What is Israel?
There is a basic fact about Israel that can’t be denied by any honest observer, whether pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-both, or altogether indifferent:
Israeli boys of various colors
Israeli navy soldiers walk to Ethiopian Jewish ceremony
Miss Israel finalist, Druze-Arab Doaa Fares
Druze former major general Yosef Mishlav
Israeli citizens are white, black and everything in between; they include Arabs and Jews; Muslims, Christians, agnostics and atheists; they carry traditions from Kurdish ares, Ethiopia, Russia, Poland, Iraq, Yemen and beyond. And every Israeli citizen can vote, participate in political life, and share beaches, bars and park benches.
As philosophy professor Bernard Harrison notes, “Israel is in fact, for better or worse, almost a textbook example of a multicultural society.”
These by itself shows that claims of “Israeli Apartheid” are laughable and — it’s hard to think of a diplomatic way to put it — a malevolent lie.
Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arab. Not only do they vote in Israeli elections, but they also serve in the country’s legislature (or Knesset), government, courts and army.
Arab Knesset members include those who represent mainstream Zionism parties, such as Kadima’s Majalli Whbee and Likud’s Ayoob Kara. But harsh critics of the state are also represented. Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, for example, was once an advisor to the late-Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.
Muslim-Arab Raleb Majadele and Druze-Arab Salah Tarif were both Knesset members for the mainstream Labor party, and both have served as ministers in the Israeli government. (Feminst activist and self-described Muslim refusnik Irshad Manji once rhetorically asked in an Op-Ed
criticizing the Apartheid canard, “Would Arabs even be eligible for election if they squirmed under the thumb of apartheid?”)
Christian-Arab Salim Joubran is an Israeli judge with a permanent position on the country’s Supreme Court. Before Joubran’s appointment, Muslim-Arab Abdel Rahman Zuabi had served as a Supreme Court Justice.
And Arabs, such as Yusef Mishlav, have served at the highest levels of Israel’s army.
Indeed, anyone who has been to Israel, walked through a park in Jerusalem, visited a beach in Haifa, or sat at a bar in Tel Aviv is likely to have rubbed elbows with Israel’s Arab minority enjoying their equal freedoms alongside the Jewish majority.
for a fact check of some falsehoods by anti-Israel activists who promote the apartheid canard.)
What is Apartheid?
Sudanese human rights activist and former child slave Simon Deng discussed the obvious falseness of the apartheid canard. “The State of Israel is not an apartheid state,” he wrote.
I know this because I write this from Jerusalem where I have seen Arab mothers peacefully strolling with their families – even though I also drove on Israeli roads protected by walls and fences from Arab bullets and stones. I know Arabs go to Israeli schools, and get the best medical care in the world. I know they vote and have elected representatives to the Israeli Parliament. I see street signs in Arabic, an official language here. None of this was true for blacks under Apartheid in … South Africa. (The Jewish Advocate, 11/16/07)
What, then, was the apartheid state of South Africa? It was an institutionalized system of racial discrimination and strict, legally-enforced segregation that gave the white minority control over South Africa and it’s majority black population. Blacks, because of the color of their skin, were disenfranchised, barred from sharing public places with whites, from travelling freely, from studying at white universities, and so on. They could not vote in South African elections, let alone serve the state as parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, or judges.
An apartheid-era sign in Durban, South Africa
Today, “apartheid” has two widely-accepted definitions. The 1976 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines it as follows:
For the purpose of the present Convention, the term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to … inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.
And the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines it as
inhumane acts [e.g. genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes] … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.
What isn’t Apartheid?
Clearly, security measures implemented during periods of violence to protect Israel’s diverse citizenry hardly amount to “apartheid.”
In other words, Israel’s defensive security barrier, which was approved and built during the worst of the Palestinian wave of terror that began in late 2000, has no relationship whatsoever to racism. This despite the fact that Apartheid Week organizers often bring to campuses a mock-up of the barrier, which they dub the “Apartheid Wall.” These activists, of course, say nothing about the Palestinian suicide bombers and gunman who, before the wall was erected, would easily sneak into Israel. To mentioning this reality would ruin the apartheid illusion they try to cultivate.
Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa
In the same respect, fake “checkpoints” that Apartheid Week organizers bring to campuses are meaningless without presenting corresponding fake suicide bombers, whom the checkpoints are meant to thwart.
Some anti-Israel activists insist that “apartheid” is at play because Palestinians in the West Bank can’t vote in Israeli elections.
This is absurd. Just as Iraqi citizens living under American occupation vote in Iraqi elections and not in American elections, Palestinian in the West Bank vote in Palestinian Authority elections and not Israeli elections. They are not Israeli citizens, because Israel has not annexed the West Bank. To the contrary, Israel has repeatedly offered to withdraw from the West Bank and have the territory become a Palestinian state. These offers have all been flatly rejected by Palestinian leaders.
Activists also sometimes refer to supposedly disproportionate land ownership by Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. In fact, though, only six percent of Israeli land is available for private purchase, and of that, a full half is owned by the Arab minority. See details about Israeli land policy here
A related allegation often used to charge Israel with discrimination is that Israel runs “Jewish-only roads.” This is completely false, and prominent news outlets that had reported the erroneous claim have subsequently published corrections
after investigating the issue. (See images of these supposedly “Jewish-only” roads by clickinghere
Saudi Arabia bars non-Muslims from the cities of Mecca and Medina
On January 7, 2010, for example, the Associated Press ran the following correction that plainly lays out the facts: “In some versions of a Dec. 29 story about a Supreme Court ruling on highway usage, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Israel has a network of roads reserved for Jews. These roads are open to all Israeli citizens, including Arabs, as well as foreigners and tourists, while banning virtually all Palestinians.” (The correction could have also noted that restrictions on Palestinian vehicles were put in place after numerous drive-by shootings by Palestinian gunmen targeted Israeli cars and occasionally killed motorists. Nonetheless, Palestinians can and do acquire permits to use those roads. Additionally, Israel’s Supreme Court has intervened to open roads to non-Israelis when it felt the government’s efforts to balance Israeli security concerns and Palestinian rights was insufficient.)
Law of Return
Israel’s Law of Return allows Jews to easily immigrate to Israel. The law is consistent with one of Israel’s central roles as a haven and homeland for the long-persecuted Jewish people. But anti-Israel activists sometimes insist that the law is unique, evil, and reason to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state.
This specious argument is thoroughly picked apart in a paper
by scholars Amnon Rubinstein and Alexander Yakobson. They explain that
the Law of Return does not discriminate between citizens within the country. It does not make the citizenship of non-Jews in any way inferior. Rather it is directed entirely outward, to the Jews of the world. Therefore, implicit in the condemnation of the Law of Return is the assertion that Israel is forbidden to privilege Jews in its laws of immigration and citizenship.
After noting that “there is no basis in international law for such a criticism,” they point out that
privileged access to rights of residence and immigration for ethnic-cultural kin groups exists in varying ways and through various legal mechanisms, in many long-standing Western European democracies—[Germany,] Ireland, Finland, and Greece—as well as in a number of new European democracies, such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Croatia.
In other words, the Apartheid Week activists seek to demonize Israel for doing something that is explicitly supported in international law, and practiced by many other countries in the liberal Western world.
Apartheid Week activists also seek to punish Israel for being an imperfect country. For example, there is some level of discrimination and racism in Israeli society. There are people who dislike Arabs. Others dislike Jews. Some people hold bigoted attitudes toward black Jews, or Jews from Middle Eastern countries, or Russians. Sometimes Israel’s Supreme Court forces the government to modify policies that can be discriminatory. (You can find a list of other countries with similar characteristics, along with a great number that suffer from much more ingrained and institutionalized racism, here
. Yes, that’s all of them.) There are also a whole lot of people who are open-minded, inclusive and supporters of harmonious coexistence. In other words, Israel is, for better and for worse, a sociologically normal liberal democracy.
Ironically, then, it is the Apartheid Week activists — those who single out and demonize Israel — who are guilty of practicing and inciting extraordinary discrimination.