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Human Rights in Israel:
Israel Is Not An Apartheid State

by Mitchell G. Bard


Human Rights: Table of Contents | Israel's Liberal Democracy | Myths & Facts


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Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa.

As David Ben-Gurion told Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934:

"We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland."
(Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War, London: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 140).

Since the UN Conference on Racism in August 2001, anti-Semites have tried to delegitimize Israel by calling it an apartheid state in the hope that this false equation will tarnish Israel's image and encourage sanctions and divestment of Israel.

The comparison, however, between Israel and apartheid South Africa is malicious and insults those who suffered under the real apartheid.

The term apartheid refers to official government policy of racial segregation that was formerly practiced in South Africa. Whites sought to dominate the non-white population, especially the indigenous blacks, and discriminated against people of color in the political, legal and economic sectors:

  • Whites and non-whites lived in separate regions of the country;
  • Non-whites were prohibited from running businesses or professional practices in white areas without permits;
  • Non-whites had separate amenities such as beaches, buses, schools, benches, drinking fountains, restrooms;
  • Non-whites received inferior education, medical care and other public services;
  • and, non-whites could not vote or become citizens.

Today, Jews are the majority within Israel, but the non-Jewish minority (Arab, Christians, Bedouin, Druze, Baha'i and others) enjoy full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government. Israel’s Declaration of Independence even specifically calls upon the Arab inhabitants of Israel to “participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” The Arab minority comprises 20% of Israel's population.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race and Arab citizens of Israel are represented in all walks of Israeli life. Arabs have served in senior diplomatic and government positions and an Arab - Salim Joubran - currently serves as a justice on the Supreme Court.

Israeli Arabs have their own political parties and representation in the KnessetArabs are also members of the major Israeli political parties.

In apartheid South Africa, laws dictated where Non-whites could live, work and travel and the government imprisoned, and sometimes killed, those who protested against these policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech and some of the government’s harshest critics are Arab Knesset members.

Arab students and professors study, research and teach freely at Israeli universities. At Haifa University, for example, approximately 20 percent of the students are Arabs.

Israeli society is not perfect - discrimination and unfairness exist there as it does in every other country. These differences, however, are nothing like the horrors of the apartheid system. Moreover, when inequalities are identified, minorities in Israel have the right to seek redress through the government and the courts, and progress toward equality has been made over the years.

The situation of Palestinians in the territories is different. Many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip openly refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist; by contrast, non-whites never sought the destruction of South Africa, only of the apartheid regime.

Unlike South Africa, where restrictions were totally racially motivated, Israel's restrictions in the territories - such as checkpoints and the security fence - was forced by incessant Palestinian terrorismIsrael has consistently demonstrated a willingness, however, to ease restrictions when violence subsides.

Meanwhile, Palestinians from the territories are allowed to work in Israel and receive similar pay and benefits to their Jewish counterparts. They are allowed to attend schools and universities. Palestinians have been given opportunities to run many of their own affairs. None of this was true for South African blacks.

Even such, 98% of the Palestinians in the territories are governed by the rules of the Palestinian Authority, which amazingly do not permit their own resident with freedoms of speech, religion, assembly or other rights taken for granted by Westerners and guaranteed in Israel.

The clearest refutation of the calumny against Israel comes from the Palestinians themselves - when asked what governments they admire most, more than 80 percent of Palestinians consistently choose Israel because they can see up close the thriving democracy in Israel, and the rights the Arab citizens enjoy there.


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