By Amy Zewe—
The issue of apartheid in South Africa is a painful history that just about the entire civilized world condemned during its application and all rightfully celebrated when it was defeated. Desmond Tutu was a just hero in combating this unjust practice that was as clear an example systemic racism against people with black skin as one can point to in the 20th century.
The connection or conflation of the Arab-Israeli issue and the practice of apartheid is not new, but seems to have a resurgence of popularity in recent days with the news and social media focus on race issues worldwide as well as the recent declaration by Israel of its sovereignty over the Jordan valley (a legally held position with documentation going back 1oo years in international law).
Apartheid was a political and social system in South Africa during the era of white-minority rule. It enforced racial discrimination against non-whites, mainly focused on skin color and facial features. The word apartheid means “distantiation” in the Afrikaans language—and that means, “to establish or create a mental or emotional distance.” In this case, it was physical separation, too.
After the National Party gained power in South Africa in 1948; this all-white government immediately began enforcing already existing policies of racial segregation. Under apartheid, non-white South Africans (most of the population) would be forced to live in separate areas from whites and use separate public facilities. These racial divides were present before 1948 but were wholly institutionalized and then increasingly more severe as of 1948 on through the 1950s and beyond. What is interesting, is during this same time period the US was becoming increasingly more aware of its prejudices and working hard to reverse them legislatively as well as culturally, and Israel was established in 1948 and taking in Jews of every color and type while attempting to live peacefully side by side with not just Arab neighboring nations, but actual Arab neighbors—who shared streets, stores, commerce, etc.
Apartheid as an institution and legal practice was, thankfully, dismantled by 1993. And while legislation started the ball rolling to changing attitudes, racism still exists to this day. Unfortunately, it is human nature.
So why then is the mantra now among the race-baiters and haters of Israel that Israel is an “apartheid” state. Apartheid had physical facial and skin color characteristics for separations of peoples, akin only to the then recently dismantled Nazi regime.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a formal statement (located on their website) rebutting the continued accusation that Israel is apartheid. An accusation with such support that anti-Israel, weeklong college campus events called “Israel-Apartheid Week” occur annually across America and Canada. (This year, it was virtual!)
In the ADL’s statement (The Anti-Defamation League):
The treatment of Arabs by the State of Israel cannot be compared in any way to the treatment of the black majority in South Africa under apartheid. There is no Israeli ideology, policy, or plan to segregate, persecute or mistreat the Arab population.
No such laws exist in Israel, which in its Declaration of Independence pledges to safeguard the equal rights of all citizens. Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to organize politically, the right to vote and the right to speak and publish freely. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis serve as members of Israel’s security forces, are elected to parliament and appointed to the country’s highest courts. They are afforded equal educational opportunities, and there are ongoing initiatives to further improve the economic standing of all of Israel’s minorities. These facts serve as a counter to the apartheid argument and demonstrate that Israel is committed to democratic principles and equal rights for all its citizens.
Moreover, Israel’s acceptance of a two-state solution as a desired outcome of decades of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations proves the accusations that
Israel’s goal is the persecution of Palestinians as patently false.
Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip do encounter hardships as a result of Israeli’s necessitated security policies. These include checkpoints to access into Israel, the security barrier, and other issues. However, these procedures and structures have been developed to promote security and thwart potential terrorist action, not to persecute or segregate. These practices are wholly legal. International law allows a sovereign country to take measures to protect itself and citizens from terrorism and attack.
In 2011 a New York Times op-ed South African Judge Richard Goldstone wrote that while there exists a degree of separation between Israeli Jews and Arabs, “In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute.”
A careful examination of the term as it was practiced in South Africa and the conditions in Israel today will also lead one to dismiss the analogy as categorically false.
But who is calling Israel apartheid? Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) activists on college campuses have beat this apartheid drum for years and have intersected themselves into other so-called social justice organizations trying to tie the plights of other groups and identities to Israel—being either Israel’s fault or Israel being yet the latest example of said injustices. The UN also espouses this connection as so many politicians and activists worldwide.
