IN HIS MEMOIR, the Israeli journalist Hirsh Goodman described how he returned home from the Six Day War in June 1967 to hear the country’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, speak on the radio. “Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible,” recalled Goodman. “If it did not Israel would soon become an apartheid state.”
Goodman was born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa. “That phrase, ‘Israel will become an apartheid state,’ resonated with me,” Goodman wrote. “In a flash I understood what he was saying.”
In a flash. Yet fifty years later, despite an entrenched and ongoing occupation, Israel’s defenders angrily reject any invocation of the A-word. Leading U.S. politicians who have dared utter it in relation to Israel, such as John Kerry and Jimmy Carter, have been forced to apologize and backtrack. Last week, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) became the first U.N. agency to publish an official report documenting how “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole,” and this provoked — as my colleague Glenn Greenwald has noted — a huge furor which led to the U.N. secretariat removing the report from its website and the Jordanian head of the UNESCWA, Rima Khalef, quitting in protest.
Good riddance, say supporters of the Jewish state. To mention the grotesque crime of apartheid in the same sentence as the democratic state of Israel, they claim, is “slander”, a “smear”, a “despicable” and “blatant lie”, a shameful act of “Israel-bashing” and a “new form of anti-Semitism.”
So what, I wonder, does that make Ben Gurion? Dishonest or despicable? How about Yitzhak Rabin, who told a TV journalist in 1976 during the first of his two terms as Israel’s prime minister, “I don’t think it’s possible to contain over the long term, if we don’t want to get to apartheid, a million and a half [more] Arabs inside a Jewish state”? Was he also engaged in a smear campaign against the nation he led?
In recent years, two more former Israeli premiers, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, have echoed their illustrious predecessors’ warnings. Olmert has predicted that “if the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then the State of Israel is finished” while Barak has declared that “if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
Are they Israel bashers, too?