Monday, July 12, 2010

If It Walks Like a Duck

On July 6th the Toronto Star published an article by regular columnist Martin Regg Cohn, titled Not All Apartheid Is Created Equal. Cohn's article is an a attack on Queers Against Israeli Apartheid who finally, after much controversy, where allowed to march in the Toronto Gay Pride Parade. Cohn's article drips with derision and dismissiveness. He sarcastically, suggests that QuAIA try sell their message in Gaza, and see how much tolerance there is there for gays. He also defend Israel's policies towards Palestinians claiming that there is no serious discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, and that, in any case, discrimination against Palestinians in Lebanon is much worse.

On Saturday July 10th the Star published 6 letters to the editor in response. Four where critical of Mr Cohn's article - and of Israelis treatment of Palestinians - and two where supportive. I thought it was interesting that they printed so many responses to a single article, and that the majority (albeit by one letter) were critical.

What I didn't know is that this was the tip of an iceberg.

It turns out that in their online pages that morning there where 20 letters: 18 critical of Israel and Mr Cohn and only 2 supportive. These where the same two supportive letters that appeared in the print edition.

If this is really the complete list, or a truly representative sample, of the letters received in response to Mr Cohn's piece, than some sort of tide has turned in Canadian public opinion. ... Or, maybe it was just a fluke.

In any case, below is the complete list of these letters from the Star's web site (thanks to IJV). I have rearranged the order, putting my own letter own first.

July 10, 2010 00:07:00

Re: Not all apartheid is created equal, Opinion July 6

Martin Regg Cohn excuses Israel’s racist policies with the flippant comment
“occupation is not racial segregation.” He further accuses civil rights activists of “attempts to conflate Israel proper with the West Bank and Gaza when using the apartheid label.”

But it is Israel itself that has conflated the West Bank with Israel proper. It did so by introducing 300,000 Jewish settlers. This in addition to the 250,000 Israeli Jews it has settled in occupied East Jerusalem. And it is Israel that insists on calling the West Bank “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory. It is Israel that has extended Israeli law into the West Bank — but only for Israeli Jews. The local Palestinian population is still subject to Israeli military authority.

Thus Israel has created a system where Israeli Jews can buy property wherever they want, but local Palestinians cannot even rent in Jewish towns and neighbourhoods. There is a system of separate roads. Of separate water systems. Of separate government services. Public infrastructure changes dramatically from one kilometer to the next, and back again, depending on whether the neighbourhood is designated as Jewish/Israeli or Palestinian.

And all this has gone on for 42 years. Hardly a temporary state of affairs, as the term “occupation” usually implies.

It is time that we all woke up and realize that Israel has already effectively absorbed the West Bank. It is just its Palestinian residents that it wishes would disappear, and who it refuses to treat as citizens with equal rights.

If Israel wants to keep the West Bank it should extend citizenship to all its residents. If it does not, it should dismantle the settlements and get out. It can’t have it both ways.

As to the charge of Israeli apartheid, if it walks like a duck . . .
-Sydney Nestel, Toronto

Mr. Cohn’s sophistry completely ignores reality. The Palestinians in Lebanon are indeed treated as second-class citizens, but they are refugees in a host country and the host country, an already fragile mosaic of no less than 15religious groups, has no responsibility to absorb the demographic burden.

Furthermore the Palestinians in camps in Lebanon want to return to theirland, not become Lebanese, as it is their right to under international law.

In May, 2009, the South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) issued a report that states explicitly, “Israel has introduced a system of apartheid in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territory].” The refugee camps in the West Bank and Palestinian enclaves surrounded by Jewish-only roads, checkpoints and settlements, the application of two different sets of laws for Jews and non-Jews, the segregation wall and selective policing, are all very similar to apartheid in South Africa, Israel’s ally at the time.
-Barnabe Geisweiller, Toronto

There is no denying that the Arab world is rife with hypocrisy when it comes to the Palestinian plight. But that is hardly the issue. We shouldn’t lose
sight of the root cause of the Palestinian suffering — their dispute with Israel over the occupied lands, which has haunted the Middle East for 60 years.

