Semantics key to seemingly anti-Semitic boycott

The Obama administration must work swiftly toward a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel.

by Sarah Tate Chambers

During Omar BarghoutiâÄôs visit to the University of Minnesota, he was continually positioned by critics as radical and extreme. This was surprising, as IâÄôve encountered various intellectuals with views politically similar to BarghoutiâÄôs during my visit to the occupied Palestinian territories. The substance of his arguments is well founded and quite common. However, it appears that Barghouti strikes nerves on two controversial points: his semantics, specifically the word âÄúapartheid,âÄù and his call for the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions stresses a need to reframe the conflict in order for negotiations to occur and a just and viable peace to follow. HalperâÄôs reframing has five parts, of which Barghouti agrees on four. The four include seeing Israel as a strong agent instead of helpless victim acknowledging the occupation as a pro-active endeavor that needs great force and power to be sustained, realizing the majority of Israelis do not support the settlements nor the concept of a âÄúGreater Israel,âÄù and recognizing the conflict as emblematic with a global impact. This framework informs and directs BarghoutiâÄôs claims and actions. Halper and Barghouti both share a common language that utilizes âÄúapartheid.âÄù This has become incredibly controversial, especially after professor John Dugard, U.N. Special Rapporteur (reporter) on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, called the situation âÄúan apartheidâÄù during his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2007. Usage of this word needs full examination. The Middle East Project of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa produced a report titled âÄúOccupation, Colonialism and Apartheid,âÄù which examines this, among other things. The report draws on the Apartheid Convention for the definition of apartheid as âÄúinhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining dominance by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.âÄù The report also uses the International Criminal CourtâÄôs Rome Statute, which defines apartheid as âÄúinhumane acts committed in the context of and to maintain an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group.âÄù The Rome Statute criminalizes apartheid and places the crime under its jurisdiction. While the report elaborates how these definitions apply to the Israeli occupation, this is not the space to rehash them. Rather, the assumption is that their work, and the work of many others is correct and that the definition of apartheid is applicable to the Israeli occupation with one great, and perhaps most controversial problem: race. It is important to note that while the oppressed group might utilize racial distinction, it is the oppressors that are able to form and negotiate what constitutes racial difference. One cannot open the veins of a Palestinian to see the green, nor an Israeli and see white and blue. Race is often unable to be qualified. It has been proven, however, that Israelis and Palestinians share common ancestors. While this would seem to eliminate the ability for race to be used as a marker of the conflict, it does not. âÄúBoth the definition of racial discrimination in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia conclude that there is no scientific or impartial method for determining whether any group is a racial group and that the question rests primarily on local perceptions,âÄù states DugardâÄôs U.N. report. The report found that the groups were demarcated by âÄúancestry or descent as well as by nationality, ethnicity and religion.âÄù While acknowledging that these were socially constructed, the report then claimed that for international law and the definition of apartheid, Israelis and Palestinians can be named âÄúracial groups.âÄù While agreeing on the previous four points, Halper and Barghouti may split on the final point. Halper stresses the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to recognize the existence and rights of the other. Barghouti instead focuses on the PalestiniansâÄô self-determination at the cost of Israeli institutions. He claims that Palestinians have suffered enormously, and if Israelis suffer, he is unaffected. I cannot argue with this need for justice. Yet, it is not the time nor the place for reparations, as they cannot come without justice. This is the heart of the controversy surrounding boycotts, divestment and sanctions. If there is a closing window on the two-state solution, as many scholars and activists have suggested, the Obama administration will need to act boldly and swiftly to work within it. One of the key points of the Obama administrationâÄôs work needs to be reassuring Israel of the strength of their mutual relationship. While this seems obvious and counterintuitive to creating peace, Israel will not come to table nor will it end the occupation if it believes these things are being forced upon it. If Israel, the government and the public included does not trust the Obama administration, a just and viable peace will not occur within the window for a two-state solution. By putting pressure on the Obama administration to increase its efforts in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, there is a greater chance for cooperation by Israel. However, if one does not believe in the viability of a two-state solution, like Halper and Barghouti, then much of this is irrelevant. Time is of the essence. If a two-state solution is going to fail, let us listen to Halper and BarghoutiâÄôs reframing of the conflict; let us evaluate the usage of âÄúapartheidâÄù and pressure the Obama administration to act in a bolder manner on the course of peace it begun with strength. Then we will be in a position to enact BarghoutiâÄôs boycott. Sarah Tate Chambers University undergraduate student Please send comments to [email protected]