Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

A response to Greg Barns' claims about "Israel-style apartheid" in the Hobart Mercury

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Jamie Hyams

On April 16, the Hobart Mercury published a column by regular contributor Greg Barns, which not only insisted Israel is "an apartheid state" and demanded everyone join the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, but also spoke about "the insidious influence Israel has on Australian society" and expressed disgust that the "the Israel lobby labels... supporters [of BDS] anti-Semitic".

AIJAC's Jamie Hyams submitted the following piece to the Mercury in reply. In the end, the paper ran a different response to Barns written by Josh Manuatu, but here is AIJAC's answer to Barns' claims:

 

It's very telling of Greg Barns' mindset that his article "Israel-style apartheid and oppression must be challenged" (April 16) begins by citing an academic preferring to maintain "balance" on the Israel-Palestine issue as a measure of Israel's "insidious influence" on Australian society. Most would probably prefer academics to remain detached observers rather than propagandize to students, but for Barns, this commendable commitment to objectivity spawns a bizarre conspiracy theory.
Of course Barns' animus to Israel is nothing new. Somehow, for him, of all Middle Eastern countries, the one democracy, the only country where all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation have equal rights, is the one that practises apartheid.
Israel's Arab citizens sit in parliament, in the country's highest court and in the upper echelons of the military, and are well represented across the professions.
Barns cites as his authority for the baseless apartheid slur a report by Richard Falk and a like-minded colleague, Virginia Tilley. The report was commissioned by an obscure UN agency called the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), comprised entirely of Arab nations and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The ESCWA made it clear in advance that the report was to find Israel is an apartheid state, so it appointed those it knew would do so. The report was rejected by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, whose spokesman said it "does not reflect the views of the Secretary‑General." It determines Israel guilty of apartheid because Israel defines itself as a "Jewish state". Yet, in the ultimate irony, 16 of ESCWA's 18 members, including the Palestinians, define themselves in their constitutions as Islamic or Arabic or both.
Aside from that, no respectable commentator should cite Falk. He has been condemned by various countries including the UK, US and Canada as antisemitic, previous UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was among many who condemned him for alleging the US may have carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks, while the EU among others denounced an anti-Israel report Falk compiled for the UN in 2013 as "biased" and "inaccurate". Even the PA has complained about him for his pro-Hamas bias.
Israel does subject West Bank Palestinians to different law to Israelis, but only because to do otherwise would be tantamount to annexation. Regrettably, the need to first stop the terrorism of the 2000-2005 intifada, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis, and the need to prevent it recurring, have led to various Israeli security measures such as the checkpoints and security barrier. These would not be needed had the Palestinian Authority accepted one of Israel's several generous offers of statehood.
Barns' latest diatribe was prompted by the violence on the Gaza-Israel border, which he mischaracterises as Israel shooting peaceful protestors who just want their land back. The protests have been orchestrated by Hamas, proscribed by Australia among many others as a terrorist organisation. Since Hamas took over Gaza in a bloody 2007 coup, following Israel's total withdrawal in 2005, there have been more than 10,000 rockets and mortars fired at Israeli civilians, and tunnels dug under Israel to facilitate mass attacks.
Israel has found ways to counter these efforts, so the so-called demonstrations are just the latest tactic. Hamas has been using the cover of the protestors, and the smoke from thousands of burning tyres, to attack the border fence and soldiers guarding it. A large majority of those killed have been fighters from Hamas or other terror groups, and almost all the dead were men of fighting age. Israel can't allow the fence to be breached, as it would then have the choice of inflicting mass casualties on those coming through the breach, or allowing the slaughter of Israeli civilians in communities within hundreds of metres of the fence.
Of course, Hamas is callously deploying its own people in harm's way with this cynical gambit, but that's unsurprising from a group that hides its weapons and military infrastructure among its own people. In the vile Hamas calculus, Palestinian civilian deaths are positives, as they increase pressure on Israel.
As for the claim that they just "want their land back", the so-called return of the many millions of descendants of refugees from Israel's 1947 War of Independence, which started when Israel was attacked from all sides, would end Israel as a Jewish state. Statements from Hamas leaders at the protests have made it abundantly clear that this is indeed the true aim. It should be noted that, incongruously, Palestinians are the only refugees whose descendants are also regarded as refugees.
It is tragic that Hamas continually places its warped genocidal ideology above the welfare of its people, and unfortunate that commentators such as Barns play into Hamas' hands instead of calling it out, which might actually make a contribution to the just peace they claim to support.
Jamie Hyams is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

 

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