On Friday, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres asked a UN agency to remove a report from its web site that accused Israel of the crime of apartheid. The report has since been removed from the site, although the executive summary is still there. Rima Khalaf, the head of the agency (the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)) resigned in protest.
The report is certainly explosive. Written by Virginia Tilley and Richard Falk, two scholars who are strong supporters of a single, democratic state in all of Mandatory Palestine (and are generally also seen as anti-Zionist, a label I don’t know if either embraces, but which I doubt would particularly bother either of them), it basically makes the case that not only the occupation, but Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state is incompatible with international law and creates an apartheid regime. No doubt, the Secretary-General, knowing the already hostile environment the UN faces on Capitol Hill and in the White House, did not relish the idea of giving such an enormous boost to that hostility which is already threatening to cut off a major source of UN funding.
I am not going to offer an analysis of the report here. One reason is that while I have read through it, I need to examine it more thoroughly. But I can say a few things about the report.
- I clearly do not agree with many of the report’s conclusions and recommendations, and have issues with some of the methodology as well.
- That being said, the report makes more than a few points that I find either valid or, at the very least, troubling enough that a serious discussion about them is not only warranted, but crucial.
- Disagreeing with the report’s conclusions, methodology, or evidence is not a valid reason to simply mute the report.
- The question of whether any state can be both democratic and also a state of only one ethnic/religious/racial group of people is one that bears on a great many conflicts in the world today, as well as on the very definition of democracy. On that basis alone, it needs to be discussed. In the specific case of Israel, it has obvious and practical ramifications. For those who believe Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state, it must be acknowledged that those two things must necessarily exist in tension. As such, we cannot avoid either an open discussion to figure out how a Jewish democracy works or an open and civilized debate with those who believe it is not possible for state to be both Jewish and democratic.
Muting these voices helps no one. Inevitably, it increases the feeling of insecurity felt by Israelis and supporters of Israel across the pro-Israel spectrum. It also increases tensions between those folks and Palestinians and their supporters. Supporters of the Palestinian cause, including those who support a two-state solution, are also going to feel that their side is being unfairly silenced, even if they might otherwise disagree with this report. That just makes the whole issue more toxic, more angry.
For these reasons, I have decided to post the report and the executive summary here. They are in pdf format. Let’s not stifle discussion, let’s not de-legitimatize debate. Let’s examine the substance of the arguments Falk and Tilley make and deal with them.