Is Israel an apartheid state?

The comparison must not be dismissed out of hand.

In a review of Anthony Julius's Trials of the Diaspora for the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore warns of the anti-Semitism that is creeping "back on to English lawns". With little qualification, he argues that "criticism of Israel is often quite different from that of other countries involved in violent political conflict. It is existential criticism. It is against the Jews."

I agree that anti-Semitic attitudes are indeed prevalent in much of the debate surrounding the Israel-Palestine issue, but to blame liberals and progressives for this sorry state of affairs is wrong. I have touched upon this subject in a recent blog on Israel's plan to increase settlement activity in East Jerusalem, so will not go into depth here. Yet one line in Moore's article needs refuting. He writes: "In a weird ideological alliance with Islamism, the secular left now tries to argue that Israel is an 'apartheid' state."

Is this such an outrageous statement? In 2008, the then United Nations general assembly president, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, said that Israel's actions on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip were reminiscent of "the apartheid of an earlier era". Risking public censure, he added: "We must not be afraid to call something what it is."

His views echoed those of the UN special rapporteur John Dugard, who announced in 2007 that "Israel's laws and practices certainly resemble aspects of apartheid". Citing house demolitions in the post-1967 occupied territories as an example, his report said: "It is difficult to resist the conclusion that many of Israel's laws and practices violate the 1966 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination."

Were Brockmann and Dugard "in a weird ideological alliance with Islamism"? How about Desmond Tutu, patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa, who, after a visit to the Holy Land in 2002, said: "It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa"?

No area of political debate should be off limits, and to imply, offhand, that the likes of Tutu, Brockmann and Dugard are Islamist stooges is a failure of rational thought.

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Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.