Is Israel An Apartheid State?
Throughout the Israel-Palestine conflict, one of the many points raised on the anti-Zionist side is that Israel’s treatment of its Arab population is Apartheid in nature. AOC tweeted on 5/15/2021 “Apartheid states aren’t democracies,” in reference to Israel, further pushing this claim. If one types the words “Israel apartheid” into Google, they’ll find articles by groups like Human Rights Watch, Jacobin, and The Intercept arguing Israel is an apartheid state and articles by National Public Radio and Wikipedia talking about these accusations.
Do you know who agrees with the Apartheid analogy, however? B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group. In January 2021, they released a paper with the rather direct title “This Is Apartheid: A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” As the report itself puts it:
The Israeli regime, which controls all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, seeks to advance and cement Jewish supremacy throughout the entire area. To that end, it has divided the area into several units, each with a different set of rights for Palestinians — always inferior to the rights of Jews. As part of this policy, Palestinians are denied many rights, including the right to self-determination.
The CEO of B’Tselem is Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli citizen who served in the Israeli Defense Force — not exactly some radical Hamas lover. Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs and the man who was fired from The Guardian earlier this year for criticizing the United States government giving foreign aid to Israel while before giving stimulus to Americans on Twitter, summed up the report by saying the following:
B’Tselem’s position paper explains that the reasons for calling this “apartheid” should be obvious. One government has essentially complete control over two groups of people. But that government explicitly operates in the interest of one of those groups rather than the other. Israel’s Basic Law states that “The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” Palestinians do not get the right of national self-determination, but Israelis do. Palestinians cannot cross into Israeli territory and “settle” (i.e. colonize) it, but Israelis routinely displace Palestinians. Palestinians can’t set up roadblocks in Israel, or restrict movement in and out of it or determine Israel’s immigration policies, but Israel does all of these things to Palestinians.
However, before we can draw a conclusion on if Israel is Apartheid or not, we need to define a few terms. Specifically, we need to make it clear what it means to be Apartheid in the first place.
When people think of Apartheid, they think of the system the nation of South Africa was under from 1948 until 1991. The system was one of racial segregation and white supremacy, very similar to that of Jim Crow in the United States. And the typical tactic of critics to the idea of labeling Israel such typically argue — correctly — that Israel’s treatment of its Arab population (we’ll get to why focusing on this is moving the goalpost in a minute) is not one-to-one with how South Africa treated those who could keep a pencil in their hair. (Seriously, that was one of the tests they used to determine if you were white or not.)
This is what PragerU did in 2014 when they released a video called “A Black South African on Israel and Apartheid” in which Kenneth Meshoe, the President of the African Christian Democratic Party, makes this very point:
[In Apartheid South Africa], when I had to see a white doctor — a white doctor who was prepared to have black patients — I would have go to a back room, a specially segregated room where black patients of white doctors went who could never enter through the same door that was used by white people.
Now compare that to Israel. Three years ago, a black pastor friend of mine went to Israel where he had an accident and had to be hospitalized. When he came back to South Africa, he said to as many people as he could, that the people who are talking about apartheid in Israel are talking nonsense.
“When I was in that hospital in Israel,” he tells people, “on my right was sleeping a Jew and on my left was a Palestinian Muslim and in between that Palestinian Muslim and that Jew was this black South African.”
This video also makes specific reference to Nelson Mandela, the famous anti-apartheid activist who later became President of South Africa. On Mandela, Meshoe says:
Let’s remember the major reason Nelson Mandela went to prison — why he was involved with the armed struggle. He was fighting for the right to vote, for the right to choose the leaders who one believes in, for the right to move and travel freely, to live wherever one wants, to be educated, and to be admitted to the hospital or medical facility of your choice. . .If South African apartheid was what people are seeing in Israel, there would never have been any need for an armed struggle. There would never have been any need for a Nelson Mandela to go to prison because he would have all the rights Arabs in Israel have.
It should be noted this is rather ironic considering Mandela was rather critical of Israel. Here’s Mandela on The International Day Of Solidarity With The Palestinian People in 1997:
I have come to join you today to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood. We would be beneath our own reason for existence as government and as a nation, if the resolution of the problems of the Middle East did not feature prominently on our agenda. . . We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.
