It does not go unnoticed that Penn Students for Justice in Palestine's event titled “Israeli Apartheid Week” was planned over the holiday of Passover, when many Jewish students are off campus or unable to mobilize an effective response due to religious obligations. However, this is not exclusive to Penn SJP. Last year, before the first day of Passover, members of Tufts University's SJP brought forth a resolution to the school senate, calling for an academic and economic boycott of Israeli products and institutions. This excluded pro-Israel voices who could not attend the session in order to get home in time for their Passover seders.
While members of SJP claim this week is about calling attention to human rights violations against Palestinians and Israel’s “apartheid” government, it is merely a way to deceive socially just-minded students into falsely demonizing Israel. Evidently, this is part of SJP’s broader agenda to delegitimize the only Jewish state’s right to exist and promote anti-Zionism on college campuses. Critical discourse on Israeli policy should take place, but not in the form of lies and half-truths. Students who truly believe in justice should not buy into masked anti-Semitism presented as anti-Zionism. As French President Emmanuel Macron firmly stated, “We will yield nothing to anti-Zionism, because it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.”
In reality, Israel is far from an apartheid state. It is the only country in the Middle East where peoples of all religions, sexualities, and races can live freely without fear of persecution. While Christian populations are being decimated in Iraq and Syria, the Israeli-Christian population and practice is flourishing, thanks to the Israeli government’s protection. Similarly, the government protects all Muslim holy sites in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian Waqf. In fact, it is in Muslim-controlled holy sites where signs of segregation are most apparent, as only Muslims are permitted to enter, on the condition of a correct recitation of the first chapter of the Quran.
Furthermore, SJP’s failure to discuss the apartheid-like measures against Palestinians in various Middle Eastern countries undermines its mission as a champion of human rights. Rather, this proves its one-sided, deceitful agenda. For example, in Jordan, some Palestinians are trapped in holding facilities known as Cyber Cities and many are restricted from working for the Jordanian government. Similarly, in Lebanon, Palestinians face significant legal discrimination. According to Lebanese law, Palestinians are prevented from pursuing 73 jobs including doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Additionally, they cannot own property and are banned from enjoying the benefits of the national health care system. Palestinians also face similar legal challenges in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
In Israel, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity. In Israel’s Declaration of Statehood, it clearly states, “Israel … will be based on freedom, justice and peace … ensure complete equality of social and political rights … irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Israeli Arabs serve as commanders in the Israeli Defense Forces, chief surgeons at Israeli Hospitals, members of the Knesset (Israeli government), and on the Supreme Court. They have voted in every election since Israel’s independence in 1948. Does this really sound like an apartheid state? Calling Israel an apartheid is not only senseless, it also devalues the experiences of millions around the world who have suffered in apartheid states.
Similarly, Palestinians living in the West Bank have substantial roles in society. It is actually Palestinian Authority civil law (which applies to Palestinians living in areas A and B) that further segregates Palestinians from Israelis by prohibiting them from working for Jews, selling property to Jews, and more. Despite obstacles, Palestinians achieve professions as doctors, lawyers, athletes, professors, advocates, and more. Also, according to a World Bank report, Palestinians boast a literacy rate of 91 percent, one of the highest in the world.
If you were to stroll down Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv or Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, you would not find any signs on park benches or store windows saying “Jews only,” similar to discriminatory ones found in the segregated American South or the South African apartheid regime. Rather, you would encounter an exuberant, multicultural society where Arabs and Jews are shopping in the same stores, eating at the same cafes, and playing in the same parks. This is the true Zionist vision: a Jewish state where peoples of different religions and races live in harmony.
I encourage everyone to broaden their minds by asking an Israel supporter why Israel is so meaningful to them. As a pro-Israel student advocate, I would like to see a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe this begins with mutual respect and a shared desire for peace. Unfortunately, this event does not promote the mutual respect needed to have a productive conversation on achieving peace in the region.
ARIELA STEIN is a College sophomore studying political science and history. She is a fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.