Palestinian students perform in a play against Israel’s separation barrier at the Arab American University in the West Bank.
What’s all the fuss about? Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken the truth. He did so, first, in warning about apartheid. It does not exist at present: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a tyranny, and that’s serious — but there is none of the planned institutionalized racism, which is what “apartheid” means. However, if the occupation continues, or if Israel annexes areas of the West Bank, and if Palestinians remain as “second-class citizens” (as Kerry rightly puts it), then the apartheid label will be relevant.
In responding to the criticisms flung against him, Kerry said that Israel today is not apartheid. Again, he is correct. Within Israel proper, inside the Green Line, Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights; they do suffer discrimination — but it is nothing remotely like South African apartheid. Anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest.
If Kerry speaks such truth, why is he so condemned and told to apologize to Israel, and even to resign? Some of it no doubt comes from those who fear that his peace initiative might actually, against the odds, result in the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and they are desperate to cut him down. Other detractors are in denial: They cannot face the fact that Israel could slide into apartheid; they deceive themselves into believing that settlement expansion and the oppression of Palestinians can go on forever without any price to pay. The danger of Israel becoming an apartheid state is real and must be confronted. Instead of abusing Kerry, better to thank him for caring and for sounding the alarm.
Benjamin Pogrund is a South African-born journalist who lives in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel,” is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in July.
As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, I clearly remember the myriad daily humiliation and discrimination imposed upon black South Africans. I went to a privileged white school where no black pupils were allowed. Instead, black children were forced to attend atrocious township schools, where they received an inferior education. I visited sick friends and family in the Johannesburg General Hospital, where “whites only” were treated with affordable and excellent medical care. No black patients were allowed. Instead, they were sent to overcrowded hospitals with low-level facilities and given low-level care. I remember clearly park benches and public toilets reserved for white people, and traveling to university on white-only buses. Black people had to carry passes to enter so-called white areas. The discrimination was institutionalized, pervasive in every part of our daily lives. Transgressors were penalized and often jailed.
How different is the situation in Israel? During my frequent visits to that country, I have visited my sister-in-law in Hadassah Hospital in a ward with Jewish and Arab women. I have fetched friends’ children from school and seen the diverse make-up, with Jewish and Arab children laughing together as they left the building. I have seen integrated buses, parks, universities, restaurants and workplaces, and engaged with senior Arab leaders in the political arena and in civil administration.
It is difficult for me to understand how a comparison can be made between a model of discrimination manifesting in every facet of South African life under apartheid and a country with entrenched equality — politically, legally and in every sphere of life. Discrimination, mandatory in South Africa, is illegal in Israel.
Yes, Israel has its problems and challenges, but to label it as an apartheid state shows a lack of understanding of — and indeed has the effect of belittling — the true evil of apartheid that we remember too well in South Africa.
Wendy Kahn is the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
Palestinian protesters near Israel’s separation wall in 2013 / Getty Images
After getting verbally pistol-whipped for merely suggesting that Israel was sliding head first down the slippery slope to apartheid, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly realized that Israel can’t handle the truth. He backpedaled so fast, he broke Lance Armstrong’s record.
While Kerry took back his insinuation that Israel could end up on the dark side known as apartheid, others in the know would argue it is already there. Major players who lived through apartheid say that today’s Israel is a mirror image of South Africa back in the day. It’s not just the late Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who have used the analogy, but also white South African politicians who served during that time. When both the oppressed and oppressors can agree, and Jimmy Carter bears witness, it is hard to deny that it is apartheid.
The following items appeared in the Israeli media this month: Superland, an amusement park outside Tel Aviv, makes a policy of reserving separate days for Israeli Arab high school classes and separate ones for Israeli Jewish classes. A Jewish community pool in the Negev refused to admit a group of Bedouin children with cancer because, in the words of the manager, the patrons have a problem with that “sector.” In a hidden-camera investigation by Channel 10 news, branches of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, refused to allow three out of five Israeli Arab customers to transfer their accounts to a branch in a predominantly Jewish area, while routinely allowing all the Jewish customers to do so.
