Blogs > Cliopatria > If It Quacks Like Apartheid, It Probably Isn't A Duck

Jan 31, 2007 11:43 pm

If It Quacks Like Apartheid, It Probably Isn't A Duck

I’m not sure how I feel about Jimmy Carter’s new book, "Peace not Apartheid," which seems a little over the top to me in some respects, although I do know that efforts to brand him an anti-Semite are some sort of absurd amalgam of historic hyper-sensitivity to any criticism of Israel and political correctness run totally amok. Carter has caught a lot of flak for characterizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as "apartheid." I don’t know whether this usage is the most accurate description possible, but I do know that Carter is by no means the only person to employ it.

Consider this anecdote from a former Israeli cabinet memberconcerning the construction of “Jewish only” roads in Palestine:

Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night — all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated, and he is sent on his way.
On one occasion I witnessed such an encounter between a driver and a soldier who was taking down the details before confiscating the vehicle and sending its owner away.
"Why?" I asked the soldier.
"It's an order. This is a Jews-only road," he replied. I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it.
His answer was nothing short of amazing."It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here, and let some anti-Semitic reporter or journalist take a photo, so he then can show the world that apartheid exists here?”

Few scholars would dispute the distinguished historian Neil McMillen’s observation that Mississippi was once ”the heartland of American apartheid.” It may seem a bit of a stretch to suggest a connection between Mississippi under Jim Crow and Palestine under Israeli control, but as McMillen notes, ”early in the automobile age… some communities arbitrarily denied black motorist access to public streets. Many towns informally restricted parking to whites on principal thoroughfares. For a time following World War I, Jackson’s Capitol Street, portions of Greenwood, the entire city of Laurel and doubtless all or parts of many other communities were known to be open only to white motor traffic. None of these proscriptions were matters of law and they varied considerably from one place to another." As a black educator put it, ”every town had its own mores, its own unwritten restrictions… The trick was to find out from local [black] people what the ‘rules’ were.” In other words, for a black traveler in Mississippi just as for a Palestinian traveler in Palestine, it was “his responsibility to know it.”
It would be foolish, of course, to argue that life for Palestinians in contemporary Palestine is generally comparable to life for black Mississippians in the Jim Crow era. However, if apartheid is defined to include “using different legal instruments to rule over different racial groups,” there is more than ample evidence of it in both contexts. More accurately, perhaps, we might conclude that both situations suggest, as many historians of segregation in the American South have shown, the law itself is often of little import, either as an expression of the will of the powerful or as a protection against it, in a society where the dominant group is so dominant that it can demand adherence to its preferences and whims merely as a matter of custom and practice.

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Jonathan Dresner - 2/4/2007

There are serious scholars and practitioners of International Law and IR who are considerably more grounded in fact than futility

Ralph E. Luker - 2/2/2007

Your message, as always, is that if all the world, like you, were degreed in the law and experienced in South Africa there would be no conflict and no disagreement. Get a grip, Chris.

chris l pettit - 2/2/2007

As usual...are we using the legal definition of apartheid or various ideologically biased political definitions that ensure that we don't actually solve anything and continue arguing past each other in our ignorance (a rhetorical question...from all I have seen, it is the latter). The funny thing is, if you utilize the legal definition, it is more difficult for one to conclude that the actions of the Israelis qualifiy as Apartheid (although they do fit the legal definitions of ethnic cleansing, aspects of cultural genocide, and certain other crimes against humanity). Of course ideologues with little or no legal background (and most likely no intimate experience with the South African historical context) can't be asked to think rationally on the topic...instead only being able to analyze the issue within their own inherently biased ideological relativism.

I did see a compelling article analyzing the culpability in terms of criminal intent (which all the "security" emphasizers love to invoke not realizing that recklessness, negligience and reasonableness also are grades of culpability that speak to the Apartheid issue) versus the actual effects of the actions taken by those in power. In this analysis, even if the Israel defenders are credited that in some twisted ideological reality the actions are for "security" purposes (even though still illegitimate due to proportionality mistakes), the ending result of their actions is the creation of an Apartheid-like situation. By the way...if the arguments regarding lack of intent are conceded, these individuals must also agree to the argument (consistency is key in law) that the Nazis also lacked criminal culpability for genocide because they did not target individual groups...instead they murdered for not being Aryan...a HUGE difference in terms of intent. The Genocide COnvention was specifically written with a very narrow standard of targeting groups for who they are, not for who they weren't (as historians, we should know that this was because the US, Canada, Australia and others were worried about being held responsible for the cultural genocides perpetrated on the Native Americans, First Peoples, Aboriginies, etc.). THerefore, we can see where this "security" and lack of criminal intent regarding Apartheid is absurd as the bickering over what is or isn't genocide. It is the acts and resulting conditions that matter...NOT the least on a macro or global level in terms of state action...individual criminal cases in Nuremburg, Arusha, and the Hague have supported this point. THis is why the precautionary priniciple is so dominant in the international sphere...why the definition of self defense means only when there is no chance for rational thought (meaning the missle is on the way), etc...the main purpose of international law is to enforce and compel peace and human rights, not justify violations of the law for the sake of "security." THe definitions of terms meant to protoe these ideas are naturally narrow and conservative to protect the innocents that are being decimated by the ideologues on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

All I see is ideological bickering regarding issues that people are evidently incapable of examining critically and objectively. Apartheid conditions (similar to those experienced in the "homelands" by the black and coloured South Africans) factually exist as a result of Israeli and Western policies in the area. You can ideologically bicker over culpability, intent, security, whatever until you are blue in the face...and your conversations will still be highly irrelevant and irritating to anyone remotely able to think critically about an issue and want to address the situation in terms of solving it or at least making progress towardes an equitable resolution. What Carter has done is highlight the continuing plight of the Palestinians (to be considered with the innocent Israelis put in danger by Islamic extremists) and the ideological paucity of those in power in both areas. Legally, the state terrorism of the Israeli government and its crimes against humanity and the criminal acts of the Islamic extremists both need to be remedied and all involved parties should be brought to justice before a court of law...something that unfortunately can never happen in a world filled with ideological misfits determined to write their own history, twist the facts to suit their equally twisted positions, and never actually move towards a world where the "rule of law" stands in authority above any petty and nonsensical power battles between ideologies who most often are completely wrong about what they argue about from the beginning.


Oscar Chamberlain - 2/1/2007

An article that can give all sides here both ammunition and headaches.

Michael Pitkowsky - 2/1/2007

I think that there is a substantial difference which must be pointed out. Some of Israel's current Israeli policy doesn't originate in theories of racial inequality, but rather out of security concerns. For decades there were no security fences, no checkpoints, not even within the West Bank but even between the West Bank and Israel proper, it was only in response to Palestinian attacks that these were instituted. One can criticize them for whatever reason they want, but they do not stem from the belief that Jews and Arabs shouldn't use the same roads b/c Arabs are an inferior race. Some of the loudest opposition to all of these measures has come from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, many, though not all, of whom insist that Jews and Arabs can live together and that all of these measures actually promote Israeli disengagement from the West Bank. Another reason for opposition is that terrorists can attack any car riding on these roads and not worry that it might be Palestinian (Palestinians have been killed in terrorist attacks,usually followed by an "apology" from Hamas, Al-Aksa Brigades, etc.) Also, bringing a quote from Shulamit Aloni is almost (she is more mainstream) as representative as bringing one from former AG Ramsey Clark.

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