Lie that won’t die: Israel practises ‘apartheid’

In drawing a direct comparison with South Africa, the goal is to delegitimise Israel and the concept of Jewish sovereign equality, says Gerald Steinberg


A protestor carries a sign during a demonstration by Palestinian, Israeli and foreign protesters against the newly-opened Route 4370, on January 23, 2019, in the occupied West Bank. - The highway into Jerusalem divides Israeli and Palestinian drivers into separate lanes with a wall, leading Palestinians to label it an "apartheid road". Its western side serves Palestinians, who cannot enter Jerusalem, whereas the roads eastern side serves settlers, who can now reach northern Jerusalem. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP) (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

April 29, 2021 11:14

One of the most potent means of vilifying Israel is through the use (and abuse) of the “racism” and “apartheid” labels. In 1975, the Soviet and Arab blocs in the UN sponsored the notorious resolution branding Zionism as racism, and the campaigns have continued in waves since then. In 2001, the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban conference, ostensibly set up by the UN to support anti-racism, picked up the theme in the form of an action plan to promote the “complete isolation of Israel as an apartheid state”.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose Executive Director, Ken Roth, has a long-standing obsession with Israel, played a central role in Durban and in implementing the strategy though frequent publications, campaigns, and social media posts in the subsequent 20 years.

This week, they published a 223-page “report” under the heading “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”. To make sure that the label resonates, they made 200 references to the word “apartheid”, approximately one per page. They held press conferences and were interviewed widely by journalists. With a budget of over $90 million and a major PR operation, they gained a great deal of favourable coverage, repeating the “Israel apartheid” message.

The report, for those who actually read it, consisted of a chaotic mix of allegations, distortions and falsehoods, many copied from other NGOs, criticising everything from “discriminatory settlements” to the essence of Israel’s existence as the nation state of the Jewish people. The 1950 Law of Return, enacted in the shadow of the Holocaust, was condemned, as were counter-terror measures which, the authors claimed (without foundation), were used “to advance demographic objectives” without “legitimate security justifications.” The accusations were facilitated by the complete absence of any reference to the thousands of victims of Palestinian terror — as if Israeli Jews were not entitled to human rights or security.

In drawing a direct comparison with South Africa, the goal is to delegitimise Israel and the concept of Jewish sovereign equality. The South African regime was characterised by cruel and systematic institutionalised dehumanisation, while Israel’s non-Jewish citizens have full rights. But in the delegitimisation process, these basic facts are ignored.

In parallel, the exploitation of the “apartheid” image dismisses the suffering of the actual victims of apartheid. Richard Goldstone, appointed by Nelson Mandela to the South African Constitutional Court, wrote: “In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute...It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel.”

This propaganda which, not coincidentally, reinforces the decision of the International Criminal Court prosecutor to open “war crimes investigations” against Israelis, does not stop with glossy publications and quickly-forgotten social media posts. The anti-Zionism expressed in the apartheid theme is often mixed with and expressed through other forms of antisemitism, as seen in the controversies over Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, and in many university hate incidents.

In the HRW report, the perpetrators will find additional justification.

Furthermore, the drum beat of demonisation leads to intimidation of Jews, now common on university campuses, as well as attacks on synagogues and Jewish institutions around the world. The perpetrators often declare their objective to be “defending Palestine” or taking revenge for the supposedly evil acts committed by the Zionists, as in the case of Mohammed Merah’s 2012 massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

In the UK, the frequency and intensity of antisemitic attacks are also closely linked to the portrayal of Israel as immoral. Reinforcing and spreading the link between Israel and apartheid adds to the motivation for attacks among those who claim to support Palestinians.

For all of these reasons, the working definition of antisemtism, composed after the Durban conference and adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016, is of particular importance. According to the IHRA, “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” is a manifestation of antisemitism, as is “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” and “applying double standards”. Whether or not one supports or opposes specific Israeli policies, the most effective means of countering apartheid vilification is to confront the immorality of demonising Israel.

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University, and heads the Institute for NGO Research in Jerusalem

April 29, 2021 11:14

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