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Truth Matters: Vanguard Leadership Group is Wrong

"I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Standing in opposition to moral giants like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Ronnie Kasrils — seasoned anti-apartheid activists who resisted injustice and suffered for it  — a group called the Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG) has run advertisements in campus papers at Brown University, UCLA, the University of Maryland, and Columbia University, in which 16 of its members criticize Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for calling Israel an “apartheid” state.

The VLG is an organization whose cryptic website reveals little about who is involved, who it represents, what it does, and what it believes in, though the website is peppered with references to the VLG’s participation in AIPAC conferences and tours to the Israeli Knesset.

Nevertheless, under the headline “Words Matter,” this advertisement (offering little in the form of substance, but standing on a slew of bold claims about the intentions and personal qualities of students in SJPs around the country, with whom they have never spoken) boasted the signature of 16 members of the highly opaque AIPAC-affiliated organization.

Apparently that was significant enough to merit international noteworthiness. Before some campus papers like the Columbia Spectator had even had a chance to print the advertisements, the Jerusalem Post triumphantly reported on the VLG’s advertisement, trumpeting what it saw as the very important fact that these 16  signatories are “black student leaders.”

It may be impossible to tell what the VLG members were thinking when they opted to sign this advertisement, since it offers little insight into the reasoning that supports their conclusions about Israel or about SJP — strange qualities for aspiring “leaders.”

What is certain, though, is that moral perspective, sound reason, and the facts of Israeli oppression were not involved in the VLG’s deliberative process. It is unlikely that each of these VLG members made an attempt to reach out to SJP students, and it doubtful that any of them ever took detours from their Israeli Knesset appearances to visit Palestinian refugee camps or witness the Israeli occupation.

Giving the VLG members the benefit of the doubt, maybe they had not bothered to try visiting Gaza for themselves because they were already aware of the fact that the people of Gaza have been under a merciless Israeli military siege since 2006, one that has given dietitians unprecedented influence and prestige in the Israeli military apparatus.

The product of such leadership, then, could not be anything more than the VLG’s incredible claim that: “the Arab minority in Israel enjoys full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.”

One might point the VLG student leaders to The Inequality Report, a freshly-minted report by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel,  which found that “Inequalities between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel span all fields of public life and have persisted over time. Direct and indirect discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel is ingrained in the legal system and in governmental practice,” and that “More than 30 main laws discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the current government coalition has proposed a flood of new racist and discriminatory bills which are at various stages in the legislative process.” (p. 7).

One might also point the 16 VLG members to the State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories, which in 2004, in a rare instance of candor, reported that Israel had done “little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country’s Arab citizens. The State Department’s most recent report, published April 8, 2011, confirmed that 7-year-old finding, that “Principal human rights problems [in Israel] were institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens.” (It should go without saying that racism in Israel is not limited to the anti-Arab variety.)


Setting aside how sincerely the 16 signatories of this op-ed might have felt about their views, there is no question that the excitement of outlets like the Jerusalem Post, the Forward, etcetera, and their rush to cover the breaking story about a paid-advertisement in 4 campus papers signed by a mere 16 students, is supposed to convey an image of entrenched support by Black Americans for Israel, as if (a) such support exists at the grassroots level (an empirical question; given the VLG’s secretive and apparently exclusive nature, it is unlikely to be so representative of Black Americans) and (b) such support, if it even existed, would justify the reality of Israeli apartheid (an easily dismissed logical matter, a simple non sequitur).

The real question is not where the VLG stands on Israel, but rather where people who fight against racial injustice stand. In the experience of groups like SJP at UC Berkeley, solidarity between people who care about racism and social justice has formed a strong rebuttal to Israeli propaganda, which is directly at odds with such struggles. If the VLG believes that it participates in a struggle against racism, then it cannot remain true to its ideals while also standing on the side of racism in Israel.

