The dark and surreal world of Israeli apartheid: why I missed the Etgar Keret event at Tufts

Etgar Keret is a brilliant writer. Brilliant. The Israeli writer’s surreal stories inspire out-loud laughter through wicked, playful plots and genuine surprise at those plots’ twists. His complicated characters offer insight into humanity, with all of its light and darkness. And Keret’s endearing and charismatic stage presence no doubt engaged the audience when the writer spoke at Tufts on Thursday afternoon.

I admire his talent. So why did I miss the opportunity to see him at my university? The answer lies in the nature of Keret’s appearance. Called “The dark and surreal world of Israeli fiction,” last week’s event with Keret was sponsored by Tufts Students for Two States. That self-described pro-Israel organization is one of several Zionist student groups on campus and is affiliated with Tufts Hillel. As an organization that declares itself to be “deeply committed to supporting Israel,” Hillel promotes Zionism — the defense of the notion of a Jewish state — by a variety of means. One of these is the sponsorship of cultural events on campus.

On its website, Tufts Hillel states a commitment to supporting Israel as a “Jewish democratic” state. Unfortunately, those two attributes are in contradiction. A state cannot simultaneously exist for one group of people and have equal rights for all. Indeed, even a Jewish state established on uninhabited land would inevitably pose an existential problem should non-Jews visit or migrate to that state. But Israel was not built on uninhabited land. Palestine, as it was called before the establishment of the State of Israel, was a place where Jews lived in long-standing communities among Christian and Muslim Arabs. The creation of Israel as a state came not through a vote or another democratic measure but rather through the seizure of land by force.

In April 1948, for example, Zionist paramilitaries carried out an infamous massacre at Deir Yassin — a Palestinian village outside of Jerusalem. Using guns and grenades as weapons, paramilitaries slaughtered much of Deir Yassin’s population and terrorized the remainder into fleeing. Just over a month later, Zionists unilaterally announced the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state on land whose majority population was not Jewish. Zionists celebrate this as the Israeli Declaration and subsequent War of Independence, but Palestinians and their supporters call these events Al Nakba, or The Catastrophe. Each such event terrified Palestinians in other villages to flee out of fear of Zionist violence. It was only through this use of war and terror that Zionists forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into exile, reducing the once Arab majority to an oppressed minority in the new Jewish state and creating a  refugee population scattered across the Middle East and around the globe.

Every subsequent act by the Israeli state privileging Jewish citizenship necessarily came at the expense of Palestinians. Israel passed the Law of Return, for example, which offered Jewish people the right to come to Israel and receive citizenship, no matter their country of origin. The state simultaneously denied Palestinians the right to return home, even those who held in their hands the keys to houses from which they were expelled. It is because of these separate legal regimes for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs that Israel is compared to Apartheid-era South Africa and the Jim Crow era in the U.S. South. 

Palestinian activists have called on people around the world to boycott Israeli cultural events. This is because these events obscure the reality that Israel legally and explicitly privileges Jewish identity, using violence to repress Palestinians within the borders it controls and restrict the movement of Palestinians via those borders. Moreover, such events marginalize the voices of Palestinians. Last week’s event at Tufts provides an example of this very problem. The flyer advertising the event with Keret promised a discussion that would discuss “racism on all sides” — among Israelis and Palestinians. Keret, after all, is critical of the Israeli state. But a discussion of Israel on a campus in the United States cannot count as its sole discussants Zionists and Israelis and then honestly consider it a critical conversation. The omission of any Palestinian perspective is blatant and inexcusable. The problem with claiming a balanced discussion at Tufts when its participants at the front of the room are decidedly one-sided goes hand-in-hand with the casting of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians as a balanced one with flaws on “all sides.” After all, Israel occupies Palestine’s land, but there is no corresponding Palestinian occupation of Israeli land. Israel is building a wall across Palestinian land, but there is no Palestinian wall that Israelis have to negotiate. Through administration of borders and the use of checkpoints across the West Bank, Israel controls the movement of Palestinians. But there is no Palestinian force restricting the travel of Israelis. The list could go on.

This undeniable difference in power leads to another reason to heed the cultural boycott of Israel. Tufts Hillel explains on its website that it does programming on campus to “allow students to explore Israel’s society.” That very society denies Palestinian artists, writers and academics the right to travel the world to engage in cultural and scholarly exchange. Indeed, at the same time as Etgar Keret is traveling to the U.S., Palestinian poet Dareen Tartour is confined to her home in the Arab town of Reineh. Tartour was arrested and imprisoned by Israel last year for performing a poem in a YouTube video — a poem that Israel deemed a security threat. Tartour was released from prison this summer but remains under house arrest. And earlier this month, Israel denied the right of Adam Hanieh, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, to enter Palestine and give a series of lectures at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Someday, Israeli apartheid will fall, just like the racist legal regimes in South Africa and the southern United States. When that happens, Palestinian artists and scholars will be able to engage with audiences globally, unfettered by borders and police. Jewish Israeli artists and scholars will be able to offer their talents and insights without their speaking engagements being deployed as weapons in the war for Israel’s legitimacy. When those things happen, I look forward to seeing Etgar Keret speak — as an equal with his Palestinian colleagues. Until then, we boycott.

