What about Israeli apartheid?

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Sign at Marriott hotel gym in Jeddah

Twas interesting to see an editorial in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald yesterday defending “courageous” women who are fighting the ban on female driving in Saudi Arabia even though some critics have “belittled” their efforts.

“Saudi women’s rights supporters accurately call the second-class status of Saudi women in their society a form of gender apartheid,” the editorial said.

According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, the word apartheid refers to “the South African policy of segregation and discrimination against non-whites” as well as to “segregation or discrimination in other contexts.”

So, the Herald valiantly editorializes against Saudi Arabia’s abominable practise of apartheid against women. But what about Israeli apartheid? What about the systematic, denial of human rights to Palestinians in the territories that have been under a brutal and illegal Israeli military occupation for more than 40 years? Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians have been extensively documented including in this 2007 report by John Dugard, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.

After reading yesterday’s Herald editorial, I reasoned that a newspaper so obviously concerned about Saudi apartheid policies toward women, should also be up in arms over Israeli apartheid. But I couldn’t recall ever having read a Herald editorial on the subject.

Herald editorial mentions Israeli apartheid

To my surprise, a search of the Herald archives, from January 1, 2005 to the present, did turn up an editorial that does mention Israeli apartheid. It’s worth an extended quotation because it so aptly illustrates how the mainstream media routinely find ways to cast Israel in the most favourable light possible while not-so-subtly blaming the Palestinians for their own oppression.

The editorial, published on September 14, 2005, argues that Israel’s decision to pull Jewish settlers out of Gaza created “a moment to build on.”

It was a moment in which the Palestinian public could have sent a subtle cue to the Israeli public that land for peace – the basis of any deal that might put an end to this cruel conflict – was no mirage.

But there was no hint of that vital quid pro quo in the first few hours after the last Israeli soldier left Gaza. The settlements the Israelis abandoned were abandoned again, this time to the Palestinian mob and to gunmen from a variety of factions. The Palestinian Authority stood by as the pillaging reached fever pitch and the synagogues were set on fire. The mood was one of jubilation and of revelling in revenge. Promises were made, not of peace, but of continued warfare.

There were some discordant notes. A senior Palestinian Interior Ministry official wondered aloud about the message the chaotic scenes in Gaza were sending. “The whole world is watching and asking if we are a people who deserve independence,” said Jihad Abu Eidah.

Gazans’ resentment of the Jewish settlers is more than understandable. The settlements – and the measures taken to preserve and protect them – were the bane of Palestinians’ existence for decades. And as ordinary Gazans got their first good look at these affluent Jewish enclaves this week, the vast difference in standard of living solidified their sense of grievance and, yes, apartheid.

But since we are on that subject, it is worthy of note that South Africa’s marvellous transition to majority rule in the early 1990s was attributable, in no small part, to the self-restraint of the oppressed masses. At South Africa’s moment of liberation, pent-up frustrations could have easily given way to a lynch-mob mentality. They didn’t.

Similarly, a little dignity and magnanimity could have gone a long way in Gaza on Monday. A “day of glory” it was not.

Making lies sound truthful

This piece of editorial duplicity contains many elements of propaganda, but I’ll mention just one. Palestinian actions are described in vivid language — “the pillaging reached fever pitch and the synagogues were set on fire” — while the terms of Israel’s oppression are deliberately left vague — “the settlements — and the measures taken to preserve and protect them — were the bane of Palestinians’ existence for decades.”

In his famous essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that in our time, “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He could have been describing this Herald editorial with its misleading reference to “that vital quid pro quo” or political give and take as if the impoverished, defenceless Palestinians are somehow equal to Israel, an affluent nation in possession of the world’s most sophisticated killing machines. Orwell added another thought that also perfectly describes this editorial. “Political language,” he wrote, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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