Is Israel an apartheid state?
Ethopian Jews with Torah
Israel’s critics and enemies make an invidious and erroneous comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa. Those who urge a worldwide divestment from Israel use this comparison, trying to rally the same forces that used the international divestment sanction as a significant factor in toppling the white supremacy regime in South Africa. The hope of Israel?s enemies is to bring down the Jewish state. Many pro-Israel groups, including many Christian groups, have countered this effort, so far successfully.
The former South Africa was a regime in which a small minority of whites ruled over a far larger majority of blacks. The whites had complete control over the political and economic system. Blacks were denied voting rights, and any real participation in the political life of the country. There were laws prohibiting the fraternization of whites and blacks, and forbidding marriage between white and black. There was also the strict confining of blacks to specific native areas, and a general limitation on basic freedoms of all kinds.
When Israel is called a 'racist regime' like South Africa the first response is to point out that the concept of 'race' is not inherently connected with the definition of Jewish identity. There are Jews of all colors and races. And Israel is the only state in the history of mankind to have made a major effort to bring a large group of black people, (the Ethiopian Jews once called Falashas) to it in order to make them full citizens. There are no laws in Israel which even consider the subject of racial preference.
Nonetheless, those who call Israel a racist state base their accusation on an erroneous correspondence of whites in South Africa with Jews in Israel, and blacks in South Africa with Arabs in Israel. Their contention is that the same kinds of discrimination and bias that applied against blacks in South Africa, apply to Arabs in Israel. This accusation is absurd not only because of the absence of the racial component in the Israel situation but also because of the majority- minority element. The whites were a small minority in South Africa, and the Jews are the majority constituting close to eighty percent of the citizens of Israel (2003). The absurdity of the comparison is underlined further by the fact that Israel is a functioning democracy in which the Arab minority has full voting rights, and are amply represented in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
Israel's accusers respond to this line of argument by saying that they are not so much referring to apartheid in regard to Arabs living within the Jewish state, but rather to those living 'under occupation' in the West Bank and Gaza. These Arabs have no voting rights in Israel, and do not receive the broad social and medical benefits that Arabs within the state of Israel do.
Here however it is necessary to point out that since the Oslo Peace Process agreements in 1993 over ninety percent of West Bank and Gaza Arabs are not under the official rule of Israel.They are instead part of the Palestinian Authority and its government. The political social and economic responsibility for the Palestinian Arabs lies with the Palestinian Arab regime.
Against this critics of Israel point out that Israel actually has control over the Palestinian Arabs in that it limits not only their entrance into Israel, but their free movement between different parts of the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The critics of Israel will also say that like South Africa it confines the ?oppressed population? to specific areas out of which it cannot move.
This accusation brings us to one of the major differences between the South African situation, and the Israeli one. Israel has been since its very founding involved in a continual military effort at its own self-defense. The surrounding Arab nations invaded Israel in 1948, as soon as the State of Israel was declared. The Palestinian Arab population refused a state of its own alongside Israel and have been trying to undermine the Jewish state from the first day of its founding. Israel has been subject to what is arguably one of the most despicable terror campaigns mankind has ever known. Since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, this has included the insane use of homicide-bombers to kill and maim as many innocent Israeli civilians as possible.
The Palestinian Arab terrorists conducting this campaign have wide support from other terrorist groups and terror states in the area. The South African regime was never subject to anything close to the kind of military threats Israel has been subject to.
Israel's limitation of Arab movements not only comes as a natural effort to prevent illegal entry into Israel, but fundamentally as part of its campaign against terror. The difficult economic and social situation of the Palestinian Arabs comes in good part because they have launched what the historian Joel Fishman calls a "people's war" -- organized, controlled and financed by Yasser Arafat's terrorist groups -- against Israel in which they are determined to destroy the Jewish state even if it means regressing socially and economically themselves. Their effort to do this cost over nine hundred Israeli lives and thousands of injuries during 2000-2003. The overwhelming majority of those injuries were of innocent civilians. In contrast, Israeli actions taken in self-defense have been confined exclusively to military targets.
The correct comparison between the South African oppressive regime should be made not only with Israel but with the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority itself. This point has been made by Ariel Natan Pasko. The Palestinian Arabs' repression of their own people, their denial of freedoms, their corruption, and the use of torture against anyone who opposes the regime, fit in well with the model of the white supremacy regime in South Africa. It is the Arab states, and the potential future state represented by the Palestinian Authority itself, that do not tolerate and have persecuted minorities among them. They are the true non-democratic human rights violators of the Middle East.
Note:We gratefully acknowledge Shalom Freedman as the primary author of this page.