Andrew Sullivan at Time Magazine’s Daily Dish says that the author Jostein Gaarder is an anti-semite, quoting an article by Gaarder in the Norweigan Aftenposten.
Sullivan claims that Gaarder is calling for the “obliteration of the state of Israel”, but on reading Gaardner in translation, I think that’s a serious misrepresentation of what he is trying to say. Gaardner repeatedly uses the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s policies and structure. And if he, like many of us, sees an apartheid regime in Israel, then why should he not wish to call for its demise?
All too often “we do not recognize the state of Israel” is equated to mean “Jews into the sea”, or some variation thereof. When Hamas says it in their covenant, I think that’s a fair comparison… But there are many forms of non-recognition. A few months ago, I was chatting to a sixty-year old Palestinian woman, Ana, who used to live in West-Jerusalem. Her family was driven out of their house, without compensation. She fled to the Lebanon and then to Britain, and has no legal right to become a citizen of the state that currently surrounds her old house.
“Do you recognise the state of Israel?” I asked her.
“Why should I?” she replied, and I had no answer. If your house has been taken away in the name of a State, why should you then regard that State as legitimate? Of course Ana doesn’t recognise Israel, but that doesn’t mean she wants all the Jews out of the Middle-East, and she says as much.
She just wants her house back.
I think Gaarder uses the phrase in a similar manner. At each step, he declares the framework of the State of Israel to be immoral, and advocates a paradigm shift. The comparisons with South Africa are apt here. Why recognise and perpepuate the apartheid system, when you can have a Rainbow Nation? South Africa implemented a new constitution in 1994. We could therefore say that South Africa was destroyed and reborn when the change took place. But no-one was driven into the sea. The whites were considered ‘liberated’ as much as the blacks. They all stayed where they were, political equals with their neighbours.
Andrew Sullivan chooses to sneer at Gaarder’s (admittedly divisive) rhetoric. In doing so, he completely fails to address the key question: “Is there apartheid in Israel?”
From the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2003)
The Committee reiterates its concern that the “excessive emphasis upon the State as a ‘Jewish State’ encourages discrimination and accords second-class status to its not-Jewish citizens.
When the state denies Arab Bedouin access to water and healthcare, while their Jewish neighbours live in in luxury, then something is wrong. When American or British Citizens, born and bred in The West, can make alyia at a moments’ notice, but Ana cannot visit the town of her birth (let alone be recognized as a citizen of that town), then something is wrong. When universities favour Jewish students over Arab students of other faiths, then something is wrong. When the state builds walls through school playgrounds in the name of ‘security’, and children are legitimate terrorist suspects, then something is wrong.
Should a country called ‘Israel’ exist? Sure thing – the millions of Jewish people who already live between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan should be allowed to live where their heart dicates. However, it must be achieved without recourse to an aparthied system. Otherwise, it is not worth the effort, and we would be right to shun it, as Jostein Gaarder advocates. It is inequality which defines the current status quo. Primacy should not awarded to one group over the other. If the current system does this, then it is unviable, and unworthy of support in its current form. This, I beleive, is the only genuinely pro-semitic position. Everything else is unwitting prejudice.
The religious idea that a group of people have a divine right to the Holy Land, can never be part of the philosophy of a state – be it Jewish or Islamic. The messy conflicts, and sticky diplomacy which will guarantee the safety of everyone in the region, can only begin once this central tenet has been agreed upon. We count the bangs as we wait.
I’ve made some more comments on Gaarder’s problematic essay.