Given that this is Israel ‘Apartheid’ week at universities across the globe, I thought it is important to highlight this bit of cultural news that exposes the dishonesty of the South African/Israel analogy. Israel has decided to send an Arab and a Jewish Israeli to perform a duet at the high profile Eurovision song contest to be held this year in Moscow in May. Mira Awad and Achinoam Nini will sing together in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Is this Apartheid? This type of situation could never have even been imaginable in the old South Africa.
|Achinoam Nini, left, and Mira Awad|
Let’s compare Israel’s non racial sports and cultural policy to those actually employed under Apartheid in South Africa. Non-whites were not allowed to represent South Africa at a national level and mixed teams at any level where explicitly forbidden. Those today protesting around the world are maybe too young or too ignorant to know about the Basil D'Oliveira affair. More than anything else this exposes the true nature of Apartheid.
Basil D’Oliveira was an extremely talented non-white (coloured) South African cricketer who, on account of his race, was barred from playing for the Springboks. In 1960 he emigrated to England and began to play county cricket. After becoming a British citizen in 1966, he was selected for the English national squad. He was an outstanding all-rounder and was recognized as one of the Wisden’s cricketers of the year for 1967. But not only would the Apartheid regime not let him play for his home country South Africa, they refused to allow him to tour the country as part of the British team. South African prime minister BJ Vorster at the time made it clear to the British that D'Oliveira's inclusion was under no circumstances acceptable. Despite negotiations to try reach a compromise, the Apartheid government stood firm and the tour was eventually cancelled. This event marked a watershed for South African sport, with international isolation and the cultural boycott soon to follow.
This affair goes to the heart of Apartheid. It was a racist ideology that put keeping black and white people separate above all else. Zionism has never sought to deny citizens of Israel, be they Jewish or Arab; Black or White to integrate. In addition to this Eurovision song contest, Israel’s national soccer team features players of almost every religion, ethnicity and hue. How can anyone in their right mind even think of comparing this to Apartheid?
Of course this is not to say that Israel does not suffer from problems of discrimination and intra-communal tension. Mira Awad has been denounced by some extreme elements in Israeli Arab society for agreeing to perform. And far right-wing Jewish parties like Yisrael Beytenu ran their election campaigns by stoking up fear of the Arab minority. Lots of work is needed urgently on both sides to try and improve Jewish/Arab co-operation. As Mira Awad has said in response to her critics, "Neither Noa [Ms Nini] nor I are naïve people. We do not expect to convey a message that everything is okay. We are not portraying an existing situation, but a desired and hopefully achievable situation.”
Falsely denouncing Israel as an apartheid state does nothing to promote co-existence but actually plays into the hands of the radical elements in both groups. Those students that care should not just throw slogans condemning Israel. If they want to see a more inclusive and non-racial society in the Middle East, they should get their hands dirty and spend their summer in the region helping to strengthen the moderates on both sides.
Previously at IAS