WASHINGTON – Israel's Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, has gotten herself into hot water with the far right by declaring that maps in Israeli textbooks will, from now on, show the Green Line, the armistice line that separated Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip before 1967. In other words, the West Bank will not be depicted as part of Israel but rather as territories whose final status remains in dispute which is, of course, nothing more than a reflection of reality.
This seems like no big deal. But, of course, the extremists are fuming. A group of rabbis from "Headquarters to Save the State of Israel" went so far as to threaten Tamir's life. "The Education Minister has joined the enemies of Israel. She should remember what happened to Ariel Sharon, after he damaged settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza."
The reference to Ariel Sharon reflects the view among Israel's religious radicals that Sharon, like Yitzhak Rabin, suffered divine retribution for endorsing territorial compromise. Likud Chair Binyamin Netanyahu did not go that far. He merely said that putting the West Bank behind a dotted line on a map is "scandalous".
Scandalous? I guess scandals in Israel are not what they used to be!
One could argue, I suppose, that this map controversy is of no significance and can safely be ignored. But I don't see it that way. Hysteria over a map is symptomatic of the larger hysteria about the territories that is not limited to extremists.
The hysteria results from the dangerous conflation of the State of Israel and the West Bank. For some people in Israel and here in the United States, criticism of the occupation is an attack on Israel's right to exist.
But conflating the legitimacy of the occupation with the legitimacy of the Jewish state is dangerous. The simple fact is that most people in the world want the occupation to end and believe that the West Bank does not belong to Israel. Most believe that ultimately a Palestinian state will govern the West Bank and Gaza, with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. It is not only Arabs and Europeans who believe this but a clear majority of Americans and Israelis.
The last thing friends of Israel should suggest is that the West Bank has the same status in our eyes as Israel. That idea serves not to advance Israel's hold on the territory, which cannot be sustained anyway, but to weaken the Jewish claim to Israel itself. It should stop. The West Bank is not Israel. Nablus is not Tel Aviv. Israelis who demand that maps show Israel controlling the entire area of historic Palestine are no different than Arabs whose maps do not show Israel at all. Worse than that, they fuel anti-Zionism by perpetuating the lie that Israel is imperialistic, with designs well beyond its borders.
The map controversy is odd, but not radically different from the arguments taking place now over Jimmy Carter's use of the loaded term apartheid to describe conditions on the West Bank.
Carter does not say that Israel is an apartheid state. He says explicitly that it is not and that, when he uses the term apartheid, he is not referring to Israel. "I am," he says, "referring to Palestine and not to Israel….Arabs living in Israel are citizens of Israel and have full citizenship, voting and legal rights, and so forth."
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, correctly points out in a column that Carter's use of the term apartheid is "false advertising" because Carter "never claims that Israel is engaging in racially motivated policies and rightly argues for a two-state solution to the conflict." Harris recognizes that Carter's apartheid indictment is not about Israel but about the occupation.
Others are not as careful. Martin Peretz and Alan Dershowitz both say that Carter specifically calls Israel an "apartheid state," which Carter does not do. Alan Dershowitz says Carter is "simply wrong". In Israel, Dershowitz says, "majority rules; it is a vibrant secular democracy, which just recognized gay marriages performed abroad. Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and get to vote for their representatives, many of whom strongly oppose Israeli policies."
All that is absolutely correct. And Carter agrees with every word. His argument is that Arabs in the West Bank do not have those rights. That isn't so much an argument as a fact. West Bank Palestinians are not citizens of any country and do not have the rights of citizenship anywhere.
And that is why most Israelis are eager to divest themselves of the West Bank. They understand that precisely because Israel is not an apartheid state, if it holds on to the territories, it must eventually grant Palestinians the same rights Israelis enjoy. But that, if it does, Israel would be transformed from a Jewish state to a bi-national one in which an Arab majority could outvote the Jewish minority.
The term apartheid is offensive to me, although not to everyone. The popular and provocative conservative Ha'aretz columnist, Shmuel Rosner, sees nothing wrong with the term. "Arguing about apartheid is pointless," he writes. "There is enough material evidence to prove that apartheid exists in the occupied territories in one form or another. If you argue about the use of this word, you lose. If you argue that Israel is blameless you also lose. The only argument you can make against Carter is about context and the bigger picture."
Rosner is exactly right. Argue the facts. Argue the context. Argue the big picture.
One last point. There is a disturbing trend in the pro-Israel community in which the usual suspects react to any and all criticism of Israeli policies by assaulting the critics, demanding that they either shut up or be prohibited from speaking at a particular venue. This has to stop.
Americans should be free to discuss any subject they choose without being subjected to hit jobs from self-appointed monitors of Middle Eastern political correctness.
A former President of the United States is immune to those attacks.
But other writers, professors and journalists are not immune to pressure. And that pressure stifles discussion.
If the Iraq Study Group is free to dissect the conduct of a war while it is going on, any American should feel free to criticize any aspect of foreign policy including U.S. policy toward Israel. That should go without saying.
In Israel, not an apartheid state but a beleaguered democracy, everyone from Knesset members, to journalists, to cab drivers feel free to express views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would cause conniption fits here [in the U.S.].
It makes no sense. You should not have to take a 10 hour flight just so you can watch an open and free-wheeling debate about the Middle East. You should be able to do it here.
It's a free country. Right?
M.J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC's Near East Report. The views expressed in IPF Friday are those of M.J. Rosenberg and not necessarily of Israel Policy Forum (www.ipforum.org).
This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at GCNews.