|Israel and Apartheid: The Big Lie
Why there’s no comparison with Israel
Posted: August 29, 2005
Apartheid was a unique system. Those who lived under apartheid rule were governed by its rules and conventions every minute of every day. In Israel and the territories, there are tensions and divisions over citizenship, ownership of land and human rights – basic elements which one recognizes in the apartheid model. But to turn such recognition into affirmation that Israel practices apartheid defies logic and poses a basic question: Why, out of all the countries in the world in which national, religious or ethnic minorities claim discrimination, is Israel selected for the apartheid label?
There are two components to the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state: historical and legal. The Palestinian version of the 1948 war provides the historical justification for apartheid analogy. According to this narrative, Jewish settlers with a grand colonial purpose grabbed the territory of the indigenous Arab population, expelling the majority and marginalizing the minority which remained. Since that time, the State of Israel is accused of having practiced systematic discrimination against its Arab citizens and of ruling mercilessly over those Arabs living in the territories captured during the 1967 war.
In legal terms, the argument continues, Israel bears a striking resemblance to apartheid South Africa. Therefore, the argument concludes, Israel is a paradox: it claims to be both a Jewish state and a democratic state, but does not accept that one precludes the other. By entrenching and reinforcing its Jewish majority through a combination of legal, political and military measures, Israel is said to have imposed an apartheid system upon its non-Jewish population.
The argument is a dramatic one. To many people in the human rights community, it is seductive as well. It is also wholly false.