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In Ukraine, as in Israel, national identity has been mistaken for racism
In Ukraine, as in Israel, proponents of identity politics have been seeing discrimination where there is none. What the identity politics crowd mistake for racism is in fact the treatment of people according to their nationality, an arrangement that has been the cornerstone of the world order.
The Russian war on Ukraine has forced millions to flee their homes westward to cross the border with Poland into the European Union (EU). The EU has in place a visa-free regime for Ukrainians, which made the union accessible to millions of refugees.
Not all refugees were, however, Ukrainian nationals. Those fleeing the war included alien residents of Ukraine whose national passports did not grant them visa-free access to the EU. Those got stuck at the EU border.
America’s popular comedy shows and news media called out the EU on its presumed racism. On his The Daily Show, Trevor Noah thrashed Europe as a biased entity that let in white people and left out people of color. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan and Aymen Muheildinne also saw racism, arguing that Europe welcomed blue-eyed blond-haired Ukrainian refugees but shut down its borders to Afghanis and Syrians.
For many years before I became a US citizen, I carried an Iraqi passport, with which I was treated like cattle at border crossings anywhere in the world. With my US passport, I started being treated like royalty, even though my name and skin color had not changed. What changed was that while my Iraqi passport took me nowhere, my US passport took me everywhere.
Perhaps Mehdi and Ayman, with Western passports all their lives, never experienced the challenges of traveling with a passport issued by failing states, like in the case of my Iraqi passport issued by the government of Saddam Hussein. Had they been aware of such experience, they would have known that at border crossings, nationality — not race — matters.
For the EU border to be practicing racism, it would have to refuse admission to non-white Ukrainian nationals, which has never been reported. By the same token, for the EU border to be racist, it would have to allow access to white non-Ukrainian nationals. Ignoring nationality of those crossing the EU border, then comparing them along racial lines, is like comparing apples to oranges.
The same sensational and non-sensical discussion over imagined racism at the EU border is now falsely accusing Israel of apartheid. Accusers define Israel as being a Jewish race dominating the Palestinian race. Such was the argument of late Palestinian-American literature professor Edward Said, who said that because Jews and Arabs now live in mixed areas, separating them has become impossible, and therefore the two-state scheme is not viable and should be replaced by a binational single state.
Even though neither Said nor his apartheid proponents ever spelled it out, it is an open secret that in a binational state, Arabs outnumber Jews and can transform Israel, in the ballot box, into Palestine.
Said argued that Israel’s refusal of his one state solution entrenched the status quo, which currently has the Palestinians living in separate enclaves that he likened to the bantustans of apartheid South Africa.
But the fundamental difference between Black South Africans then and Palestinians now is that while South Africans sought to assimilate in the white-only state and become citizens, the majority of Palestinians refuse to become Israeli citizens. Most Palestinians want a state of their own.
Why Palestinians have not yet gotten a state is a long story. Suffice it to say that Palestinians do not have an elected and representative government, and in the rare instances when they did elect their leaders, those either could not deliver on their part of the deal to get a Palestinian state or declared destroying Israel as their goal.
Unlike how the antisemitic reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and the Harvard submission depict them, the Israelis and Palestinians are not two races. They are two nationalities, like Americans and Canadians. If America invades Canada, the solution to the conflict is not for Canadians to become US citizens and vote for an American president, but to restore Canadian government. In the interim, while America rules Canadians, it will treat them differently from Americans. This is how Israel treats Palestinians differently, not as one race dominating another, but as one nation managing its non-citizens who have yet to show that they can manage themselves and stand their own state.
Apart from Palestinians, Israel has a sizable Arab minority who are Israeli citizens. Of those Arab Israelis is a judge on the supreme court, a minister in the cabinet, and a dozen members of Knesset. No race that wants to control another appoints people from the controlled race as a supreme judge or a cabinet minister.
In fact, it is in self-ruled Palestinian areas, which amount to 40 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, where Jews are not allowed to enter or buy real estate. It is among Palestinians, and many Arabs, where religion, gender and skin color decide national identity. If there are apartheid states — where people with a similar nationality are treated differently based on their religion or ethnicity — those would be Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Interestingly, none of these states made it to any international report as an apartheid state.