This week, Boston College Students for Justice in Palestine will host its annual “Israel Apartheid Week,” a four-day event that will highlight what it views as injustices committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people, injustices they consider akin to the systematic oppression of non-white South Africans from 1948 to 1994. Panels will be formed, lectures will be held. The most visible aspect of “Israel Apartheid Week,” however, will be the makeshift wall constructed in front of Stokes Hall with murals proclaiming slogans such as ‘Free Palestine.’ While I’m sure SJP is well-intentioned in its aims, there’s a simple problem:
Israel is not an Apartheid state.
To compare Israel to Apartheid South Africa is only valid if one assumes three things: 1) That Israel systematically discriminates against its Arab and other non-Jewish citizens, 2) That Israel unlawfully denies residents of the Palestinian Territories rights to mobility, and, inherently most important to this comparison, 3) That Israel is a colonial state denying control from the land’s native inhabitants.
On the first two points, I can dwell on and on. I can tell you how, for starters, Israelis of Palestinian-Arab descent (as well as all other non-Jews) are guaranteed equality before the law with their Jewish counterparts. I can tell you that, in fact, 13 out of 120 seats in the Israeli legislative body, the Knesset, are held by an Arab coalition, and that there is even a Palestinian-Arab on Israel’s Supreme Court: Salim Joubran. I would point out that the checkpoints and barriers separating the West Bank/Gaza from Israel, the ones that SJP would compare to the infamous Pass Laws of the Apartheid Regime in South Africa, are not meant for racist purposes but are simply security provisions. And effective ones at that: From 2000-2005 Palestinian terrorist killed around 700 Israeli citizens using both gunmen and suicide bombers that snuck into Israel from the West Bank. What SJP and its allies do not admit is that since the Wall’s construction, terrorist attacks in Israel have decreased to very few each year from several dozen in the 2000s. In short: The barrier works really, really well.
But I don’t want to focus on those aspects. I want to focus on the third point, the one that makes this claim of Apartheid personal for me: That Israel is a settler state imposed on the Middle East by the West. You see, I am a Jew whose parents fled the U.S.S.R. in the 1970s, but I do not consider either Russia or Ukraine my native homeland. For me, my roots are in Israel.
My maternal great-grandmother’s earliest memories were hiding under her bed as a 5-year-old in her small Ukrainian-Jewish village because of the rumors of an impending Pogrom. Some 20 years later, her whole family was killed in the Holocaust. On the other side of my family, I was never able to meet my paternal grandfather, who died at the age of 40 from an epilepsy that he received as a child from severe beatings on the head by his schoolmates because he was Jewish. They were not welcome in Slavic society because, in the intensely nationalist Russia and Ukraine, they were considered Semitic foreigners.
One needs to remember that being Jewish is not just a religious preference: It’s an ethnicity. And mine and most every other ethnic Jew’s ethnic roots lie in Israel. DNA evidence proves this time and time again. To say that Jews are foreign to the land is counterfactual and, quite frankly, anti-Semitic. We are not colonists, we are natives to the land. Anything said on the contrary truly dehumanizes us. Yes, Palestinians deserve their own state as well, and they will, I hope, one day get it. But it cannot be the Jewish State. History has proven that Jews need a state of their own as both a unifier of identity and as a safe-haven against anti-Semitism. We are not Afrikaners. Our roots in the land of Israel go back thousands of years. What Zionism has done has been nothing short of a miracle: Reigniting a Jewish identity with its own unifying language and a land of its own. Just as the Italian diaspora looks to Rome and Florence as its cultural centers, we look to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Thus, go ahead, call Israel an Apartheid State. Say that Zionism equates to racism, that the Jewish State should be erased off the face of this Earth as an ugly stain of late white-European colonialism. But you cannot take away the feelings I had when I stood at the Western Wall last June in Jerusalem at Friday sundown. There, I was standing at the holiest site in Judaism, one that goes back thousands of years, before the terms Palestine or Zionism or Apartheid were even created. I touched the Wall and felt the presence of my ancestors who longed for millennia to have the opportunity to stand where I was, but could not.
I could not have felt more at home anywhere else.
Originally published in The Heights.