‘This Friday, I will officially launch the second edition of my book ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ with an event at Amnesty International UK chaired by David Hearst, former chief foreign leader writer for The Guardian.
The launch takes place on the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in Apartheid South Africa, and the UN General Assembly subsequently proclaimed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, annually observed ever since. General Assembly Resolution 2142 (XXI), citing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), “condemns, wherever they exist, all policies and practices of apartheid, racial discrimination and segregation” (my emphasis).
Two years ago, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published its concluding observations following Israel’s periodic review – slamming the country’s violations of the right to equality in unprecedentedly harsh terms. Along with a whole host of examples of systematic discrimination, Israel was urged to “prohibit and eradicate any such policies or practices” which violate Article 3 of the Convention (on “racial segregation and apartheid”).
It is this grim reality that Israel and its supporters try to hide through disingenuous ‘security’ excuses, crude tokenism and smears. The latter tactic has been used by none other than the Israeli Embassy itself, in an attempt to prevent my book launch event at Amnesty going ahead.
Israel’s diplomatic staff in London directly contacted the human rights organisation to demand the cancellation of the event. Amnesty UK naturally refused, pointing out that their building is a space where a diverse range of activists can meet, engage and debate issues relating to social justice and the promotion of human rights.
But it wasn’t just Amnesty who the Israeli Embassy pressured – they also contacted David Hearst, who has kindly agreed to chair the event. Hearst, now Editor of Middle East Eye, told me about the “dramatic” change in tone in the embassy’s communications with him:
One minute [embassy official] Yiftah Curiel was professing that he would love to get some coffee or lunch with me to talk about the new website, and plying me with exclusive invitations to the Ambassador’s House for a discussion with the author Ari Shavit. The next he was shocked and horrified to learn that I had agreed to chair the launch of the second edition of your book.
In correspondence to Hearst, Curiel produced a number of claims about me clearly culled from laughable propaganda sites. Hearst replied, he told me, by pointing out that “the allegation of anti-Semitism should not be used casually to smear people whose views you disagreed with.” Pathetically, Curiel withdrew the invitation to the Ambassador’s house. Hearst’s observations from the experience are damning.
The Israeli Embassy arrogates to itself the role of judge, jury and executioner. It alone decides who should speak at a public event in London and who should not. If you should dare defy the edicts they issue, you are labelled anti-Semitic or a Holocaust denier. Coming from a family which had to flee Vienna in 1939, I find that tactic personally offensive. The second conclusion? Like military intelligence, Israeli diplomacy appears to be a contradiction in terms.
It is remarkable to see a country’s diplomatic representatives haranguing a respected journalist, let alone a leading international human rights organisation, for being in any way associated with an author whose views they oppose. So why this interfering and defensive paranoia?
Israel sees how mainstream critiques of its policies are shifting away from the so-called ‘security’ paradigm to one of systematic racial discrimination. In other words, it’s one thing to criticise certain Israeli policies as ‘heavy handed’ or ‘aberrations’ – it’s another to view them as elements of a regime designed to privilege one group at the expense of another.
But that is precisely the conclusion of numerous observers and respected organisations based on the documented record of what is happening on the ground and listening to Israeli lawmakers who unashamedly believe in separate and unequal.’
The launch event for ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2nd edition) is this Friday (21st) at Amnesty UK, 17-25 New Inn Yard. Doors and bar open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start. Advance tickets have now sold out, however, we hope to accommodate everyone who wishes to attend on a first come first served basis.
The book is available to buy on the Pluto website with 10% off here.
Ben White is a researcher and analyst at the Middle East Monitor and Journal of Palestine Studies. He is the author of Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (Pluto, 2011) and Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide (Pluto 2014). He has written for the Guardian, New Statesman and Al Jazeera.
This article was first published on the the 17th March 2014 by the Middle East Monitor here.