As a big fan of the Rolling Stones, when researching information on their upcoming tour of Europe, hoping to find plans for a show in the UK, I saw that a gig in Israel has provoked controversy. Pro-Palestinian activists want the group to boycott the Jewish state as they did apartheid South Africa. For me this shows a key fallacy at the heart of the pro-Palestinian movement- that what is going on in Israel today is exactly the same as what happened in South Africa under apartheid, and that a similar campaign is necessary. There are some very important differences however. Let’s look at why groups such as the Stones should feel free to play a gig in the Jewish state if they wish.

First of all, it is a question of demographics. Black South Africans were treated as second-class citizens despite being the overwhelming majority in the country. In comparison, within Israel demographics are slightly different, with 1 in 5 citizens of Israel being Arabs. When the whole of the disputed territory is taken into account, the demographics are virtually even. The difference between Israeli Arabs and citizens of Gaza and the West Bank is one the activists fail to acknowledge and explain when they insist this is a repeat of apartheid.

Secondly, Israeli Arabs do not suffer anything like the discrimination Black South Africans endured under apartheid. Arabs sit in the Israeli parliament, the Supreme Court, represent nearly 6 percent of the civil service, play on the sports teams and have risen to other highranking positions in Israeli society such as Generals and Ambassadors. These are all opportunities which Black South Africans were denied under apartheid. And remember, when the Stones play in Israel anyone will be able to buy a ticket regardless of their race or religion, while a concert in the apartheid state would have been whites only.

So why the insistence on the apartheid analogy when on closer examination it is nonsense, and when Northern Ireland is probably a more accurate description of the situation? In my view it is because comparing the plight of the Palestinians to Northern Ireland’s Catholics, a group who suffered some discrimination but who hardly covered themselves in glory, lacks the emotional punch of the apartheid analogy. Activists know that they do not have as strong a case as Black South Africans and their supporters did, so are forced to dress up the situation.

It is important to note that I do not write this as some hard-line Zionist (I am British but with Irish Catholic heritage).  In fact I think there is much to criticize about Modern Israel, and I support a negotiated, one-state settlement to the conflict, where Jews and Arabs could live side by side in a secular country. However I do not think that a campaign like that against the allegedly apartheid state is either necessary or appropriate, and groups such as the Stones should not be bullied over their decision to play a gig in what is a relatively democratic country

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