On the morning of October 23, the world of people who care and/or write about Israel-Palestine exploded with controversy: "Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel" trumpeted a headline in Haaretz, atop an article by renown—or reviled, depending on the reader—Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.
Immediately—instantaneously, breathlessly—everyone with a pre-positioned position weighed in, their old, or new, positions positively bristling with exclamation points. Those who have applied “apartheid” to Israel for years crowed; those for whom the mere use of the word represents delegitimization roared. It was “Told you so!” versus “Lies!” all day.
A few brave souls—such as Noam Shelef, in these pages—attempted nuance, but as I know (with recently renewed clarity), nuance isn’t a thing we’re particularly good at in the community of people who care and/or write about Israel-Palestine. Words, once used, may mean one thing and one thing only, and any attempt to suggest otherwise is to invite accusations of toadyism, inanity, and treason. Any effort to clarify matters after the fact—as Levy and Haaretz undertook to do, issuing a clarification and changing the article’s headline online to the more accurate “Survey: Most Israeli Jews wouldn't give Palestinians vote if West Bank was annexed”—is generally seen as nothing but greater evidence of the same.
In the course of the yelling the first thing to get lost is any useful access to the truth.
But here’s the truth (and if you don’t like any of the words that have been used thus far to describe this truth, you may feel free, as we say in Hebrew, to call the truth “Abraham”): a significant proportion of Israeli Jewish society, from a third to more than half, support ideas that range from stripping Palestinian Israelis of the right to vote in national elections (33 percent), to the physical “transfer” of Palestinian citizens of Israel to the Palestinian Authority (47 percent), to preferential treatment of Israeli Jews over their Arab compatriots in governmental hiring (59 percent). Along the way, we find such things as: 42 percent of Israeli Jews would not want to live in the same apartment building as Palestinian Israelis, and 42 percent would not want their children to sit in the same class as Palestinian Israeli children.
I honestly don’t care what label you give that, nor how it might be defined in Political Science 101. I call it inexcusable. I call it immoral. I call it contrary to both Israel’s founding documents and the Jewish values we Jews say we’re teaching our children. I call it disgusting.
I also call it nothing new.
In 2010, we learned that nearly half of Israeli Jewish high school students didn’t believe that Palestinian citizens of Israel should have the same political rights as Jews. More than half felt that Palestinian Israelis shouldn’t have the right to be elected to parliament.
In April of this year, we saw the bigotry and xenophobia given even sharper expression when a video emerged of Israeli teenagers celebrating the traffic deaths of a group of West Bank Palestinian children: “They can be the future of terrorist attacks,” said one young man. When told that the dead were only 4- or 5-years-old, he replied: “Little kids, so what?”
And for months now, we’ve all been witness to acts of violence against Palestinians both in Israel and on the West Bank, ranging from hate speech daubed on monastery walls to vicious and brutal attacks on passers by in the heart of the nation’s capital.
As to the use of the term “apartheid,” much ado has been made of the fact that in Levy’s original reporting, he and Haaretz didn’t make crystal clear the fact that 69 percent of Israeli Jews would deny voting rights to West Bank Palestinians only if the West Bank is officially annexed to Israel-proper, a thing that 48 percent of Israeli Jews say they oppose. The fact that the State of Israel actually already controls the West Bank (annexation or no) and the people who live there already have no right to vote on the matter? That didn’t come up in the survey.
As Levy wrote in his clarification, “Isn't that enough to scare anyone who fears for the future of this country?”
Or, to ask a different question: what if the foregoing had read, “Q: Should American Jews be allowed to vote in national elections? A: Thirty-three percent of American gentiles say no.”
Levy is a shining example of a messenger who gets shot through the left temple repeatedly for having the temerity to share unpleasant facts. But the disdain with which he is held, and all the fulminating on earth, do nothing to address the facts themselves.
And the facts themselves are chilling.
Note: This post originally stated that 53 percent of Israeli Jews would not want to live in the same apartment building as Palestinian Israelis. It has since been modified to reflect the correct figure, 42 percent. Open Zion regrets the error.