An open letter, entitled “The Elephant in the Room”, was launched in mid-August to “[draw] attention to the direct link between Israel’s recent attack on the judiciary and its illegal occupation of millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. To date, it has been signed by over 2,500 people – most of them academics (including eminent figures in Jewish history research) and personalities from Israel and the American diaspora – and has the dual characteristic of describing Israel as an “apartheid regime” and bringing together signatories who, in general, do not agree on this description. It is one thing to denounce the colonisation of part of the West Bank; it is quite another to equate Israel politically with a state practising “apartheid” – following the example of the last country, South Africa, which, since Nazism, has organised its organisation along racial lines. And this is true even in the current period of intense crisis in Israel, which is seeing some of its inhabitants rise up against a government that is undermining its liberal and democratic foundations, and which undoubtedly includes ministers for whom a system of discrimination between Jews and Arabs poses no great problem. The editors of K. believe that the situation in Israel makes it necessary to take sides, but also that all the words used must be weighed up, so we asked some of the signatories, who had all written for our magazine, what they thought of the word ‘apartheid’ in the petition they had signed. Why had they signed it, even though we imagined that their criticism of Israeli policy would not involve a stigmatisation that could only lead to outright condemnation, not just of the current Israeli government, but of the country for most of its history. We are therefore devoting this issue of K. exclusively to this debate, which has gained further momentum with the recent assertion by a former Mossad chief that, “yes, there is an apartheid regime in the West Bank”. We are publishing our own preliminary analysis of what is currently happening around the term, as well as four contributions – by Dan Diner, Sarah and Guy Stroumsa, Abe Silberstein and Joel Whitebook – which answer our questions about the term, its meaning in the current situation and its impact on the diaspora. What these answers have in common is that they do not take on board the criticism of Israel as an ‘apartheid regime’, and the authors explain why they still felt the need to sign an open letter explicitly formulating it.
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Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.