Saturday, March 20, 2010

Local Palestine Teach-In Inspires Nasty Push Back

In response to the Palestine 101 teach-ins that our group organized this month in Duluth and Superior, Steve Hunegs of the Twin Cities, who didn't even attend our events, published an opinion piece in the Duluth News-Tribune attacking our events as hate filled. Below is Mr. Hunegs's opinion piece, followed by a response sent to the DNT by Bret Thiele, one of the speakers at the teach-ins.
Israel Apartheid Week slights democratic nation
by Steve Hunegs*

Israel Apartheid Week is filled with hate. Sadly, Apartheid Week events were scheduled this month at the University of Minnesota Duluth, College of St. Scholastica, Lake Superior College, and University of Wisconsin-Superior. The goal of the week is to delegitimize Israel and cast her as an international pariah. This simplistic and slanderous approach is an affront to these fine Twin Ports universities and at odds with the sensibilities of most Americans. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup poll, by an 8-to-1 margin, Americans say the U.S. should side with Israel in conflict with the Palestinians.

Americans understand that apartheid was an institutionalized system of racial discrimination and strict, legally enforced segregation that gave the white minority control over South Africa and its majority black population. Blacks, because of the color of their skin, were disenfranchised, barred from sharing public places with whites, from traveling freely, from studying at white universities and so on. They could not vote in South African elections, let alone serve the state as parliamentarians, cabinet ministers or judges.

There are very basic facts about Israel that cannot be disputed: Israeli citizens are white and black; they include Arabs and Jews, Muslims, Christians, agnostics and atheists. Israel's citizens include Kurdish, Ethiopian, Russian, Polish, Iraqi, Yemenite and more. And every Israeli citizen can vote; participate in political life; and share beaches, bars and park benches. There is an Arab member of the Israeli Supreme Court and Israeli cabinet, and several Arab members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). This stands in stark contrast to most Arab states, which oppress religious minorities, women and gays.

To compare Israel's flaws with South African apartheid is to belittle the legitimate struggle of black South Africans.

Indeed, as civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz recently pointed out, a real Apartheid Education Week for the Middle East would note, among many things, that Saudi Arabia and Iran imprison and execute gays and that women are relegated to an extremely low status throughout the region.

The absurdity of divestment and boycott against Israel is underscored by a quick review of Israeli scientific, medical and technological contributions to the world. A brief cross section of these contributions include cell phone technology; voice mail; the Pentium processor for computers; firewall technology; instant messaging; the first fully computerized, no-radiation,
diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer; drip irrigation; and more. Divestment from Israel would mean depriving the world of critical innovations from a nation that registers more U.S. patents than any other foreign country.

At bottom, "Apartheid Week" is unhelpful to both Palestinian and Israeli moderates who seek to reach peace through compromise and mutual recognition. This week opposes equality and tolerance by seeking to erase the Jewish people's right to self-determination, a determination that is supported by the United Nations and the League of Nations before it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said Israel was "one of great outposts of democracy in the world" and has an "incontestable" right to exist. It is the goal of Apartheid Week to undermine Dr. King's truth. This can only serve to impede the dreams of peace and justice, for all peoples, in the Middle East.

I continue to work toward the realization of two states living side by side: a safe and secure Israel and a free and democratic Palestinian state.

*Steve Hunegs is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, based in Minneapolis. He wrote this for the News Tribune.
by Bret Thiele*

As a participant in the Israeli Apartheid Week events in Duluth , I write in response to Steven Hunegs' recent Local View entitled Israel Apartheid Week Slights Democratic Nation. Hunegs' feels that comparing the situation in Israel and Palestine to apartheid South Africa isn't accurate. I wish Mr. Hunegs had actually attended the Israel Apartheid Week events in Duluth . Had he done so, he would have seen that these events were not at all "filled with hate" but rather offered factual information on the situation in Israel and Palestine from those that have spent time there. Having been to Israel and Palestine on several occasions, and having worked closely with both Palestinian and Israeli Jewish human rights advocates, I can attest to the apartheid-like situation, including Israeli only roads, Israeli only neighborhoods, the ghettoziation of Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves and a constitutional framework
that states that all non-Jews are second class citizens.

Since Mr. Hunegs' feels that the comparison belittles the anti-apartheid struggle of black South Africans, however, I thought I'd let some of the South African anti-apartheid leaders speak for themselves:

"The so-called `Palestinian autonomous areas' are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli apartheid system." -Nelson Mandela

"When I hear, 'that used to be my home,' it is painfully similar to the treatment in South Africa when coloureds had no rights." -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"I experienced a déjà vu when I encountered a security checkpoint that Palestinians must negotiate every day and be demeaned, all their lives." -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about." -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa." -Archbishop Desmond Tutu speech entitled `Apartheid in the Holy Land '

"Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. It is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than they worst period of apartheid." - Mondli Makhanya, South African anti-apartheid leader upon visiting Palestine .

"Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell you about today's life in the Occupied Territories ... More than an emergency is needed to get to a hospital; less than a crime earns a trip to jail... If apartheid ended, so can the occupation. But the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction." -Archbishop Desmund Tutu

*Bret Thiele is an international human rights lawyer who works for the Center on Housing Rights & Evictions

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