Israel: Behind the Green Line

Israel and Apartheid: The Big Lie
Israel: Behind the Green Line
Posted: August 29, 2005

In 1948, just as the white regime in South Africa was creating the legal framework for apartheid, Israel’s leaders, having survived a war of extermination waged by the Arab countries, anchored the new Jewish State in the principles of democracy. The Declaration of Independence stated: ‘The State of Israel… will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based upon the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’

Of course, that doesn’t mean that no national or ethnic group in Israel has suffered from discrimination. Many Arab citizens of Israel complain, often with justification, about unequal allocation of resources; about the fact that 13 percent of land in Israel is administered by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and cannot be leased to Arabs under that body’s covenant (neither Jews nor Arabs may buy JNF land); about their exclusion from the military service required of Jews and members of the Druze minority, which they argue means they can never be regarded as full citizens; about the impact of the security fence on the Palestinian population, particularly in and around Jerusalem.

Jewish communities, too, have claimed discrimination in Israel. Many Jews from Arab countries or from Ethiopia have said that they do not receive the same educational or career opportunities afforded to Jews of European origin; some representatives of these communities also say that their native cultures and traditions are not respected.

None of this makes Israel unique. In fact, the reverse is true – all democracies have faced claims of discrimination at one time or another. One thinks of African-Americans in the U.S. or, more recently, Roma gypsies in the newly emerged democracies of Eastern Europe. Moreover, any assessment of Israel’s record on discrimination needs to recognize the following points:

  • Israel’s citizens enjoy full equality before the law. This includes not only Jews from a vast array of ethnic and racial backgrounds – including many who would have been the victims of apartheid had they lived in South Africa – but the Muslim and Christian Arabs who make up one-fifth of the population.
  • Unlike Blacks in apartheid South Africa, Arab citizens of Israel have full political rights. They vote and participate in the political process, with Arab Knesset representatives across the spectrum, from the Communist and Arab nationalist parties through to the Likud. Salim Jubran, an Israeli Arab, is a judge on Israel’s Supreme Court.
  • In Jerusalem, the 120,000 Arab residents of the city are entitled to Israeli citizenship, but the vast majority have retained their pre-1967 Jordanian passports and therefore remain in Israel on the basis of permanent resident ID cards. In both 1996 and 2005, Arab Jerusalemites were permitted to vote in elections to the Palestinian Authority. The extraordinarily low turnout on both occasions was duly noted by observers. In the case of the post-Arafat elections in 2005, disillusionment with PA corruption, as well as the decision of the Palestinian Election Commission that all but 6,000 of the voters had to cast their ballots outside of Jerusalem, were the main reasons cited for the turnout.
  • Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East and wider Islamic region where Christians, as well as Muslims and Jews, can freely worship. This stands in contrast with Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the only religion permitted, and with Iraq and Pakistan, where Christians have faced attack from Islamist terror groups.
  • Arab students and professors study, research, teach and – above all – argue and debate on all of Israel’s university campuses. At Haifa University, selected for a boycott by Britain’s Association of University Teachers (AUT), some 20 percent of the student body is Arab.

No reasonable person would dispute that discrimination is a problem in Israel. But the nature and scale of the discrimination is not exceptional. And discrimination is not the same thing as apartheid.