Unless this problem is not resolved, the Western powers cannot deal with the Middle East’s other troubles effectively. Sooner or later, Israel will have to acknowledge its responsibility and start a serious dialogue with the Palestinians that will lead to a meaningful settlement.

Whether Israel is less discriminatory than the Arabs on the issue of gay rights is irrelevant to the six decades of the Palestinian dilemma in the hands of Israelis.
-Ali Orang, Richmond Hill

A nice article by Mr. Cohn, highlighting the plight of the Palestinian people. Would Mr. Cohn write his next article explaining why the Palestinian people ended up in their current situation.
-Atiyyah Tilly, Scarborough

Mr. Cohn appears to have taken a very paternalistic approach to the issue of Israeli apartheid. I am not gay but I did march in solidarity with QuAIA at the PRIDE parade — in support of their message — to end Israeli apartheid.

I agree with Mr. Cohn that policies of apartheid exist in many areas of the world, not just in the Middle East. However, to suggest that those of us who are advocates for Palestinian justice refocus our efforts appears as a blatant attempt to deflect attention away from Israeli policies.

I believe that to be effective, those of us who advocate for peace with justice for the Palestinians must remain focused. I hope that my efforts to end Israeli apartheid policies will stay steadfast until that goal is achieved.

It took years and the effort of the world to bring an end to South African apartheid; the Palestinian people deserve nothing less.
-Carol Rawson, Toronto

Martin Regg Cohn may be correct in many points but he seems to turn a blind eye to the fact that Israel’s Arab citizens do not have full citizenship. Israel certainly has racially motivated policies like the construction of Israeli-only roads, the apartheid wall and the ill-treatment of Palestinians by the Jewish settler population. House demolitions and rules as to who can build what and where are most certainly not fair.

The only advantage is that gays and lesbians are not persecuted in Israel and that it is possible to get a job. This article argues that the Israeli occupation is clearly the lesser of two evils for the Palestinians. He adds that the state deserves no criticism simply because other countries also commit injustices. That is surely no marker of morality and justice!
-Christine Johnston, Victoria, B.C.

I have no problem with criticism of Lebanon’s treatment of its Palestinian population, but injustice committed by one country is not an argument for the injustice committed by another.

If we take Mr. Cohn’s argument seriously, then Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories should be happy to have Israel ruling over them rather than Lebanon. This lesser-of-two-evils argument is weak. By that logic, Turkey’s Kurdish population should have been happy to have been oppressed by the Turkish government because Saddam Hussein treated the Kurds worse in Iraq. Oppression is still oppression no matter who inflicts it.

Also, I don’t recall Queers Against Israeli Apartheid exalting Lebanon for its commitment to democracy and gay rights. But our government and media routinely heap praise on Israel despite its human rights record.
-Colin Ellis, Toronto

Martin Regg Cohn fails to mention that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
arrived there after having been driven and frightened from their ancestral homes in Palestine by Zionist forces in 1948. This is a glaring omission in any discussion of the subject. It is also important to note that Israel continues to defy international law as embodied in UN resolutions by failing to permit the refugees to return home.

Cohn is right to point out that the Palestinians who still live in Israel proper are not subject to apartheid practices. However for the Palestinians of the Israeli-occupied West Bank it is a different matter. They are barred from using roads that interconnect illegal Jewish colonies. They endure crippling pass laws and roadblocks.

Those who are resident outside East Jerusalem, the main city of the West Bank, require special permission to enter. And Israeli occupation forces are pushing West Bank Palestinians into small fragments of their original land similar to the bantustans that once characterized apartheid South Africa.
-David White, Toronto

Columnist Martin Cohn, objecting to the term “Israeli apartheid,” makes the claim that “occupation is not racial segregation, despite the superficial similarities.” I wonder what he makes of the Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only roads built on disputed lands and protected by the Israeli military — not to mention the massive barrier in the West Bank. How is this not racial segregation?

