Why Israel is Not an Apartheid State

If the UN truly cared about Palestinians, it would realize that accusing Israel of apartheid is not only false, but counterproductive

If Israel is an apartheid state, then why can you find Jews and Arabs happily shopping in the same markets?
If Israel is an apartheid state, then why can you find Jews and Arabs happily shopping in the same markets? Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90

As a resident of the State of Israel since 2009, I was always proud of the fact that Israel is a democratic state, a nation that respects every person regardless of their faith, gender or ethnic origin. As a journalist, I went on a tour of Wolfson Hospital, where I witnessed Palestinian doctors working side-by-side with Israeli doctors, together trying to save lives. As a Jewish MA student, I did my masters thesis at Ben-Gurion University under a Bedouin professor. And at the Economic Peace Center, I work beside Ayoob Kara, who is Druze and served as Netanyahu’s communication, satellite and cyber minister.

But in recent days, some have turned a blind eye to this reality. UN legal expert Michael Lynk told the Human Rights Council in Geneva: “The United Nations must hold Israel responsible for the crime of apartheid against Palestinians. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the international community accepts and adopts the findings … that apartheid is being practiced by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and beyond.” Such statements are out of sync with the reality here.

Last Friday, a group of Israeli and Palestinian women met together at the Dead Sea in order to call upon the leaderships of both sides to return to the negotiating table and to make peace with one another. The Israeli women were represented by an organization called Women Wage Peace, a grassroots organization with 50,000 registered members. The Palestinian women were represented by a group called Women of the Sun, which was founded last July and includes women from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. So far, 1,000 Palestinian women have registered to be part of this organization.

“We believe that the majority of the people of our nations share our mutual desire. Therefore, we demand that our leaders listen to our call and promptly begin peace talks and negotiations, with resolute commitment to achieving a political solution to the long and painful conflict, within a limited time frame,” the women proclaimed in their platform. Neither of these organizations refer to Israel as an apartheid state, as they understand that doing so will not bring about a solution to the conflict. Rather, they are calling for peace and reconciliation on a people-to-people level.

If the UN truly cared about Palestinians, they would offer both Women of the Sun and Women Wage Peace financial assistance in pursing all of their programs aimed at peaceful reconciliation between both sides. But instead of doing that, they issue a report calling Israel an apartheid state, which does the exact opposite of promoting peaceful reconciliation. Recently, NGO Monitor, a research institute in Jerusalem, wrote a legal rebuttal to anyone that claims that Israel is an apartheid state. Co-authored by legal experts Anne Herzberg of NGO Monitor and Joshua Kern of 9 Bedford Row, the report titled “The New Orientalism: Deconstructing claims of apartheid in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, examines specific allegations made by those alleging that Israel as an apartheid state.

According to the report, the fact that there are separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank is a security measure that is not based upon racial discrimination, as neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli people constitute separate races. There are Palestinians, like Yasser Arafat’s wife, with light skin, blond hair and blue eyes. There are also black Ethiopian Israelis, such as Israel’s current Minister of Absorption Pnino Tamano Shata. Thus, the existence of separate roads was initiated alongside the Security Barrier in order to stop suicide bombers from infiltrating into the State of Israel. The suicide bombings of the Second Intifada claimed 1,000 Israeli lives. Thus, the Security Barrier, the roadblocks and separate roads had nothing to do with race.

The report also noted that whenever the security threat subsides, roadblocks are removed and actions are taken to ease the freedom of movement of the Palestinian population. Furthermore, even when things are tense, Palestinians are given the right to challenge the route of the Security Barrier in Israel’s Supreme Court. In many cases, the Security Barrier was re-routed to make life easier for Palestinian civilians. Israel also grants more work permits for Palestinians inside Israel when the security threats subside. Thus, these measures are just for security purposes and the Palestinian people have the ability to ease these measures by ceasing efforts to terrorize Israelis.

The reports stresses, as the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, that an apartheid regime “is a grievous crime which contravenes the fundamental tenets of the Israeli legal system, international human rights laws and the provisions of international criminal law.” The NGO Monitor report claims that an apartheid regime “is a regime of racial separation and discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, which is based on a number of discriminatory practices designed to engender supremacy of the members of one race and to oppress members of other races.”

NGO Monitor also pointed out that there is such a “great distance between the security measures taken by the state of Israel in defending against terrorism and the unacceptable practices of the apartheid regime” that any comparison between the two is unwarranted: “Not every distinction between people under any circumstances necessarily constitutes a wrongful discrimination, and not every wrongful discrimination constitutes apartheid.”

NGO Monitor emphasizes that those who claim that Israel is an apartheid state are not just critical of Israeli policy. In fact, they consider the Nation-State Law, the Law of Return and other acts that express Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state to be illegitimate. However, contrary to such claims, there is no fundamental incompatibility between Israel being a Jewish and democratic state that provides equality for all its citizens.

