By: Martin Regg Cohn
Thousands turned out to protest racial discrimination against Palestinians the other day — and with good reason.
The long-suffering Palestinians face armed soldiers at the gate if they try to leave their camps. They are frozen out of public medical and social services. They are barred from dignified work in dozens of occupations such as engineering, medicine, law and journalism. They cannot own property. Their children are banned from regular schools.
If it looks like apartheid and sounds like apartheid, let's march against it. . .
Except . . . I'm not referring to the quest by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) to hijack Toronto's Pride Parade over the weekend. While QuAIA and its fellow travellers issue righteous (if wrong-headed) denunciations of the Jewish state, Palestinian protestors in Beirut are targeting “apartheid” closer to home.
Some 6,000 Palestinians marched on the Lebanese parliament late last month to protest their discriminatory treatment — not at the hands of Israel, but by Lebanon itself.
As Lebanese columnist Rami G. Khouri noted last week, the treatment of these Palestinians — like “penned-in animals” — must be condemned as a “lingering moral black mark.” Writing in the Daily Star of Beirut, Khouri argued that “Lebanon faces a moment akin to . . . when South Africans seriously mooted changing their apartheid system in the 1980s.”
Aha — apartheid alert! Perhaps we'll see a Queers Against Lebanese Apartheid protest at next year's Pride Parade?
As Gaza-born journalist Ahmed Moor wrote in the Guardian last month, “the Arab world is rife with hypocrisy when it comes to the Palestinian issue.” His conclusion, from Beirut: “They are second-class citizens here.”
In fact, he's quite wrong. Palestinians are not second-class citizens for the simple reason that they are pointedly ineligible for citizenship in Lebanon, whether first- or second-class. Lebanon's politicians, always wary of upsetting the country's delicate sectarian balance, have preferred to ghettoize their 300,000 Palestinian refugees in camps while righteously railing against Israel to take them back.
Six decades later, generations of Lebanese-born Palestinian refugees who have never seen Haifa — and probably never will — remain fodder for the world's debating societies and protest marches.
Belatedly, a proposal to be debated by Lebanon's parliament later this month would let Palestinians own an apartment and get hospitalization for work-related accidents — while retaining the ban on employment in major professions.
Not all countries in the Middle East are equally prejudiced against Palestinians. Jordan grants them full citizenship, without falling for the intellectually corrupt trap of claiming that a passport precludes their right of return to Palestine. Syria grants them full residency rights, though not citizenship. Egypt does neither.
Israel, for the record, grants full citizenship, legal and language rights to Arabs (including gay Arabs) within its borders — notwithstanding attempts to conflate Israel proper with the West Bank and Gaza when using the apartheid label.
To be sure, decades of occupation have degraded Palestinians and dragged down Israel. But occupation is not racial segregation, despite the superficial similarities. I remember when the notorious Glenn Babb, South Africa's ambassador to Canada during its apartheid era, paraded around reserves condemning our discriminatory treatment of status Indians.
Babb was smearing us with sophistry back then, so why stoop to using his misleading tactics now against Israel? Unless one really believes Canada is also an apartheid state.
As for the quirky cause of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, they have seen the enemy and the enemy is gay-friendly Israel: the QuAIA website falsely claims that “Israel's apartheid system extends gay rights only to some, based on race” while blithely giving a free pass to Arab regimes that extend gay rights to no one — such as Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and others.
I'M ALL FOR FREE SPEECH, so I'm waiting for QuAIA to take its quixotic crusade against Israel to the Santa Claus Parade (the Jewish state discriminates against Christmas?), and to demand a float in the St. Patrick's Day Parade (let's see if the archdiocese offers them a spot).
Word is, however, that QuAIA is not seeking a float on the next Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, lest the gay-friendly Israeli army (yes, homosexuals can serve) waves them through and the Toronto protestors find themselves in the arms of Hamas enforcers.
The QuAIA website declares, “There is no pride in apartheid, and QuAIA is dedicated to fighting it wherever it exists” — even though it turns a blind eye to Lebanese-style apartheid or pan-Arab homophobia.
There's a word for that kind of selective morality. I wouldn't call it anti-Semitism or hateful, though it goes beyond hypocritical.