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Banning Israel anti-apartheid weeks at universities

By David Matas, December 2, 2010

(Revised remarks prepared for the delivery at the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba, Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties Forum 21 October 2010)

Universities should ban Israel anti-apartheid weeks.  Why they should do so takes some explanation. 

There is no apartheid in Israel.  That much is obvious even from a cursory glance.

Basic to apartheid in South Africa was the denationalization of blacks because they were black and allocation of nationality in state created bantustans or homelands.  Blacks assigned to bantustans were subject to influx controls and pass laws.  The objective of apartheid was to denationalize all blacks, to assign every black to one of ten bantustans.  Blacks were forcibly removed from where they lived to their designated bantustans .

Israel has not since its inception taken away vested Israeli citizenship of even one Palestinian for the sole reason that the person is ethnic Palestinian.  Israel has not created designated territories within its borders to which it has forcibly removed its own citizens who are ethnic Palestinian .

Freedom of speech encompasses the right to be wrong.  The mere fact that Israel is not an apartheid state, not even close, in itself, does not justify banning Israel anti-apartheid weeks from universities. 

Calling Israel an apartheid state is a form of incitement to hatred against the Jewish people.  Understanding hate speech requires an understanding of the context in which the speech is uttered.  Hate speech often involves veiled or coded references.  Understanding is a work of decoding.

The charge of apartheid against Israel is one of a barrage of anti-Zionist accusations levied against Israel.  Anti-Zionism by definition is rejection of the existence of the Jewish state.  That rejection is the denial of the right to self determination of the Jewish people. 

Anti-Zionism attempts to destroy Israel through arms and words.  Words are used as hate and war propaganda. 

Because Israel is a sovereign, legal entity, anti-Zionists attempt destruction through demonization and delegitimization.  Anti-Zionists assert that Israel has no right to exist claiming that it is, by its very nature, a rights violating state.  

The position of anti-Zionists that Israel violates rights is not a conclusion based on facts but a strategy adopted to combat the existence of the state of Israel.  This strategy leads anti-Zionists to accuse Israel of every grave crime known to humanity - war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, colonialism, imperialism, and, not least, apartheid.

The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is connected to antisemitism both in substance and in form.   The accusations of criminality against the Jewish state lead to accusations of criminality against the Jewish community world wide as actual or presumed supporters of this allegedly criminal state.  If Israel is an apartheid state, then the Jewish community world wide supports apartheid.
Antisemitism linguistically means being against semitism.  It has come to mean discrimination and bigotry against Jews. Today, there in no semitism, only antisemitism. 

No one today claims to be against semitism.  Antisemitism is rather a characteristic that others attribute to antisemites.  Those who objectively we have to acknowledge manifest antisemitic attitudes or behaviour claim not to be antisemites.

However, that was not always the case.  Historically, the term antisemitism was coined by a German national Wilhelm Marr to encapsulate an ideology which he advocated, opposition to semitism.  He formed an organization which he labelled "League of antisemites".  Semitism was, to Marr and his fellow antisemites, the Jewish conspiracy to usurp and control the world. 

Jews were to the Marr League a race and not just adherents of the Jewish religion.  Analysts of propaganda techniques often refer to the big lie technique of Adolf Hitler.  The theory he expounded is that a big lie, repeated often enough, is more easily accepted than a small lie because people "they [the broad masses] would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously" .  Hitler, as one can well imagine, was not touting his success in spreading his own lies.  Rather he attributed the lies to others, the Jewish race.  The big lie which he believed showed the workings of the big lie technique was that "they [the Jews] are a religious community, where as in reality they are a race". 
Antisemitism was opposition to what the Marr League and later the Nazis saw as a plan and encroaching reality of control of the world by the Jewish race.  The Marr League and later the Nazis opposed semitism to Germandom, opposed Jewish control of Germany to Aryan control of Germany.

There is, of course, no Jewish race and no Jewish conspiracy to control the world.  Marr and other antisemites strung together accomplishments of Jewish individuals in a wide variety of sectors and attributed those successes to a Jewish control conspiracy. 

Antisemites took some basic, real world facts and inserted them into a fantasy context.  The very achievements of the Jewish community in integrating, in contributing to the advance of German society, became proof to Marr and his fellow antisemites of the conspiracy.

When we look back on what was lost in the Holocaust, we can decry the loss of a community which had made such a contribution to the world around them.  Between 1905 and 1936, when Jews were one percent of the German general population, they were almost 40% of the German Nobel prize population.  Fourteen out of thirty eight Germans who won Nobel prizes during that period were Jewish.   

The Holocaust killed the people of Albert Einstein, Felix Mendelsohn, Alberto Modigliani, Ludwig Wittengstein, Marcel Proust, and Sigmund Freud.  One of the reasons Europe mourns the Holocaust is the many talented voices that were silenced. Yet, the Holocaust happened in part because of the wealth of talent the Jewish community produced.

If one looks at the old Nazi propaganda sheets like Julius Streicher's Der Sturmer, they were oddly similar, in one way, to Jewish ethnic papers.  Both publicised attainments of Jewish individuals, the Jewish community papers out of pride, the Nazi propaganda sheets as proof of the spreading implementation of the Jewish control conspiracy.

The very success of a wide variety of Jewish individuals contributed to the undoing of the Jewish community, reinforcing the claim of antisemites that semitism was alive, well and thriving.  Having achieved advantage through accomplishment became, for the Jewish community, a disadvantage, a factor which led to their extermination.  Jewish accomplishment became a death warrant.

There are different ways to look at the horror of this experience. One of them is surely to be wary of any claim to be against something which does not exist, particularly when what you are asked to oppose is attributed to a group identified as somehow different from your own and that difference is put in terms of race, an advantaged target and a disadvantaged opposing group.

One can see from hindsight that the problem with antisemitism was not just that antisemites got the facts wrong, that there was no Jewish race, no semitism.  A Jewish race-based conspiracy to control the world, if it had existed, would have been objectionable, reprehensible.  The danger the Wilhelm Marr League of Antisemites posed was that they opposed

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