Editor’s note: If you would like to send your response or make an op-ed contribution to the Opinion section, please email us at The Opinion section looks forward to hearing from you.


5 Responses

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  1. Arafat
    Sep 26, 2016 - 01:25 PM

    No, it is Palestinian society which mirrors the apartheid regime of South Africa. It is official Palestinian Authority policy that no Jew can live in any territory it administers. isn’t that apartheid?

    As for Hamas run Gaza, their policy, as stated in the freely available charter, is to kill every last Jew on earth in a mass genocide.

  2. Arafat
    Sep 26, 2016 - 01:26 PM

    • Since the Palestinians were never Israeli citizens, and never wanted to be Israeli citizens, there’s really no question of Apartheid here.
    The Palestinians’ disenfranchisement comes out of their own rejection of UNGAR 181, which advocated the establishment of one Jewish state (Israel) and one Arab state (Palestine, or whatever they might have wanted to call it) on the land of the Palestine Mandate. Had they accepted the resolution and established their own state on the land allocated by the UN, there would be no Palestinian refugees today.
    No country in the world can be forced to accept a belligerent population whose manifesto includes the destruction of the would-be host country. Neither democracy nor membership in the UN requires any country to commit suicide, which is what you seem to be advocating.
    If you really want an example of an Apartheid state, examine the laws of the Palestinian Authority– it is a criminal offense to sell Palestinian land to a Jew, and the maximum penalty for someone selling land to a Jew is death. Mahmoud Abbas has already declared on more than one occasion that “No Jew will be allowed to live in the new Palestine”.
    How’s that for Apartheid?

  3. Arafat
    Sep 26, 2016 - 01:26 PM

    • Apartheid = “apart” + “hood”. This is, and has been the Arabs’ policy; a Jew-free land. This is also why they ethnically cleansed Judea, Samaria, and Gaza of ALL Jews in 1948. It hasn’t been, nor is it, the Jewish policy, and over a million Arab citizens of Israel (and growing) are proof.
    Yes children: Jews did live in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza- ALWAYS.
    Well, obviously Jews lived here during Biblical times. We all know that.
    If you look at the documents from the Cairo Geniza, dating back to the 9th century, you’ll find that there were Jews in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
    If you look at travelers’ accounts from the Early Middle Ages, such as Nahmanides, Benjamin of Tudela, and a host of others, you’ll find that there were Jews in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
    Rabbi Jechiel Ashkenazi, who was actually Sepharadi, purchased the Karite synagogue of Hebron in 1540 on behalf of the Sepharadi congregants.
    If you read about Shabtai Tzvi, the false messiah of the 16th century, you’ll find that his “prophet” was Nathan of Gaza, where the center of his movement was located for a period.
    In 1845, Dr. Ernst-Gustav Schultz, the Prussian Consul in Jerusalem, discussed the Jews living in Shechem (Nablus) and Hebron in his book, “Jerusalem, Eine Vorlesung”.
    In fact, except for the periods of 1929-1931 and 1936-1968, there has been a significant Jewish presence in Hebron SINCE BIBLICAL TIMES.
    The ONLY period of time where there were no Jews in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza was between 1948-1967, when the Arabs ethnically-cleansed ALL Jews from here.
    And insisting that Judea be Jew-free again IS apartheid.

  4. Arafat
    Sep 26, 2016 - 01:28 PM

    Google “gays” and “Palestinians” to see how gay people are treated by the people who are calling for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The first search result is titled, “Palestinian gays flee to Israel”

    Google “Palestinian” and “honor killings” to see how women are treated by the people who are calling for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.

    If you are a femalel student (or alumna) who is thinking about going to “Palestine” to help protest against the Evil Zionists, I suggest that you first read “Female Palestinian Peace Activists Suffer Sexual Harassment, Rape From Palestinians” (just Google on the title). You might want to reconsider.

    As a final note, look up Israel’s and the Palestinians’ relative political and civil rights ratings at Israel’s are close to the best possible while those under both Hamas and Fatah are almost the worst possible.

    Now, please explain to me again who is guilty of crimes, apartheid policies (e.g. dhimmis or second-class citizens in countries under militant Islamic rule), and so on. I have not even touched on the Palestinians’ long litany of mindless terroristic violence including the Munich Massacre, the massacre of the Fogel family including young children in their beds, and so on.

  5. only the truth
    Nov 03, 2016 - 07:50 PM

    It is interesting that palestiniani supporter alway point to one single event, the Deir Yasing masacre, while ignoring everyting else. Like the Unesco, seeking to negate jewish ties to Jerusalem, the palestinian narative seeks to negate reality. They always forget to mention that the palestinian state supported the nazis durinf the second world war, and urged palestinians to vacate tier homes to get out of way so that the arab armies could “throw the jews in to the sea”.

    700 thousand jews were expelled from arab states, but where absorved by the newly created jewish state. Jews where masacred in Hebron in 1938. But jews, unlike palestinians and arabs, decided to move on and create circumstance in which they could prosper.

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