As the report notes, “Minorities exist in many democratic nation-states, but in almost all cases, while minority rights are taken into account, the culture and identity of the majority determines the State’s character. Israel, the Jewish State, has a Jewish character that is expressed in the Hebrew language, emblems and symbols of the country (such as the Menorah and the Star of David), the official day of rest (Shabbat), and public holidays (such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Christian symbols such as the cross appears on the national flags of Australia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. The flags of many Muslim countries (e.g. Algeria, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Tunisia) contain Islamic symbols such as the color green and the crescent moon. The Saudi flag includes the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith. The existence of such symbols does not reflect Islamic “domination or racial supremacy.”

According to the report, “All the Arab states in the Middle East are ‘Arab’ by virtue of their membership in the League of Arab States. Syria is the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’; Algeria is an ‘Arab country’; Morocco is part of the ‘greater Arab Maghreb.’ The Palestinian Declaration of Independence states: ‘The State of Palestine is an Arab state, an integral and indivisible part of the Arab nation, at one with that nation in heritage and civilization.’ Islam is the state religion, and Arab states have an official Muslim character. Western democracies are also legally designated as having an ‘official,’ ‘established,’ or ‘state’ Church. India retains characteristics and symbols of Hinduism. Tibetan identity is connected to Buddhism.”

Regarding the Law of Return, NGO Monitor emphasized: “The Law of Return’s purpose is to rectify a historic wrong, and to safeguard against future wrongs committed against the Jewish people, who for centuries lived as a minority throughout the world and as such were persecuted, deported, destroyed, and unable to achieve national independence. These considerations of corrective justice ‘create a justified exception to the principle of equality.’ In Europe, Yakobson and Rubinstein note that is accepted that in relation to immigration and naturalization, a nation-State is permitted to maintain official ties with ‘kin’ outside its borders and treat them preferentially. For example, Germany in the 1950s expanded the right to automatic citizenship to all ethnic Germans from the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. In 1996, Finland amended its foreigners’ law to confer residency status on ethnic Finns who came to Finland from the Soviet Union. There is a distinction between ethnicity, national identity, and citizenship in the Constitutions of Poland, Ireland, and Armenia. China maintains institutionalized connections with its diaspora, as does South Korea.”

In addition, the report looks at the existing territorial and political divisions amongst Palestinians, demonstrating that this separation does not result from an Israeli policy of “domination” and “fragmentation,” but rather from geopolitical factors affecting the history of the conflict, such as Palestinian rejectionism for every offer of statehood, Jordanian and Egyptian control over the West Bank and Gaza respectively after Israel’s War of Independence, the Oslo Accords (mutually agreed to between Israel and the PLO and witnessed by the international community), and Palestinian political splits between the Fatah-governed West Bank and the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip. NGO Monitor emphasized that those who level the charge of apartheid against Israel fail to take Israel’s security situation, where the nation is surrounded by enemies like Hezbollah, Assad, Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas and Iran, under consideration.

Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s Legal Advisor and co-author of the report, notes, “Our analysis clearly demonstrates that there is no reasonable basis to support the NGO charges of apartheid against Israel. As last week’s ignorant remarks by Amnesty USA chief Paul O’Brien highlight, the ultimate goal of the NGO apartheid campaign is not to improve Israeli policy, but to eliminate the Jewish state. Nevertheless, every country across the globe struggles to protect the principle of equality and rooting out racial and other forms of discrimination. Israel is no exception and should take necessary measures to eliminate it where it exists.”

She added: “UNHRC Rapporteur Lynk’s latest report is not surprising. The UNHRC Rapporteur position for the Palestinians has a one-sided mandate where active demonization of Israel and promoting BDS is essentially a requirement for the job. Like his other reports, he has promoted the anti-Israel buzzword du jour – this time, apartheid. And like all his other reports, he provides a highly tendentious interpretation of international law, grossly misrepresents the facts, and employs antisemitic tropes.” In fact, the NGO Monitor report claims that the proponents of the apartheid label related to Israel are in reality neo-Orientalists, who deny any agency to the Palestinians and ignore the Jewish people’s history in the area since antiquity.

According to her, “Lynk’s apartheid charge relies on claims by PFLP-affiliated NGOs and the invented legal definition proffered in Amnesty International’s antisemitic report. He mixes up legal concepts and ignores any of the legal scholarship that refutes his claims, including the December 2021 report I co-authored and provided to him. In other words, rather than providing objective and impartial human rights reporting as required under UN standards, Lynk has authored yet another piece of political propaganda. Unfortunately, while his term is up in March and he will return to obscurity, the candidate slated to replace him will likely follow this same unprofessional path.”

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