In that light, it is baffling that, at a time when support for Palestinian freedom and opposition to Israeli oppression grows continuously amidst veterans of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and while racism in Israel reaches unprecedented heights, that the 16 members of VLG who issued the statement would make such an uninformed proclamation about Israeli racism and SJP.

Such striking inaccuracy is either the work of a group that is out of touch, or deliberately disingenuous. One hopes that the VLG aspires to be neither.

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11 Responses to “Truth Matters: Vanguard Leadership Group is Wrong”

  1. Willie Madisha, former president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine, I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed against the South Africans by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.”

    Mondli Makhanya, former editor-in-chief of the South African Sunday Times: “The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid [in South Africa]….What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible—and yet there is no comparison. Here [under Israeli occupation] it is more terrible.”

    Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, former ANC parliamentarian: “What I see here [in Palestine] is worse than what we experienced [under apartheid].”

    Fatima Hassan, South African human rights lawyer: “I think [this] is worse than what we experienced during apartheid.”

    Posted by Fishy | April 11, 2011, 7:39 pm
  2. "The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state."
    –Hendrik Verwoerd, then-Prime Minister of Apartheid South Africa, 1961.

    Posted by Fishy | April 11, 2011, 7:43 pm
  3. "On the basis of the evidence presented, this study concludes that Israel has introduced a system of apartheid in the OPT, in violation of a peremptory norm of international law."
    –2009 report by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa
    http://www.hsrc.ac.za/Media_Release-378.phtml http://electronicintifada.net/downloads/pdf/09060

    Posted by Fishy | April 11, 2011, 7:54 pm
    • Hilarious!

      The "three pillars of Apartheid" applied to a complex ethno-national/religious conflict! Grasping at straws anybody? On this basis I'm sure you could accuse many other countries of at least partially practicing apartheid. Does this "report" bother to mention things such as the Arab population of Israel (20% therefore a minority – Apartheid comparison already failing here) enjoys equal democratic rights or how for example Arab doctors/nurses treat Jewish patients and vice versa?

      Posted by @dendrotoxin | April 29, 2011, 9:50 pm
      • "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and they're so fair! The situation is so complex! Israel could not possibly be a racist colonial state! Those actual victims of South African apartheid sure don't know what the fuck they're talking about! Why don't you focus on some other country than the one I am myself focused on defending?"

        …You really are toxic.

        Posted by Jeff | October 24, 2012, 12:26 pm
  4. Still with the empty slogans of apartheid. Even your terrorist sympathizing hero Jimmy Carter came out and said Israel is not an apartheid state.

    "It's not Israel. The book has nothing to do with what's going on inside Israel which is a wonderful democracy, you know, where everyone has guaranteed equal rights and where, under the law, Arabs and Jews who are Israelis have the same privileges about Israel. That's been most of the controversy because people assume it's about Israel. It's not" – jimmy carter.

    Posted by Larry | April 11, 2011, 8:24 pm
  5. Ah you people really are your own worst enemies. Constantly shooting yourselves in the foot when it comes to your ever dwindling credibility (not that you had much in the first place mind you). Citing Tutu and his mythical racially segregated roads… Brilliant! Although I did start cringing when you described Israeli reprisals to indiscriminate terror attacks as a "merciless siege". I thought for a second you were talking about Sderot, silly me! Seriously though this article is nothing but toys out of the pram bunkum attacking the VLG on a personal level. You genuinely can't stand it when your narrative is exposed as the vile trash that it really is, eh? Must literally make you foam at the mouth.

    Posted by @dendrotoxin | April 29, 2011, 9:43 pm
  6. My neighbor stepped on my shoe the other day. I'm calling upon everyone on the internets to recognize this horrible apartheid and genocide he's committed against me. And stand with me in solidarity against this horrible racism and persecution. I am the worst victim in history and people need to recognize this. Some might even say blacks in South Africa had it easy compared to me.

    Posted by Michael P. | June 21, 2011, 5:22 pm
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