Israel and Apartheid: The Big Lie

Israel and Apartheid: The Big Lie
Posted: August 29, 2005

The demand for sanctions against Israel is one of the pillars of the global campaign against the legitimacy of the Jewish state which has surfaced over the last five years. In July 2005, a conference in Paris held under the auspices of a UN body, The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), culminated in a declaration endorsing “a global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions” against Israel. That the momentum for a boycott campaign is building is evidenced by the support for such measures in various sectors, from British university campuses to American Protestant churches. Of course, not of all these bodies call for the complete isolation of Israel, but they share the flaw of pinning upon Israel the greatest responsibility for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Therefore, Israel is singled out for punishment.

The boycott campaign against Israel takes its inspiration from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, which involved a sustained campaign of economic sanctions. In drawing this parallel, many activists take the view that Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is a colonial state whose laws and institutions enforce the subservient status of the indigenous population. Moreover, the solution is implicit in the diagnosis; because white domination was dismantled in South Africa, it follows that what is regarded as Jewish domination, in the form of the State of Israel, should go the same way.

In combating the various boycott and divestment campaigns, supporters of Israel will invariably come up against the apartheid analogy. At the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban in 2001 – and notorious for its obsessive demonization of Israel – non-governmental organizations issued a declaration with numerous references to Israel as an “apartheid state.” More recently, European and American campus activists, among both faculty and students, have based the case for an academic boycott of Israeli higher education institutions on the alleged similarities between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and apartheid. So pervasive has this analogy become that many opponents of Israel’s security fence refer to it pejoratively as the “apartheid wall.”

The apartheid analogy is critically flawed. It bears little resemblance to the realities of contemporary Israel and plays down the uniqueness of the apartheid state in South Africa. That state was extraordinarily repressive, regulating every detail of the lives of its subjects – 90 percent of whom were non-white – on the basis of their skin color. By contrast, Israel is a democracy which encourages vibrant debate, which has a flourishing free press and which shares with other liberal democracies a core value: the equality of all its citizens before the law.