2020-2021 University of Pennsylvania CAMERA Fellow Jesse Fox

Penn has more than 600 student organizations – a laudable source of pride for our school.  I love seeing Instagram stories and Facebook events that highlight new student initiatives in pursuit of academic honesty and exploration. However, recently, I’ve begun to see some that are very disheartening. In 2019, student activists formed Penn Against the Occupation (PAO).  After scrolling through their Instagram page, I encountered many posts that propagate full of half-truths and lies. One stands out as particularly misleading.  

On February 1st, PAO shared a post titled “Criticism of Israel – a settler colonial, apartheid state, by default is not antisemitic.” Of course, criticizing the actions of a government or country is necessary to keep them in check. However, the appallingly inaccurate part of the post is the insistence that Israel is a “settler colonial, apartheid state.” As we’ve seen countless times, false demonization of Israel can lead to a surge in antisemitic attacks. More to the point, by employing buzzwords such as “settler colonial” and “apartheid” to describe Israel, PAO is indulging the widespread political ploy to delegitimize the Jewish state. The logic is simple: “apartheid” regimes are not reformed – they are dismantled entirely. But in the context of Israel, such accusations could not be more inaccurate. Let’s take a deeper look at how wrong their slander against Israel is:

According to one academic definition, settler colonialism “is an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures.” Most definitions riff on themes such as “replacement,” “resource exploitation,” and “colonization.” Aside from the fact that the Jewish people inhabited the land long before the Arab conquest of the region and have had a continuous presence in Israel for the last 3000 years, 19th and 20th century Jewish immigrants did not “replace” the Palestinians, nor has Israel ever committed anything close to “genocide.”  

In fact, the British Peel Commission Report in 1937 reported demographic trends that fly in the face of the “replacement” canard: “The Arab population shows a remarkable increase…Partly due to the import of Jewish capital into Palestine and other factors associated with the growth of the [Jewish] National Home.” This increase in the Arab population was due, in part, to migration into Mandatory Palestine from neighboring areas. Given this historical reality, why are Jews the only ones called settler-colonists? This is an inherent double standard. PAO’s pronouncement that Israel is a settler colonial state indicates either a misunderstanding of the definition of their own terminology, or historical ignorance. 

Their post also slurs Israel as an apartheid state. It should be noted that there are certain sections of the West Bank (Areas A and B) that are controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the US-designated terrorist organization Hamas controls the Gaza strip. Therefore, these areas will not be included in this conversation, as they are separate political and national domains.  

According to the United Nations’ International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, apartheid is defined as denial equal rights to people, falsely imprisoning people, and genocide against people based on race. Citizens of Israel, regardless of their race, religion, or gender all enjoy the same rights and protections under the law. Arab citizens of Israel (some of whom identify as Palestinian) can vote in Israeli elections, and many of them choose to serve in the army. There are majority-Arab political parties that comprise a substantial portion of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). There are Arabs who sit on Israel’s Supreme Court. The second-largest bank in Israel’s chairman is Arab.  Many Palestinians who live in Areas A and B (not citizens of Israel) in the West Bank commute to Israel daily to work. Apartheid is racial discrimination, not seperation based on nationality – if dividing people based on national citizenship were apartheid, the whole world would be guilty. Therefore, either Israel has done a remarkably bad job at being an apartheid state, or lies and propaganda have masked the truth that Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

In sum, slandering Israel as a “settler colonial” state, or an “apartheid state,” is factually incorrect and academically irresponsible. I’m a proud Zionist and ardent supporter of Israel, and I recognize that criticizing the country’s actions, or any country’s for that matter, is legitimate.  However, slandering Israel by employing falsities shows that PAO has no qualms about lying to fit its agenda. I’m sorry to see a student organization on Penn’s campus feed unassuming people lies and hatred.

A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the Jewish Exponent.

Contributed by 2020-2021 University of Pennsylvania CAMERA Fellow Jesse Fox.


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