On January 11, 2021, The San Diego Union-Tribune covered a report from an alleged “leading human rights group”, B’Tselem. This report asserts that the state of Israel is guilty of “apartheid.” For those who might not be aware, apartheid is defined by the International Criminal Court as an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” The term finds its origins in a series of segregationist policies enforced in South Africa from 1948 – 1990. These laws mandated Black South Africans to use separate, often inferior facilities like public restrooms, public transport, beaches, schools, et cetera.
B’Tselem claims that a comparable system of inequality exists between Arabs and Jews, both within Israel proper and the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza. This is simply false. To come to this conclusion, B’Tselem makes several factual errors and glaring omissions regarding Israel’s citizenship and immigration policies. This article will outline important counterclaims by senior research analyst Gilead Ini of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting & Analysis.(CAMERA).
Firstly, B’Tselem chooses to compare the rights of Israeli citizens and non-citizens as if these categories are synonymous with the ethnic categories of Jew and Arab – a fundamental mistake when one considers that Israel is home to nearly two million Israeli-Arabs along with many other ethno-religious minorities who are afforded equal rights under the law.
As CAMERA senior research analyst Gilead Ini points out, “In Israel, Jewish and Arab citizens can vote in national elections. Non-citizens can’t. Jewish and Arab citizens can freely enter their country. Non-citizens are regulated. Jewish and Arab citizens have Israeli passports. Non-citizens don’t. Not exactly foundations of apartheid, although B’Tselem holds them up as such.” Israeli citizens include Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims, living and working side by side. During my visit to Israel. I saw signs written in English, Hebrew, and Arabic everywhere, witnessed Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs shopping in the same supermarkets, living in the same neighborhoods, and utilizing the same public transport.
B’Tselem leaves out the fact that Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of Israel. They are governed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, respectively, and live within Palestinian, not Israeli, civil society. If B’Tselem takes issue with the quality of life and human rights of Palestinians, they need to direct their concerns to Palestinian leadership, not Israel. Furthermore, Israel’s measures to require proper identification and regulated entry are not discriminatory. They are a standard measure of any country to protect their residents.
Secondly, B’Tselem claims that Israel’s preferential immigration rights to Jews abroad is unjust, a highly selective argument that ignores how common it is for countries to grant preferential immigration and citizenship privileges to their own kin. CAMERA senior research analyst Gilead Ini cites the work of Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein, who point out that “It is a recognized European norm that a nation-state can maintain official ties with its ‘kin’ outside its borders and treat them preferentially in certain areas, including immigration and naturalization”. Put simply, B’Tselem attempts to hold the State of Israel to a double standard. Finally, it goes without saying that such a policy has no effect on the rights of Israeli citizens. As Ini argues, “B’Tselem wants to show us that Israel is guilty of ‘Jewish supremacy.’ What it actually shows us is that B’Tselem effectively denies Israel’s right to exist as a haven for Jews.”
B’Tselem’s inaccurate portrayal of Israel sparks antisemitsm because of the ignorant comparison between Israel, Jews’ safe haven, and apartheid South Africa. Moreover, Americans reading such a report might believe that Israel (and by extension Jews in the United States who support Israel) are responsible, or support of human suffering, which is clearly not the case. Moreover, when a “leading human rights group” pushes a deceptive narrative accusing Israel of institutional “Jewish supremacy” and “racism,” one can expect anti-Semites from both extremes of the political spectrum to justify their hateful message with such fallacious arguments.
I encourage all students to be skeptical and open-minded, because even a “leading human rights group” can blatantly lie to support an agenda that not only promotes ignorance and inaccurate reporting, but hate as well.
Originally published in San Diego Jewish World.
Contributed by 2020-2021 University of California – San Diego CAMERA Fellow Benjamin Zaghi.