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Cheri DiNovo and the need for ‘Apartheid 101’

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week took place in a record number of campuses around the world, this in spite of constant attacks on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. In this context, it is worth remembering the stance taken by the NDP’s Cheri DiNovo, this time last year. (Written March 4, 2010 – Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) – A Tory resolution condemning the sixth annual Israeli Apartheid Week, received unanimous support from the 30 members of the Ontario legislature who showed up for work on Thursday February 25, 2010. Shamefully, one of those who spoke in favour and voted for this resolution was Toronto-based NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo.[1] In the context of the concentrated attack on Palestinian solidarity coming from all levels of government, DiNovo’s backing of this reactionary motion is very damaging. She and the rest of her party could use a little refresher course – we’ll call it “Apartheid 101.”

In 1948, the State of Israel was formed through the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian residents. Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River (formerly part of Jordan), the Golan Heights (formerly part of Syria), East Jerusalem and has variously occupied, surrounded and blockaded the enclave called Gaza (formerly part of Egypt). The latter is an open-air prison – its residents hemmed in on three sides by one of the world’s most powerful military machines (the Israeli) and on the fourth by the shameful Mubarak government of Egypt which has sold its support for the Palestinians for a “mess of potage” – massive military aid from the United States. Israel has conducted war after war against the Palestinian communities it controls, most recently, the attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 which killed 1,415 people, hundreds of them children. How can we be sure of the exact number? Because the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has recorded and made public the names and age of every Palestinian killed in that conflict. It makes for grim reading, especially the hundreds of names highlighted in yellow, names of children, 17 years old and younger.[2]

But DiNovo says that the word “apartheid” is “inflammatory” and “used inappropriately in the case of Israel.”[3] DiNovo might want to read some of the writings of Uri Davis who defines apartheid as “institutionalized racism legislated by Acts of Parliament.”[4] Or she could refer to key documents of international law, in particular the United Nations’ “Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid” which entered into force July 18, 1976. That document describes as a crime “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination … inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”[5] But perhaps DiNovo – like the governments of Canada, the United States and Israel – chooses to stand apart from international law and the 107 countries which have agreed to participate in this convention in order to combat the crime of apartheid.

Like any analogy, the apartheid analogy is not exact. But like a good analogy, it captures the essence of the situation. And in many respects, the parallels are uncanny. The Encylcopaedia Britannica says that “80 percent of South Africa’s land” was set aside for the white minority. [6] Israel exists on 78 percent of historic Palestine.[7] The segregation in South Africa was formally based on skin colour, in Israel on religion. However, that “religious segregation” in Israel is extraordinarily racialized. If you are a white person living in Germany, Poland, Canada, the United States or elsewhere, and are defined as “Jewish” by the Israeli state, then you have the right to travel to Palestine and become a full citizen of the state of Israel. If you are a non-Jewish Arab Palestinian, and your parents were expelled from their homes in 1948 – the Israelis – in defiance of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 from December 1948, will not let you go home, take up residence in Palestine, and vote as a full citizen.[8] According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), that original displacement of 750,000 people has grown to a refugee population of 4.8 million Palestinians.[9]

South Africa enforced its apartheid regime with a series of “pass” laws. Here the apartheid analogy is almost completely exact. The occupied West Bank is riddled with illegal Israeli colonies (121 “settlements” and 102 “outposts”) housing 462,000 Israeli settlers.[10] The Israeli state enforces stringent laws on the South African pattern in the West Bank, where Palestinians are required to carry documents and pass through a myriad of checkpoints on the roads they can use – and there are entire highways which they cannot use, the West Bank being criss-crossed with roads which can be used by Israeli nationals, but not by the Palestinian majority. The “separateness” of the Israeli nationals from the Palestinians is being completed by the construction of a hideous wall ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004.[11] In terms of elections, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have no say in the selection of the government which rules over them, instead allowed only a vote for the very restricted mandate of the entity known as the “Palestinian Authority.” To add injury to insult, elected Palestinian officials are frequently arrested and jailed by the Israeli state. In August 2008, for instance, fully 47 Palestinian Members of Parliament were in Israeli jails.[12]

DiNovo has some work to do, to explain the way in which this racialized and racist series of policies should be excluded from the term “apartheid.”

She argues that what we need to speak about “is the occupation (of Palestinian territory), the wall, other issues that face us.” She is right. But where will that discussion happen? The magnificent accomplishment of Israeli Apartheid Week since it began in Toronto in 2005, has been its effectiveness in providing a forum for the discussion of exactly these issues. The students at the core of IAW have done a fantastic job in bringing the issues of the oppression of the Palestinians into the spotlight.

And good that they did not wait for the NDP to provide such a forum – the NDP has had some difficulty with the issue. Left-wing MP Svend Robinson did publicly show solidarity with Palestine. He went to Ramallah in 2002 to show his support for the Palestinian people. The result was telling. First, he was fired from his post as Foreign Affairs critic for the party.[13] Second, it was the trigger for Bob Rae to resign from the NDP and join the Liberals.[14]

DiNovo’s position caused an outcry from solidarity activists in the city. In response, party leader Andrea Horwath distanced herself from the resolution, calling it “divisive by nature.” But Horwath stayed silent on DiNovo’s support for this divisive bill.

Horwath said that New Democrats “believe in finding avenues towards a peaceful solution in the Middle East.”[15] Israeli Apartheid Week events, this year and in previous years, have made a real contribution towards finding just such a peaceful solution.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg


[1] Robert Benzie, “MPPs decry linking Israel to ‘apartheid,’” Toronto Star, February 26, 2010: p. A.10.
[2] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, “The Dead in the course of the recent military offensive on the Gaxa strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009.”
[3] Benzie: p. A.10.
[4] Uri Davis, “Foreword” to Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for The Struggle Within (New York: Zed Books, 2003), p. xii.
[5] Cited in John Dugard, “ Introduction” to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
[6] “apartheid,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed February 3, 2011.
[7] PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, “Twenty-two years After the Palestinian Historic Compromise: It’s time for decisions,” November 2010.
[8] The relevant text reads as follows: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), 11 December 1948. Cited in Lucy Dean, ed. Regional Surveys of the World: The Middle East and North Africa 2004, 50th Edition (London: Europe Publications, 2003), p. 55.
[9] UNRWA, “Palestine refugees: Who are Palestine refugees?
[10] “Israeli Settlements,” Palestine Monitor factsheet, 15 March 2010.
[11] International Court of Justice, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004.
[12] Rory McCarthy, “Israel releases 198 Palestinian prisoners,” The Guardian, 26 August 2008.
[13] Andrew Chung, “McDonough urges U.S. to stop funding Israeli army,” Toronto Star, Jan. 17, 2003, p. A 07
[14] Bob Rae, “Parting company with the NDP,” National Post, April 16 2002, p. A18.
[15] Andrew Horwath, “Open Letter,”, February 26, 2010

Published in 2010 Reflections NDP Palestine


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