Labelling Israel as an apartheid state is not only lamentable but also central to the tenets of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. This movement has employed the comparison to South African apartheid to such an extent that it has become the de facto language of anti-Israel activism.
The accusation against Israel is a serious one, and if it is found to be valid, then the country should be subject to censure, boycotts, and isolation, as called for by the B.D.S. movement. However, simply proclaiming it repeatedly, as the movement does, does not make it true. This is the reason why the analogy to apartheid lacks validity.
Contrasting Israel’s Political, Social and Legal Systems with Apartheid South Africa
Unravelling the Historical and Contemporary Differences
Apartheid in South Africa denied voting rights and citizenship to black South Africans, despite their majority status in the country. In contrast, in Israel, while Jews constitute the majority, the Arab minority holds full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.
Apartheid in South Africa entrenched privilege for the white minority, relegating people of color to subservient roles and regulating various aspects of their lives, including education, employment, residence, healthcare access, marriage, and even public seating arrangements, subjecting them to arrest for choosing certain park benches or for transgressing the “pass laws”.
Examining Governance, Equality, and Rights
The differences between Israeli Arabs and nonwhite South Africans during the apartheid era become apparent within “Israel proper,” where Israeli Arabs make up 21% of the population and have full citizenship rights, including the right to vote. Israeli Arabs also hold prominent positions such as judge on the Supreme Court, head of surgery in a leading hospital, and heads of university departments. Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses, both secular and religious, work together to provide equal care to Jewish and Arab patients in hospitals and clinics, which contrasts with the segregation enforced during the apartheid era. The present government has committed billions of dollars to improve Arab living conditions and education, although it has not yet fulfilled a substantial portion of this commitment.
The “Occupiers” Narrative
Dissecting Accusations and Clarifying the Complexities
Another erroneous accusation against Israel to bolster the Apartheid narrative is the term “occupiers.” The West Bank is frequently labeled as “occupied” territory, but a more precise term, according to the Israeli government, is “disputed” territory. The distinction arises from the fact that the West Bank had no legitimate sovereign prior to Israel’s control, as it was unlawfully occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967. Israel gained control of the territory in a war of self-defense during the 1967 conflict when Jordan attacked despite prior warnings. UN Security Council Resolution 242 recognized Israel’s entitlement to claim at least part of the territories won in 1967 for new defensible borders. Israel’s legal claim to the land dates back to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and subsequent international agreements, making the term “annexation” or occupiers inaccurate, as Israel already holds sovereign claims over the territory.
The Oslo Accords: A Step Towards Peace
A Framework for Peace or Persistent Controversy?
The Oslo Accords, inked by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, represented a significant step toward peace in the Middle East, particularly post the 1991 Gulf War. The formal ceremony in Washington, featuring Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat shaking hands, included the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (DOP) and Letters of Mutual Recognition.
Key components involved Israel committing to withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, recognizing Palestinian self-government under a Palestinian Authority, and establishing a 5-year interim period for negotiating a permanent peace settlement.
Evaluating the Impact on Israeli-Palestinian Relations
The Oslo Accord accomplishments included the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority with a democratically elected Council, the legitimization of the PLO’s international status, and Israeli troop redeployment from Gaza, Jericho, and West Bank cities.
Despite challenges and the ultimate failure of the Oslo process, it underscores Israel’s willingness to engage in negotiations for the reconciliation of the Palestinian people—a contrast to the oppressive post-1994 South African government.
Israel’s Actions in the West Bank: A Source of Criticism
Navigating the Challenges of Security and Sovereignty
Without a doubt, Israel exposes itself to criticism for its actions in the West Bank. Its transgressions and the undermining of the two-state solution through settlement-building provide ample ammunition for critics. The so-called “apartheid wall” by the B.D.S. movement—largely a wire fence, except in populated areas—was erected between Israel and the West Bank for security reasons, primarily to deter potential suicide bombers.
Exploring the Criticisms and the Israeli Perspective
Unfortunately, during its construction, the wall also became a tool for enclosing and seizing additional West Bank Palestinian land. While this was regrettable and opportunistic, it is unrelated to apartheid-style racial segregation. The right and measures to defend herself against people who are unwilling and resistant has been harsh and unpleasant, no doubt. But there is none of the institutionalised racism, the intentionality, that underpinned apartheid in South Africa.
The B.D.S. Movement: Why the Apartheid Label?
Analyzing the Motivations Behind the B.D.S. Movement
So why does the B.D.S. movement insist otherwise? Founded by Palestinians in 2005, the movement has spread internationally and is now embraced by a heterogeneous alliance of Muslims, Christians, anti-Zionist Jews, right-wingers and left-wingers.
Anti-Semitism is evident among certain B.D.S. supporters. Even in Israel, some on the left go along with the apartheid accusation out of despair at being unable to end the occupation or halt the country’s move toward right-wing extremism.
Comparing Historical Contexts and Applying Lessons Learned
The movement points to the boycotts it says brought down apartheid, and argues that this is the way to attack Israel. That belief is a simplistic, mistaken absurdity.
The Role of Boycotts and the End of the Cold War
Unravelling the Intersection of Politics and Activism
While boycotts were certainly important, they were not as decisive as B.D.S. supporters claim. A combination of factors pressured white South Africa into surrendering power. The most significant was the end of the Cold War, which meant that while black liberation movements lost Soviet support, whites lost the crucial backing of their anti-Communist Western patrons.
Examining the Global Dynamics that Shaped Boycott Movements
During the yearslong struggle for freedom in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), now in government, refrained from violence against white civilians, with very few exceptions. This was, in large part, a strategic decision to avoid scaring whites into a refusal to yield power. Suicide bombings, murders by ramming pedestrians with vehicles, unprovoked rockets firing into civilian territories never happened in South Africa. Yet Israel has had them aplenty.
Security concerns have dictated Israel’s precautions and responses, not an ideology of apartheid racism.
The B.D.S. Movement’s Deceptive Demand
Debunking Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding B.D.S.
The most deceptive of the B.D.S. movement’s demands is for the return of Palestinians who fled Israel or were chased out at gunpoint, mostly in the 1948 war. This “right of return” seems reasonable and just, but relatively few people realize that — uniquely among the world’s 65 million refugees — the Palestinians’ descendants are defined as refugees. The original 750,000 Palestinian refugees now number six million to seven million. A mass return would destroy Israel as a Jewish state, which is the whole purpose of its existence.
South African Apartheid vs. Israel
Distinguishing Between Historical Analogies and Current Realities
South African apartheid rigidly enforced racial laws. Israel is not remotely comparable. Yet the members of the B.D.S. movement are not stupid. For them to propagate this analogy in the name of human rights is cynical and manipulative. It reveals their true attitude toward Jews and the Jewish state. Their aims would eliminate Israel. That is what’s at stake when we allow the apartheid comparison.
In conclusion, the comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa is a misleading narrative propagated by the B.D.S. movement. The movement’s demand for the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which now number in the millions, threatens the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
While Israel is not immune to criticism, particularly for its actions in the West Bank, it is crucial to distinguish between security measures and apartheid-style racial segregation. The analogy to apartheid South Africa, which rigidly enforced racial laws, is not applicable to Israel.
The propagation of this analogy by the B.D.S. movement reveals a cynical and manipulative attitude towards Jews and the Jewish state, with an ultimate aim that would result in the elimination of Israel. Recognizing the stakes involved in this comparison is essential for a balanced and fair discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a reminder that the path to peace and reconciliation is complex and requires a nuanced understanding that goes beyond simplistic and erroneous comparisons.