Cohn also commits a logical fallacy when he tries to excuse Israel’s treatment of Palestine by pointing out that Palestine is also poorly treated by some Arab nations. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

But more than that, Israeli enjoys enormous political and material support from Canada and our ally, the U.S. Since we are sanctioning Israeli policy with our support, it is only right that we hold Israel to a higher standard of conduct and legitimacy.
-Kevin Farmer, Toronto

Martin Regg Cohn must surely know that sophistry does not an argument make; after all, that seems to be the main point of his article. Yet he consistently resorts to distracting semantic wordplay to sidestep the issue at stake, which is Israel’s continuing policy of racial segregation, as evidenced by the construction of Jewish-only roads, the apartheid wall and the ill-treatment of Palestinians by the Jewish settler population.

To further insinuate that criticism of Israel’s policies amounts to blind support for all Arab regimes and their policies is an insult to the intelligence of the public, which is just as capable of noting the difference (or the lack thereof, in this case) between occupation and racial segregation as it is the difference between an argument and empty rhetoric.
-Gayatri Kumar, Montreal

Martin Regg Cohn has written an important excellent insightful article that should be widely read. We hope members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
especially will learn where their anger should be directed.
-Simma and Harvey Shaul, Toronto

I agree with Mr. Cohn that the Lebanese treatment of Palestinian refugees is immoral and should be criticized. However, Mr. Cohn’s column obfuscates the real issue which (in addition to the intransigence of successive Israeli governments) has prevented the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and which activists such as QAIA are validly protesting.

There have been Palestinian refugees languishing in camps in Lebanon and other Arab states since 1948 because they were (as documented by Israeli historians Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris) forced to flee their homes and land primarily due to attacks or threats of attack by Jewish terrorist groups such as the Haganah and the Irgun.

The Prevention of Infiltration Law, passed by the Israeli Knesset in the early 1950s prevents indigenous Palestinians from entering or “infiltrating” Israel and authorizes their “expulsion” should they successfully infiltrate the country. (Incidentally, the law also prohibits “internal refugees” — i.e. Palestinians who were declared absent from their own villages but inside Palestine at the time Israel was created-were from returning to their villages.)

The Absentees Property Law, passed by the Knesset in 1950, authorizes the expropriation of land, owned by any Palestinian who fled Palestine following the 1948 partition or who remained within Israel but fled his “usual place of residence,” by the Israeli state. Moreover, the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return, enshrined in international law and repeatedly affirmed by successive United Nations resolutions, has been characterized as a “non-starter” and dismissed by Israel in any peace initiative from the first Camp David to the less auspicious Roadmap for Peace. Mr. Cohn’s column should be read with this contextual framework in mind.
-Iram Khan, Toronto

Let’s pretend that your comparison between the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon and Palestinians in Israel is valid and that Israel was really as gay friendly as you claim.

Let’s just focus on the situation of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem: There is the catastrophic siege in Gaza after a military assault by Israel, the home evictions and illegal deportations in East Jerusalem and the illegal annexation wall and settlements, the virtual imprisonment, de-development of the economy, nightly arrests of teenagers, political prisoners in the thousands . . . the list continues. Israeli prisoners in Palestinian hands: 1; Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails: up to 11,000.

Israeli politicians have repeatedly stated that Israel’s ethnocracy is built on absolute domination, militarily and economically. As long as there is only a Jewish state in Palestine, Israel will remain an apartheid state that justifies the continuous and brutal violation of Palestinian rights with the necessity to uphold the “Jewish” character of Israel.

I agree with you that all colonial settler states show elements of apartheid. What countries other than Israel have been successful with is the public acknowledgment of guilt about the history of ethnic cleansing, genocide and discrimination.