Mandela also praised the work of Yizhak Rabin, the former Israeli Prime Minister who won the Nobel Peace Prize and later got assassinated by far-right Zionist Yigal Amir for his role in creating the Oslo Accords. What does Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu think of the Oslo Accords? Well here’s him talking about them in 2001:
But then the question came up of just who would define what Defined Military Sites were. I received a letter — to my and to [Palestinian Liberation Army leader Yasser] Arafat, at the same time — which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: “I’m not signing.” Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to my and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Or rather, ratify it, it had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.
It should be noted that much of the Oslo Accords were not even all that radical, in fact, local Palestinians compared it to the Treaty of Versailles with how bad of a deal they got. However, that did not stop a radical Zionist from opposing it to such a point where he killed his own leader — and Netanyahu is more in line with him than the former Prime Minister.
In 2000, President Clinton met with Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in an attempt to create another peace deal. Exactly what happened will never be known, but most agree the deal wasn’t fair to the Palestinians, and the Israelis were afraid to give a deal that was fair to the Palestinians because the last time they tried to do something close to that their Prime Minister was killed. Barak himself later said that if he were on the Palestinian side he would not have taken what was proposed.
Olga Meshoe, a South African lawyer, also made talked about her experience with Aparthide in a 2017 video for PragerU called “Does Israel Discriminate Against Arabs?”:
[In Apartide South Africa] Blacks couldn’t vote, couldn’t own land, couldn’t live next to, or use the same transportation system as whites. I remember my father telling me about how my grandfather was kicked and humiliated in public by a young white boy. All he was permitted to say was, “Please stop, little boss.” That was the world my family lived in.
That was the world of apartheid South Africa.
But in Israel, the law is color-blind. Israeli Arabs have the same rights as Israeli Jews. They ride the same buses, study in the same schools, and are treated in the same hospitals. Arabs are elected to Israel’s parliament, serve as judges, and fight in the Israeli military.
Oh, they also sneak in this lie:
“We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine….Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.” That’s from Omar Barghouti, a founder of BDS.
Barghouti never said this, and PragerU does not give a source for this claim. What Barghouti has said is that he wants a secular, democratic, unified state in all parts of both Israel and Palestine. He has also criticized the “unelected and unrepresentative” authorities of both Palestine and Gaza, although he has argued that much of the radicalization in those territories that allows them to gain legimitacy comes from violence on the part of Israel.
Oh, and then there’s this nonsense:
Barghouti lives in Israel, so you might expect that he said this from inside an Israeli prison, like Nelson Mandela during South African apartheid.
You would be wrong.
Barghouti is a PhD student at Israel’s Tel Aviv University, where he enjoys the same rights as every Israeli.
In 2016, the Israeli Ministry of Interior refused to renew Barghouti’s travel permit, meaning he is not allowed to travel abroad. The Israeli Minister of Interor Aryeh Deri was rather direct about why he did this, because he didn’t want Barghouti speaking aboard:
I received information that his life is in Ramallah [a city in Palestine] and he is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner. He was given rights similar to those of a citizen and he took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.
Mind you, Israeli briefly allowed him to travel again in 2017 so he could receive the Gandhi Peace Award — an award won by people like Eleanor Rooesevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Spock, Daniel Ellsberg, Cesae Chavez, George McGovern, Dennis Kucinich, Amy Goodman, and Ralph Nader. For a guy who is such a terroist, it’s rather odd that he’s surrounded by so many dogmatically pro-peace people.
However, the general argument PragerU makes the false assumption that Aparthide can only exist as it did in South Africa. For those unaware, Apartheid is a word in Afrikaans — the native language of South Africa — which translates to “apart hood.” Others translate it as “the state of being apart” or simply “separateness.”
This is why I earlier compared Apartheid South Africa to Jim Crow in the United States, to show that Apartheid is really nothing more than legal segregation, and legal segregation can take many forms. For example, up until 2004, no state in the United States allowed same-sex marriage, with many still not allowing it until 2015 — that was a form of separateness between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, although that is still much better treatment than what black people experienced under Apartheid or Jim Crow, and was also much better than what many homosexuals experience in Africa and the Middle East today. (In fact, in this regard both Palestine and Gaza could be considered Apartheid states in this regard, because both heavily criminalize homosexuality — giving a maximum punishment of ten years imprisonment for homosexual sex.)