When South Africans (black and white) themselves—who lived through it and fought against it—have visited Israel, they say the claim of Israel being an apartheid state is simply untrue. But these folks are often ignored or even condemned.
In July 2020, Rabbi Warren Goldstein recently wrote, “Israel Does Not Practice Apartheid” first published in The Daily Maverick. Rabbi Goldstein had a public conversation with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng (a black, South African justice who was himself an activist in taking down apartheid). In this discussion hosted by The Jerusalem Post, the two were talking about how to overcome the formidable challenge of racism, with a focus on how to address it at root. The discussion drifted to the topic of Israel.
The chief justice expressed his view that the African National Congress (ANC) government’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was misguided; that in taking a one-sided approach to the conflict, ostracizing Israel, and failing to take into account the complexities of the conflict: “We are denying ourselves a wonderful opportunity of being game-changers in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”
The rabbi found these remarks to be quite judicious and fair-minded. Completely appropriate for a man of justice! Nevertheless, to the Rabbi’s surprise, the ANC released a statement condemning this position, for “entering the arena of political commentary” and for “supporting Israel.” This statement then unleashed a media firestorm. Op-eds accused Justice Mogoeng of “judicial overreach,” of having “failed to recognize that Palestinians also have human rights,” of supporting “a modern-day colonial genocide.” (None of which is accurate of either the Justice or Israel).
Incredibly, one writer even accused the chief justice—who himself is a stalwart of the Black Consciousness Movement and veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle from his high school days—of being “oblivious to the black rights movement.” A complaint was lodged with South Africa’s Judicial Service Commission. Moreover, the ANC has now urged the Speaker of Parliament to hold “high-level talks” with Justice Mogoeng regarding his political views.
Rabbi Goldstein went on in his article to enumerate the difference between Israel and the still-healing South Africa:
The fact is Israel is the only free democracy in the Middle East. Within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel currently exist 1.8 million Muslim and Christian citizens who are the equal of their Jewish compatriots in every conceivable way. They participate side by side in elections as part of one voter role and hold high-ranking positions throughout the various levels of Israeli government, including Parliament and the Supreme Court. They serve in law enforcement and even in the army. There are none and have never been separate facilities for Jews and Israeli Palestinians; all across Israel, schools and universities, benches and beaches, buses and hospitals, are unsegregated in any way, and every Israeli citizen, no matter their ethnic or religious origin, has complete and full legal rights.
Israel has none of the apartheid legislative machinery designed to discriminate against and separate people. It has no Population and Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, or any other of the myriad apartheid laws. On the contrary – Israel is a vibrant, liberal democracy, with the kind of imperfections you will find in any free society, nevertheless according full political, civil, and other human rights to all.
Numerous judges are cited in the article (from South Africa and elsewhere) for espousing their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel—so clearly judges have political opinions and have been publicly sharing them without chastisement.
Rabbi Goldstein goes on:
South Africans deserve to hear both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, with savage attacks like those on Chief Justice Mogoeng, and the ceaseless efforts of various organizations and lobby groups to silence dissenting voices and to shut down the debate altogether, many aren’t. Consider for a moment how extreme this is. The chief justice did not even express support for the policies or actions of the State of Israel. All he said was that we need a more balanced approach, and that the South African government should be engaging with both sides to make peace.
Free speech is an essential element for political freedom and discourse to identify problems and solve them.
Let us keep our leaders from all nations in our prayers and pray for truth to be revealed from every office, college quad, zoom screen, street corner, TV studio, courtroom, legislative hall, executive office, radio frequency, pod cast, and social media post.
Israel is not apartheid. And it doesn’t take much of a study to prove it. So when you hear it, dispute it—no matter who is trying to bamboozle you.
Shavua Tov. Have a great week.