Israeli historians have documented that there was systematic ethnic cleansing in 1947/1948 in Palestine. But some historians and most politicians agree that ethnic cleansing was a necessary measure to create a “Jewish” state and therefore justified.

And that’s the crucial difference between Israel and other Western countries. We see past and present discrimination as a violation of inherent human rights and try to make amends. In Israel, the humiliating and brutal treatment of Palestinians is a “tool” to maintain territorial, economic and military superiority. In Israel, apartheid is a way of life, nothing to be ashamed of.
-Martina Lauer, Chesterville

Mr. Cohn again tries to divert our attention from the unsavory actions of the state of Israel, which the group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, terms a regime equal to if not worse than South African “apartheid.” Instead he distracts us to the equally obnoxious behaviour of neighbouring Arab nations toward their displaced Palestinian populations.

But, curiously, he avoids discussing just why there actually is a Palestinian diaspora throughout the Middle East. But then, the record shows that Israel made that widespread Palestinian displacement possible.

Also, why does he so enthusiastically challenge the queer critics of Israel here in Toronto? Perhaps because the critique of “apartheid” is the most trenchant and accurate condemnation of Israel today and he and many mediaand political folk work for its accuracy to be blunted.
-Lawrence Pushee, Toronto

In the midst of what appears to be an unending flow of Israel bashing, it is so refreshing to bask in the wit and truth of Martin Cohn’s piece on “Queers
Against Israeli Apartheid.” Not usually at a loss for words, I found nothing missing in Cohn’s comments to better describe the sheer hatefulness and hypocrisy demonstrated by the group that managed to hijack what should have been a colourful and non-political parade.

The only point Cohn did not reiterate enough was the failure of the same QuAIA to request a permit for plans to demonstrate in virtually any Arab country, where their very presence would have resulted in imprisonment — or worse. As Cohn notes, while running for their lives from an attempted demonstration in downtown Tehran or Cairo, the QuAIA may have sought shelter in the hands of the very gay-friendly Israel they are so bent on vilifying.
-Neil Henderson, Thornhill

We expect more from Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza than we do from Arab countries’ treatment of their Palestinian populations. The criticism of Israeli government Palestinian policy finds echoes in debates among Jewish people in Canada and in Israel itself. It would appear that significant numbers of Jewish people in many countries, and a sizable segment of Israeli citizens, expect more from this present Israeli government.

It is not enough, and demeans Israel itself, to join the common throng in devaluing Palestinian rights and dignity.
-Philip Conklin, Grimsby

The author first of all ignores that the Palestinian refugee problem was created by Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. Although Lebanon has a long way to go to improve Palestinian refugees conditions (which is also governed by UN, UNRWA organization, by the way), the author ignores Israeli apartheid policies such as “Jewish-only” segregated neighborhoods (kibbutz), Israeli-only roads, the apartheid wall, the ill-treatment of Palestinians by the Jewish settlers, and the discrimination of jobs based on military service (Palestinian not allowed to serve in the army).

The QuAIA has all the right to protest Israeli apartheid that is not justified, and it is irrelevant if other countries like Lebanon is practicing a form of apartheid against Israel’s “ethnic-cleansed” people, the Palestinians.
-Raji Saad, Toronto

Martin Regg Cohn loftily dismisses the essential point being made by the
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (namely, that Israel has placed Israeli
Palestinians under an apartheid regime) as selective morality with the
plaint why is Israel being criticized rather than others. He suggests the
QuAIA is wrong-headed, quirky and hypocritical.

I think Mr. Cohn has things turned around. To my mind, the critical question, to quote Jacqueline Rose in her book *The Question of Zion*, is “[w]hy is criticism of everyone else a precondition of criticizing Israel?”

Is the treatment accorded Palestinians by Lebanon or Syria relevant to the issue of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians never mind that the Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria are first and foremost refugees from Israel? It seems to me that Mr. Cohn presumes Israel is entitled to separate standards under cover of the argument that Israel is being unfairly singled out by the QuAIA? What standard would Mr. Cohn chose by which to judge Israel?

