Tap-dancing to AIPAC’s Tune
Jeremiah Haber, 11 April 2011
When I picked up the student newspaper on campus today, I saw a full page ad from the Vanguard Leadership Group, an African-American leadership organization. The ad was signed by several young African Americans who have (or had) leadership positions in leading Black colleges. The message of the ad was that that Students for Justice in Palestine are wrong to use the term “apartheid” in conjunction with Israel, that Israel grants full equality to its Arab citizens, that there is no comparison between Israel and South Africa, blah, blah, blah.
The whole think smelled of AIPAC, and I was not surprised to learn that AIPAC has been working with the group for several years, sending some of them on hasbara trips to Israel, employing others as AIPAC interns, etc. This is no secret; the AIPAC connection was trumpeted on the group’s website, and in the JTA article. Even before the ad appeared in the university paper, the Jerusalem Post ran an article about it. Given the play that the ad received (only) in the hasbara blogosphere, it may be that its purpose was to boost morale of the hasbaraniks rather than to influence opinion on campus.
What alerted me to the AIPAC connection was simply the crudeness of the argument, and the half-truths of its author. Although some compare the situation of Arab citizens of Israel with blacks in apartheid South Africa –both suffer(ed) legal discrimination –the comparison pertains to the West Bank and Gazan Palestinians, who weren’t even mentioned in the ad. The authors of the ad knew this, but they figured that the students reading it wouldn’t, so they threw hasbara dust in their eyes. (The same dust has ended up in the wiki article on Israel and the apartheid analogy) The fact that the term ‘apartheid’ has been used to describe the West Bank and Gaza by former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, anti-apartheid giant, Desmond Tutu, and many others, was not mentioned in the ad.
For a good response to the ad, see Yaman’s post at kabobfest
Of course, AIPAC has the right to cultivate relationships with anybody it wants, including the Vanguard Leadership Group. And if the Black group wants to play the hasbara game against Palestinians under a brutal occupation, that’s also their right. And certainly college newspapers have the right to take money from advocacy groups like AIPAC and FLAME to publish full page ads parroting Israeli propaganda that even right wing Israelis don’t believe any more.
But when Israel supporters whine about the “anti-Israel climate on campus”, let’s not forget that the only groups with money to take out full-page ads are Israel advocates. Israel advocates on campus have institutional support in Hillel, AIPAC, Chabad, the Israel Campus Coalition, etc., with budgets in the stratosphere. By contrast, Palestinian student groups have virtually no funding and support. The power balance on American campuses mirrors the power balance in Israel/Palestine – one side has everything, the other side has virtually nothing. College newspapers will always tap-dance to the piper with money.
On my campus, SJP has been sponsoring a Palestine Awareness Week, a modest affair with a few outside speakers. It is perhaps fitting that the Vanguard Leadership Group chose my campus to lecture about the inappropriateness of the word “apartheid,” despite the fact that there is no Apartheid Awareness Week here. It treats the local SJP as non-existent, just as it treats several million Palestinians living under a permanent occupation as non-existent.
The situation in the Occupied Territories is not apartheid. The Blacks in South Africa were considered South African. Inferior, but South African. They were not completely segregated from Whites; they did not have their own roads. In Israel, nobody views the Palestinians as part of their country, only their lands and resources.
Calling hafrada “apartheid” is an insult to apartheid.