Israeli Apartheid Week doesn't help anybody, neither Palestinians nor Israelis

Those behind this week’s activities on campuses and elsewhere: your role doesn’t help anyone, neither Palestinians nor Israelis who are working to build trust on the ground, writes Ishmael Khaldi, Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London

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An example of some of the art work commissioned for Israeli Apartheid Week
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Ishmael Khaldi
On 23 February 2012 12:32

This year, activists on British campuses have designated the week of February 20th-26th as “Israeli Apartheid Week”. As castigation of Israel as a “racist” and “apartheid” state become more frequent, I, as a Bedouin Arab Israeli citizen, am appalled by these charges and vehemently reject them.

Israel was founded to fulfill a dream - national self-determination of the Jewish people. Yet, Israel’s declaration of independence guarantees equal rights to all its citizens. Along with many other non-Jews, I live in the most culturally diverse society and the only true democracy in the Middle East. By any measure you choose: educational opportunity, economic development, womens’ rights, gay rights, freedom of speech or legislative representation, Israel’s minorities are far better off than any other minority in the region and beyond.

Indeed, my success is by no means a lone example.  Arab citizens have represented Israel at every level: parliament members, Government ministers, supreme court judges, Ambassadors and more. In 1999, Azmi Bishara, an Arab Knesset member, ran for the highest office in Israel: that of prime minister.

It would be dishonest to paint Israel as a utopian bastion of tolerance and equality. The Jewish state has its issues with discrimination, as does every other western democracy, and Israel’s march toward full equality for all citizens is a slow process. In addition, because Israel has lived, and is still living under continuous threats from its neighbors, it has been very difficult to project the rights of ethnic minorities to the top of any government priority list.  

Israel is a multicultural society, where each group retains its distinct identity and is allowed to maintain its religious, ethnic or cultural autonomy. Thus Israel is a bridge of understanding and a channel for cooperation between Jews and Arabs that can lead the way to enduring cooperation between the Jewish state and the wider Arab region. We share similar culture and customs. I truly believe that the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East can eventually serve as an example for the region as a whole, if we work together.

I tell all those behind this week’s activities on campuses and elsewhere: your role doesn’t help anyone, neither Palestinians nor Israelis who are working to build trust on the ground.

Your role should be searching for a common ground, on which both sides can seek paths to reconciliation, understanding and mutual respect; one based on human dignity and tolerance. Our goal at the end of the road is mutual: building two states with enduring democratic societies.

As I consider all the challenges faced by people in our region, I am struck both by the enormity of the task at hand and by the possibilities ahead. The road is daunting, but I don’t feel discouraged. 

Ishmael Khaldi was the first Bedouin in Israel's foreign service. He has served as Israel's deputy consul general in the US Pacific Northwest and has been Middle East and Arab affairs adviser for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman since August 2009.  He has recently been appointed the Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London.

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