International law? Israel has committed many violations of international law and refuses to abide by the decisions of international bodies. Liberal democracy? Israel dispossesses, displaces and discriminates against its Palestinian citizens. Running short of agreeable standards, I can only suppose that Mr. Cohn believes that, like South Africa under Apartheid, Israel should be judged against its own special standards. This is typically referred to as a double standard. Hypocrisy indeed!

Perhaps Mr. Cohn is loathe to see Israel judged at all but there are very good reasons for doing so. In 1948, Israel drove almost a million Palestinians out of their homes and ever after has refused to allow them to return thereby creating the refugee camps that exist today around the borders of Israel. In 1967, Israel began building settlements with connecting roads throughout the newly conquered West Bank dividing the tiny segment of Palestine remaining to the Palestinians into a multitude of isolated pockets.

More recently, Israel has invaded and blockaded its neighbours using disproportionate force and, in the judgment of reports commissioned by the international community, committing war crimes in the process, including massacres in Sabra, Chatila and Jenin refugee camps. By its actions, Israel has created a human catastrophe for which it does not accept any responsibility.

Instead, frozen in denial, it has created the most powerful military force in the Middle East — a force that includes nuclear weapons — with which to defend itself behind an impenetrable wall against the people it has displaced. It does not take a genius to see that denial on this scale will only lead to another and perhaps greater catastrophe. Meanwhile, anyone who raises objections is labelled “quirky.” Free speech indeed!

My entire 40-year professional career has been spent in addressing the relationship between aboriginal peoples and the larger Canadian society, first as a researcher and teacher and then as a policy advisor and land claim negotiator. I learned that in order to resolve issues it is necessary first to understand and accept that wrongs have been committed that need to be redressed as best they can in the modern day.

Denial only serves to perpetuate the misery and injustice of the status quo that, in itself, enjoins resistance. It is important to note that enlightened states have acknowledged their accountability for past wrongs. Canada has joined with Australia in apologizing for its more egregious acts in regard to aboriginal peoples. Germany has apologized for the horror of the Holocaust.

The superior and dismissive tone of Mr. Cohn’s column leads me to suspect that he is in full denial about Israel’s banishment of Palestinians from the landscape of Israel. Denial bespeaks fear.

One could ask sarcastically, with all the cement and weaponry available to Israel, what could there possibly be to fear? Then again, all the cement and weaponry are surely evidence of that Israel is, indeed, seized by a great fear.

We must remember that South Africa was once in denial and armed to the teeth but was able to take the courageous step to end apartheid. The Berlin Wall was torn down and the republics set free. We must believe that Israel can similarly see the dead end that lies before it and find the will to take the path that leads out of denial to reconciliation.

But, like South Africa and the U.S.S.R., it needs to be prodded with the truth about itself if it is to see the shoals and change its course in time. Hurray for the QuAIA!
-W.M. Smith, Toronto

The Palestinians are in Lebanon not because Lebanon had stolen their lands and created an apartheid on it, but because the Israelis did.

In Lebanon and some other Arab countries Palestinians are not granted the right of citizenship primarily because they must always strive to return to their original country and, Mr. Cohn, contrary to your belief “they will never see Haifa,” I believe that they necessarily will.

History thought us that walls will never be a solution, but as long as there is a child demanding to go back to his stolen land, he will necessarily return.
-Ziad Akl, St-Laurent, Que.

Progressive Jews like myself believe there is a case to be made for Israel’s distinctive apartheid. It is not only the conditions of the brutally
oppressed Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, but also harsh discrimination that 450,000 black Jews from Ethiopia face in Israel. Unlike privileged white Jews, the black Jews, who are not Zionists, were brought in to do menial work and to be conscripted into the army, suffering disproportionate casualties. We are opposed to the discriminatory policies of Israel because we believe in the prime Torah commandments to pursue justice and love our enemies.
-Abe Goldberg, Toronto


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