I have to admit, I am surprised. I didn’t think it was this bad.
I didn’t think the racist practices against Arabs in Israel — not Palestinians in the West Bank, but people who live in “Israel proper” as citizens — were so deeply entrenched. Unless I’m extremely mistaken, this sort of thing doesn’t, couldn’t, go on in the United States, or Canada, or other Western countries that Israel likes to think of as its peers in the democratic world.
No doubt a lot of Jews would say: Israelis have a long history of terror and hatred from Arabs, what do you expect? In return I would say: Arabs have a long history of violent subjugation and hatred from Jews, what do you expect?
But let’s put that duel aside and keep in mind who we’re talking about: Bedouin kids with cancer. Arab youngsters wishing to go to an amusement park. Random Arab adults trying to switch their bank accounts.
Forward columnist Philologos recently took the Israeli daily Ha’aretz to task for using the term “apartheid” in its reporting on a poll that showed most Israelis support discrimination against Arab citizens. “Apartheid” and mere discrimination are two very different things, Philologos claimed. He suggested that Ha’aretz should be censured for using such a damning epithet.
Philologos went on to define what he sees the critical difference between “apartheid” and “discrimination.” The former refers to “the systematic segregation of one people, race or group from another,” while the latter means “the systematic favoring of one people, race or group over another, such as exists in numerous countries around the world today.” And while Israel may practice regrettable discrimination against its Arab citizens, he claimed it was a “lie” to suggest that it is in any way an apartheid state.
While Philologos may be a fine linguist, his knowledge of international human rights law is sorely lacking.
Contrary to Philologos’ characterization, the term “apartheid” does not refer simply to segregation, although the term comes from a word in the South African Afrikaans language that means separate-ness or segregation. In legal terms, apartheid applies to a wide range of acts in which a dominant racial regime commits institutionalized oppression against another ethnic group.
Myriad hypotheses have been floated already about what compelled Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith to write the New York Times op-ed that shot around the globe this week.
Smith’s broadside against Goldman’s “toxic and destructive” culture has been depicted as the ranting of a disgruntled employee, the “objection of the underclass of younger bankers and traders stymied by a lack of career mobility” and a sure sign of an impending midlife crisis.
But what if Smith, a South African Jew, was simply continuing a South African Jewish tradition of speaking truth to power?
Tony Karon, of Time magazine, has spent years as an outspoken critic of Israeli policy. Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s controversial book on Israel’s military cooperation with apartheid-era South Africa caused a few red faces in Jerusalem in 2010. Next week, as he gins up publicity for the release of his book, Peter Beinart will launch another attack on the American-Jewish establishment for fueling disillusionment with Israel among young, Jewish liberals.
This is the week that wasn’t — at least if you planned on attending the colloquium “New sociological, historical and legal approaches to the call for an international boycott: Is Israel an apartheid state?” Scheduled to take place on February 27 and 28 at the University of Paris VIII, the colloquium was quashed last week by Pascal Binczak, the university rector. Needless to say, Binczak’s decision, no less than the colloquium itself, have spurred tremendous controversy.
From the outset, the colloquium was less than colloquial. The conference poster depicts an Arab wearing a keffiyeh, walking along the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank. Superimposed on the wall is the colloquium’s title — the sort of framing that transformed the question “Is Israel an apartheid state?” into a rhetorical exercise. One need only imagine a poster with the title “Is Hamas a reliable interlocutor for Israel?” superimposed on the image of a terror-filled, blood-stained and body-strewn street in Tel Aviv, to understand that in neither case is a true exchange of views sought.
Moreover, the titles for the colloquium’s various panels — ranging from “Spatial Apartheid in the Occupied Zones” to “State of Discrimination in Israel” and “The Civil Administration of Apartheid” — seemed to promise declamation rather than dialogue. The same applies to the participants, most of whom are active participants in the boycott campaign or pro-Palestinian movements in France or other European countries, some of whom viewed the colloquium as a platform to demand the exclusion of Israelis from academic conferences held in Europe.