Israel is Not an Apartheid State
Apartheid is a state-sanctioned system of racial separation and discrimination which dominated nearly every aspect
of daily life in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is both factually
and morally incorrect. It is a misuse of this abhorrent label to describe Israel, a society like our own, where equal
rights for all are enshrined in Israel’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. In South Africa, those
who were white enjoyed rights and privileges that black citizens were denied and racist laws forced citizens to live in
separate areas and attend separate schools. Segregation and discrimination extended to ownership rights, the
holding of public office, voting, church attendance and even burial. In contrast, Israel offers full political rights under
one set of laws that extends to all citizens and minorities.
Israel, like every liberal democracy, faces challenges in ensuring fair and equitable treatment of its minority citizens.
Nevertheless, Israel’s track record compares favorably with other pluralistic democracies, especially when
considering how precarious and vulnerable the state was for much of its existence. For example, Hebrew and Arabic
are both official languages and Israeli Arabs are represented at the highest levels of public office. This includes
serving as Supreme Court Judges, state ambassadors, members of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) and
government cabinet ministers. Freedoms we all cherish, such as freedom of press, speech and religion, are also
centerpieces within Israeli law. All Israeli citizens – Muslims, Christians and Jews, along with significant Druze and
Bahá’í populations – enjoy equal political rights and legal protection of their holy sites.
Faced with this evidence, some detractors say the “apartheid accusation” instead applies to the non-citizen
Palestinian populations of Gaza and the West Bank. The situation here needs to be viewed in the context of a
protracted and complex conflict between both sides. In regard to Gaza, Israel disengaged completely in 2005 and
responded to Hamas’ takeover in 2006 by imposing a legal naval blockade on the territory. While it is tragic that this
negatively affects the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, it is important to remember that Israel was left with little
option as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and has indiscriminately fired thousands of rockets into Sderot and
other vulnerable Israeli communities. While it is legitimate to take a range of critical positions about Israeli
government policy – as occurs within Israeli society itself – using the term Apartheid only muddles our
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority oversees much of the security and social concerns of Palestinian
residents. Check points, security roads, identification cards and security barriers separate Palestinian residents of
the West Bank and Gaza from Israel’s citizens, providing physical security from the threat of attacks. A balance is
required to ensure security for Israelis while working to ease pressure on Palestinians. This issue is constantly
debated in Israel, and the High Court has heard many Palestinian submissions. Rather than misusing the concept of
‘apartheid’, critics should look for means to work with people of goodwill on both sides to advance towards a
negotiated two-state solution that will meet the aspirations of both peoples.
While some ill-willed parties continue to abuse the term ‘Apartheid’ in order to detract from Israel’s legitimacy, others,
including the African-American student leaders of the Vanguard Leadership Group, have taken offense at this
misuse. Those promoting the Apartheid allegation are simply exploiting this term to tell an anti-Israel story that
undermines Israel’s right to exist by falsely equating Israel to racist and genocidal regimes.