The myth of ‘apartheid’ Israel

This week, a few universities across the country have been marking “Israel Apartheid Week”, where talks and seminars have looked to equate Israel with apartheid South Africa. The corollary of this comparison is that Israel should suffer the same fate. Israel should be boycotted by civil societies, condemned by national governments and made a pariah state by the international community.

What is so disturbing is that such seats of learning are willing to devote an entire week to a thesis that is without any foundation in fact, and betrays such a glaring double standard. There are many countries around the world – including several in the Middle East – that practice comprehensive and specific discrimination against particular religious or ethnic communities. The Arab Government of Sudan has long implemented a policy of persecution against both Christians and black (non-Arab) Muslims in the south of the country – the genocide in Darfur that is belatedly finding its way into the western news media is just one episode in a series of Sudanese
atrocities. Iran meanwhile has, since the 1979 revolution, been implementing a systematic and often brutal suppression of many minority faiths such as the Ba’hais. Why are there no weeks given up for the condemnation of these countries? Why no calls for boycotts against

Even Israel’s accusers often appear confused by what they mean by ‘apartheid’. Sometimes the charge is levelled at Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, other times at the alleged discrimination of Israel’s Arab citizens. The former charge is relatively easy to refute. While the blacks in apartheid South Africa were citizens of a country where they were a majority and yet had no democratic or civil rights, the Palestinians are not citizens of Israel but reside in disputed territory under the quasi-autonomy of the Palestinian Authority. The comparison simply does not work because the situations – both historical and actual – are so entirely different.

Yes, there are roads in the West Bank which Palestinians are currently restricted from using, but this ‘discrimination’ is nothing to do with apartheid, and everything to do with the security concerns of a country whose citizens have suffered hundreds of drive-by shootings from Palestinian terrorists. This restriction is temporary but will remain in force for as long as Israeli civilians using these roads are under such a threat.

What of the question of discrimination against Israeli Arabs – the million or so Arab, non-Jewish, citizens of Israel? Benjamin Pogrund, a former journalist and anti-apartheid activist in South Africa who now lives in Israel wrote the following description of his experience as a patient in an Israeli hospital in an article for The Guardian :

    “The surgeon was Jewish, the anaesthetist was Arab. The doctors and nurses who looked after me were Jews and Arabs. I lay in bed for a month and watched as they gave the same skilled care to other patients – half of whom were Arabs and half of whom were Jewish – all sharing the same wards, operating theatres and bathrooms… What I saw in the Hadassah Mt Scopus hospital was inconceivable in the South Africa where I spent most of my life, growing up and then working as a journalist who specialised in exposing apartheid. It didn’t happen and it couldn’t happen. Blacks and whites were strictly separated and blacks got the least and the worst. And this is only one slice of life. Buses, post offices, park benches, cinemas, everything, were segregated by law. No equation is possible.”

In South Africa, apartheid was an official, legally enshrined system. In Israel the exact opposite is the case. There, the legal framework Contains a series of laws that guarantee equality before the law for all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. Discrimination that takes place despite these safeguards can be – and frequently is – challenged in the courts. What is more, the notion of full civil equality lies at the very heart of the establishment of the State. Israel’s founding document, the
Declaration of Independence, states:

    “The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race Or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language,Education and culture…

    “We appeal… to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Arabs have full democratic rights in Israel; there are Arab members of parliament, an Arab Cabinet Minister in the current Israeli Government, an Arab judge in the Supreme Court. To call this apartheid is to render the term completely meaningless.

The academic boycott campaign alleges that there is some kind of educational apartheid in Israel. This is patently absurd. At Haifa University, one of the institutions slated for a boycott by British academic unions, one in five students is an Arab. In all western democracies, there are minority communities that can struggle to attain the highest educational standards.

In fact, whereas in Israel, the ratio of Muslim to Jewish Israelis passing the high school matriculation exams is 4:5, in Britain, only five to seven percent of students of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin go on to successfully complete A-levels.

Discrimination is a social ill that Israel shares with every nation on earth. It is absolutely legitimate to criticise Israel for not doing enough to remedy this problem, just as it is right that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians be subjected to scrutiny, but the charge of apartheid is something else. It is a libel designed to demonise Israel, while the ‘Apartheid Week’ is nothing more than a hate-fest committed to its propagation. Those involved, at institutions which are supposed to prize knowledge and the pursuit of truth above all, are guilty of, at best, extreme ignorance and, at worst, collaboration in the calculated effort to delegitimise the Jewish State.

The apartheid analogy is not just false, but morally bankrupt. This is not a question of semantics, one thing is not another. If Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians or of its Arab citizens is apartheid, then what is what happened in South Africa? The real victims of apartheid, who suffered for over forty years in South Africa, deserve not to have their tragedy belittled, and justice dictates that the perpetrators not have their crime ‘relativised’ in this way.

February 15, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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