With his last paragraph, Guy Rundle demonstrates what seems to be his own “long slide to paranoia” and conspiracy theory in “Israel’s de facto apartheid“. Without any evidence or specifics, Rundle claims that Israel experimented with some un-named “new weapons” during its campaign against Hamas in Gaza. He also trots out allegations of other war crimes — illegal use of white phosphorus, deliberately shooting civilians — that have been systematically debunked.
For example, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ mines-arms unit, Peter Herby, said at the time that although Israeli forces used white phosphorus, “it’s not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target,” which is perfectly allowed by international humanitarian law. Herby then continued: “We have no evidence to suggest it’s being used in any other way.” Recently released preliminary results of an IDF investigation into similar allegations by Human Rights Watch and other NGOs confirm that Israel used white phosphorus in compliance with international law (not that I’d expect Rundle to give that any credence).
Similarly, more recent and inflammatory allegations about Israeli forces being ordered to kill civilians have been found to be either rumour, hearsay or, at worst, clear examples of tragic accident — such as the disputed report that a woman may have been fired upon when she misunderstood Israeli soldiers’ evacuation instructions and mistakenly walked the wrong way, towards a “no go” zone.
Rundle’s larger argument, that Israel has become — or somehow always was — an apartheid state, is just as misinformed. While some of Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s policy views may be controversial and are certainly not beyond criticism, those criticisms should at least be based on facts and his actual positions.
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First, Rundle’s claim that Lieberman favours “a loyalty oath for Israeli Arab citizens” is only partially right. In fact, Lieberman has called for all citizens of Israel to take a loyalty oath, not just Israeli Arabs. Is that much different than the oath new citizens of Australia and other countries must take when granted citizenship? Moreover, Lieberman also wants to require national service of all Israelis — a policy that would impact upon the Orthodox, who currently are exempted, as much as it would Israeli Arabs.
Rundle is also misleading in his depiction of Lieberman’s other controversial policy — that Israeli Arabs living in some of the towns bordering the West Bank should become part of a future Palestinian state while some Israeli settlers are absorbed into Israel’s final border.
Practically hyperventilating, Rundle calls this “the re-establishment of the policy of transfer, ethnic cleansing 3G”.
Let’s take a step back. Nobody would be moved off their land or home in this hypothetical situation, nor would anyone be “transferred” or “ethnically cleansed” — anymore than Kosovars were “transferred” or “cleansed” from Serbia to Kosovo when the latter declared its independence.
If things are as bad for Israeli-Arabs as Rundle and others claim, they should welcome the chance to be governed by their Arab brethren; that they do not is — or at least should be — quite telling. Perhaps they recognise what Rundle refuses to see — that Israeli Arabs have greater freedoms living in Israel than do Arabs living in any other country in the Middle East.
In many ways the theory behind Lieberman’s idea is the logical extension of the UN Partition Plan of 1947: That majority-Arab areas would become part of Palestine while majority-Jewish areas would become part of Israel. The idea may now be both highly controversial and impractical, but that doesn’t make it racist or fascist.
Nor would it apply, even under Lieberman’s policy, to all Israel-Arabs.
Meanwhile, it is somehow an accepted and uncontroversial fact that the future Palestinian state will be — has to be, in the words of Palestinian leaders — completely free of a single Jew. Yet somehow this escapes scrutiny as a racist policy, even by the same people ranting over Lieberman. Why the double standard?
Although relations between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are certainly not perfect, the fact remains that Israeli Arabs are full citizens in Israel. Arabic is an official language in Israel; Israeli Arab schools are taught in Arabic; Israeli Arabs have served in the cabinet; and Arab parties represent their constituencies in the Israeli parliament (three predominantly Arab parties hold 11 seats in the current Knesset, with Israeli Arabs serving in other parties as well).
Unfortunately, much of the leadership of these Arab parties has become increasingly radicalised in the last decade. They have alienated their constituencies from Israeli Jews by their full-throated support for organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah — parties that advocate the destruction of Israel and act to make that goal a reality.
That Israel, or any other country, would have a law of general application that proscribes a political party that rejects that state’s right to exist or supports an enemy’s armed struggle against it is hardly unjustifiable.
That Israel is a democratic country governed by the rule of law, such that the Supreme Court overruled that law’s application to the Arab parties, is perhaps yet another example of why Israeli Arabs would prefer to remain Israeli citizens and how ridiculously inapt is the apartheid label.
Dr Colin Rubenstein is the Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and has previously taught Middle East Politics at Monash University.