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Fact Sheets:
The Racist Accusation that Israel is an Apartheid State

(Updated November 2006)


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“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.”
David Ben-Gurion

Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the creation of a segregated society. 

Since the United Nations Conference on Racism in August of 2001, anti-Semites and racists have tried to delegitimize Israel by calling it an apartheid state. Their hope is that this false equation will tar Israel and encourage measures similar to those used against South Africa, such as sanctions and divestment, to be applied to Israel.

The comparison is malicious and insults the South Africans who suffered under apartheid.

The term “apartheid” refers to the official government policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in South Africa. The whites sought to dominate the nonwhite population, especially the indigenous black population, and discriminated against people of color in the political, legal, and economic sectors.

  • Whites and nonwhites lived in separate regions of the country.
  • Nonwhites were prohibited from running businesses or professional practices in the white areas without permits.
  • Nonwhites had separate amenities (i.e. beaches, buses, schools, benches, drinking fountains, restrooms).
  • Nonwhites received inferior education, medical care, and other public services.
  • Though they were the overwhelming majority of the population, nonwhites could not vote or become citizens.

By contrast, Israel’s Declaration of Independence called 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 156,000 Arabs within Israel’s borders in 1948 were given citizenship in the new State of Israel. Today, this Arab minority comprises 20% of the 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 currently serves on the Supreme Court.

Israeli Arabs have formed their own political parties and won representation in the Knesset. Arabs are also members of the major Israeli parties. Twelve non-Jews (10 Arabs, two Druze) are members of the Seventeenth Knesset.

Laws dictated where nonwhites could live, work, and travel in South Africa, and the government imprisoned and sometimes killed those who protested against its policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Some of the government’s harshest critics are Israeli Arabs in the Knesset.

Arab students and professors study, research, and teach at Israeli universities. At Haifa University, the target of British advocates of an academic boycott against Israel, 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. While many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dispute Israel’s right to exist, nonwhites did not seek the destruction of South Africa, only of the apartheid regime.

Unlike South Africa, where restrictions were racially motivated, Israel is forced by incessant Palestinian terrorism to take actions, such as building checkpoints and the security fence, to protect its citizens. Israel has consistently demonstrated a willingness, however, to ease restrictions when violence subsides.

Beyond limits placed on their ability to attack Israel, roughly 98% of the Palestinians in the territories are governed by the rules of the Palestinian Authority, which do not permit freedom of speech, religion, assembly or other rights taken for granted by Westerners — and guaranteed in Israel.

If Israel were to give Palestinians full citizenship, it would mean the territories had been annexed and the possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state foreclosed. No Israeli government has been prepared to take that step. Instead, Israel seeks a two-state solution predicated on a Palestinian willingness to live in peace.

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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