arab districts. And a maze of discriminatory laws prevents Arab-Israelis from buying property in many parts of Israel.
Not only does the modern state of Israel share many of the race-based practices of the former South African government, but Israel was one of the most loyal supporters of South Africa’s apartheid system, up until its collapse in 1994. A 2010 book by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa documents the ties between the two nations that date back to Israel’s founding. The author writes that Israel’s annual military exports to South Africa between 1974 and 1993, during the height of the apartheid years, clocked in at $600 million-making South Africa Israel’s largest trading partner after the U.S. and Britain.
In 1976, South Africa’s Prime Minister, John Vorster visited Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial with Israeli heads of state. In a bizarre display of irony, the self-proclaimed Nazi sympathizer laid a wreath on the ground to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
It’s interesting to note that, while Israeli Apartheid Week has caused barely a ripple in the international media, the Israeli government seems to sense a looming threat in the movement. Last week, The Jerusalem Post announced that the Israeli government’s Public Diplomacy Ministry would be sending 100 Israelis, “including settlers, artists, Arabs, experts in national security, gay people, and immigrants from Ethiopia” around the world over the course of this week to “represent and defend the state.”
Yet, despite the Israeli government’s frenzied attempt at public relations, the movement is continuing to grow. This year, the movement’s website lists 79 cities across the world that are hosting events to mark the week, compared with only 32 back in 2010. Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, the media may be slow in coming to grips with how widespread the sentiment that fuels this campaign is. Whether or not one agrees that the term “Israeli Apartheid” is appropriate, the movement doesn’t seem to be going away for the time being.
(The Israeli Apartheid Week poster is freely distributed by the Israeli Apartheid Week organizers. To see a report from Al Jazeera on Israeli Apartheid Week from 2010, please check below.)