PFMEP responds to Amnesty International

“Tragically, I fear that an unintended consequence of calling Israel’s actions “apartheid” will be the memories of all the lives lost, bloodshed, and torment endured on South Africans’ long walk to freedom fading, along with the slogan “Israeli Apartheid.” Unfortunately, this might already be the case…The conditions under which Palestinians are being made to live make my heart heavy with grief and sorrow. But those conditions are not The Apartheid I grew up in the aftermath of — and I would hate to have that fall into obscurity.”

These are the words of Marcus Montague-Mfuni, a South African who is the chair of the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee at Harvard University. His words speak to a society that frequently appropriates words from other people’s struggles to further their own political agenda, eg. attempts by anti-vaxxers to appropriate Holocaust language. Appropriating the language of another struggle only diminishes the reality of that true struggle.

This is one of the reasons Presbyterians for Middle East Peace rejects the Stated Clerk’s use of  slavery to describe Israel. The use of apartheid to describe Israel mirrors the Stated Clerk’s attempt to call Israel a slave state. Not only is this charge false, but in its inappropriate use, it diminishes those who truly are suffering or did suffer from slavery in our world, which the statement also failed to point out.

Apartheid describes a vicious system of government based upon race. It defines a brutal system used by a minority to keep a vast majority out of power. All the definitions of apartheid, that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and anti-Israel activists in PCUSA quote, focus on the fact that apartheid describes a system of racial discrimination. This definition, as Montague-Mfuni points out, does not apply to the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians which is a conflict over national aspirations; it is a political conflict not a racial one.

How can Israel be described as an apartheid state when millions of shekels are poured into the educational system in Israel to create more opportunities for Palestinians in the Technion and other higher levels of education? Or to integrate schools on the primary and secondary level? How can Israel be an apartheid state when an Arab (Palestinian) party serves in the current government’s coalition?

Are Palestinians underserved by the government of the State of Israel? Yes, sometimes severely so, and that must be corrected. All imperfect nations, like the U.S., have issues integrating minorities into all of the opportunities the majority enjoys. Does that make the US or European nations apartheid nations? No, it means there is work to be done.

Reports such as the recent one from Amnesty International do not provide a full picture of the national conflict. Like the apartheid overtures that will come before the General Assembly they do not reflect the reality of the conflict. Amnesty’s report fails to acknowledge the role that the violence of Israel’s neighbors had in the creation of the State of Israel and its borders as well as the displacement of Palestinians. The report fails to recognize that the Occupied Palestinian Territory is the way it is because Israel had held out hope that following the War of 1967 that their Arab neighbors would adhere to UN Resolution 242 which called for the recognition of the political parties involved, i.e. Israel. If this recognition was forthcoming, Israel was prepared to support the creation of a Palestinian state.

Amnesty and groups such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network falsely claim that the returning Jews always wanted all the land of Palestine. If Israel was so set on taking all the land, why not just claim the land won in the War of 67?  Why move out of the Gaza Strip? It should be noted that the reports of HRW and AI and the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA do not address the reality that nations like Syria and Lebanon still force Palestinians to live in refugee camps, where they are not allowed to become citizens of those nations nor allowed to enter into legitimate business opportunities. Where are the protests over those horrific conditions?

Attempts to label Israel an apartheid state are part of a broad anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist movement that seeks to define Israel as evil and to delegitimize the State of Israel by denying Jews the right of self-determination.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace refrains from appropriating the struggles of other peoples such as South Africans to pursue a political agenda against Israel. We are focused on advocating for peace. We advocate for the State of Israel to do more to promote the interests of Palestinians in the State of Israel. We advocate for  Israel to do more to reign in settler attacks against Palestinians. We advocate for  both the leadership of the Palestinians and of Israel to come back to the table and negotiate a peace. But we  know that leveling false, inflammatory, polarizing charges against Israel or Palestinians is not the way to peace. We will continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians who are committed to seeing the light of God within each other and plant seeds of peace. We invite the leadership of PCUSA to join us in these efforts.