No, Israel is Not Like Apartheid South Africa

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

Photo by Zachi Evenor

The anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian supporters overlooked history in their Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, charged Cary Nelson in his book, “Dreams Deferred: A Concise Guide to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & the Movement to Boycott Israel.” Nelson lined up to twenty-four contributors in his book to answer anti-Israeli and BDS narratives.

Nelson is a professor of English at the University of Illinois-Champaign and is a former president of the American Association of University Professors and has led the effort to defeat anti-Israel BDS resolutions at the Modern Language Association annual conventions.

He pointed out that six academic associations have voted to boycott Israeli institutions and individual scholars:

  1. American Studies Association
  2. Association for Asian American Studies
  3. Native American and Indigenous Studies Association
  4. African Literature Association
  5. National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies
  6. National Women’s Studies Association

The Modern Language Association rejected a BDS resolution, as did the American Historical Association in 2016, going against the recent pro-BDS trend in academia among college professors and administrators.

A common argument from BDS supporters, said Nelson, is how modern-day Israel is similar to South Africa under apartheid. Nelson and his colleagues dismantle this narrative by showing that Israel does not discriminate against Israeli Arabs.

First, Israeli Arabs are full citizens in the country, sit in parliament, have a judge on the country’s highest court, but they do suffer from some restrictions such as land use and school funding. Apartheid, on the other hand, black South Africans did not have the right to vote, suffered daily discrimination in public transportation, marriage choices and cemetery use.

Second, Israel is a legitimate state, founded by the international community as a result of the British Mandate, and is not an illegitimate national government repressing an entire people as apartheid South Africa did.

Thirdly, the apartheid comparison started with the Soviet Union and communists in the Cold War, which would conflate Israel to apartheid South Africa in its propaganda. In 1975, the Arab nations and the Soviet Union passed Resolution 3379 in the United Nations that equated racism with Zionism (i.e. creation of the Jewish Israel homeland), which was rescinded in 1991.

One of the other main arguments put forward by BDS supporters is that the academic boycott will only affect institutions and will not affect scholars. Nelson and his contributors disagree with this argument because the boycott has a trickle-down effect from the institution and its administrators to the individual scholar. They noted that a common phrase in BDS resolutions is “common sense boycotts,” which is too vague to define. Also, the additional BDS restrictions make it difficult for scholars to express academic freedom when they have travel restrictions to Israeli institutions, prohibited from publishing in Israeli journals, and discouraged from writing recommendations for students seeking to study in Israeli institutions being boycotted.