Going back to B’Tselem’s paper, here’s a quote that’s rather telling:
The Israeli regime does not have to declare itself an apartheid regime to be defined as such, nor is it relevant that representatives of the state broadly proclaim it a democracy. What defines apartheid is not statements but practice. While South Africa declared itself an apartheid regime in 1948, it is unreasonable to expect other states to follow suit given the historical repercussions. The response of most countries to South Africa’s apartheid is likelier to deter countries from admitting to implementing a similar regime. It is also clear that what was possible in 1948 is no longer possible today, both legally and in terms of public opinion.
So is Israel an Aparthide state? Well that’s a little bit of a complicated question, now that we’ve established that Aparthide does not have to look literally exactly the same as South Africa once did, we can at least take a look at Israel’s policy regarding its Arabic population.
For one, in Israel, the law is not entirely colorblind. In 2018, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu passed a series of laws explicitly saying that only the Jewish population had a right to self-determination and which demoted Arabic so it was no longer an official lanauge.
Then there was the 2013 controversy where it was found that Israel was injecting its Black Jewish population — primarily Ethopian immigrants — with mandatory birth control injects without their knowledge. As Salon reported in January 2013:
Israel has admitted that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth control injections, according to a report in Haaretz. An Israeli investigative journalist also found that a majority of the women given these shots say they were administered without their knowledge or consent.
Health Ministry Director General Prof. Ron Gamzu acknowledged the practice — without directly conceding coercion was involved — in a letter to Israeli health maintenance organizations, instructing gynecologists in the HMOs “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.”
Depo-Provera is a hormonal form of birth control that is injected every three months.
That is not Apartide, that is what is normally referred to as eugenics. Mind you, it is not eugenics of it Arab population but of its non-white Jewish population, but it still shows that Israel still has some ethno-state tendencies that are ignored by those who promote Zionism.
Even Raymond M. Berger, who argued in a Times Of Israel article in 2018 that the reports were hyperbolic, still admitted two things:
Israel-haters who say that Israel tricked black Ethiopian women into being sterilized are wildly wrong. At worst, these women received temporary birth control medication.
It is possible that some clinic personnel applied inappropriate pressure on the Ethiopian women or failed to take the time to inform them adequately about Depo-Provera.
His arguments are that the injections were not pertinent (which is true) and that it was not a racist plot. Even then, it’s medical malpractice and still too close to eugenics than an industrial nation should be. The article then devolves into pointing out that other nations also engage in involentary sterlization — some of which is perminint while Israel’s was only temporary — which nobody is denying, but that does not make what Israel did any less wrong.
Oh, and his only citation in this entire article is the Wikipedia page for forced-sterlization — I’m not joking.
So while this shows that Israel might have some aparthide tendencies, this does not make it comparable to South Africa.
However, this is not even getting into how Israel treats Palestine and Gaza, both of which Israel has tried to claim sovernighty over on various occasions. Ever since 2007, Israel along with Egypt have been engaging in a blockade over Gaza. Exactly if Gaza should be part of Israel is something Israel has never been clear on, although if they do not what they are doing in Gaza is an act of war and if they do what they are doing is no different than if the United States did a blockade around Manhatten.
People in Palestinian territories are unable to vote for actual leaders, are denied freedom of movement, and are denied many more rights that Israli citizens are given. This would not be an issue if Israel were to acknowledge Palestine and Gaza as sovergn nations, but doing so would also force them to acknowledge that they’re invading and bombing a sovern nation which they’ve also repeatedly done settlements in. (Also, acknowledging they’ve committed an act of war against Gaza would likely give Hamas some legimitamcy in this conflict, and Israel would not like that.)
This is separation, plain and simple. You could even call this “apart-hood,” or Aparthied, because that’s exactly what it is. Israel wants to claim sovernity over Palestine and Gaza, and if they have sovernity over those two nations, then they are engaging in an aparthide of the people in those two territories. If they do not have sovernighty over those two nations, then that means that they are engaging in a territory war in which they attempt to take the land previously owned by the people who lived on that territory for around 1200 years — making what they’re engaging in imperalism, plain and simple.