As Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) sweeps university campuses across Canada, well-intentioned students who want to make a positive difference in the world are led astray by the political machinations of the anti-Israel movement. IAW promotes itself as a campaign for Palestinian rights, but its real goal is to harm Israel through the spread of disinformation and the encouragement of enmity towards the Jewish state. How many other countries in the world suffer through a dedicated week, or for that matter even a dedicated day, of targeted and disproportionate condemnation? How many other countries in the world suffer through patently false accusations of some of the worst atrocities known to mankind by groups whose sole purpose is to perpetuate these false accusations?
Two of the most egregious lies spread by IAW and its supporters are that Israel is an apartheid state and that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people. In this two-part article I will deconstruct each of these myths, beginning here with the myth of Israeli apartheid.
“Apartheid” refers to the legally-entrenched system of racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Implemented by the minority population of white European colonists, apartheid laws denied fundamental rights from the indigenous people of colour and subjected them to severe discrimination. Despite being a majority population, black people under apartheid did not have freedom of movement, speech, or assembly, could not vote, could only live in designated areas, and had to use separate amenities from the white population. Those who non-violently protested the regime were often subject to imprisonment or even death.
The situation in Israel is incomparable to the horrors of apartheid. Israel is the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that ensures equal rights for women, members of the LGBT community, and religious and ethnic minorities. Its legal system upholds equality, universal suffrage, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from discrimination for all of its citizens, including the 1.7 million Arabs who make up a fifth of Israel’s population. Many Israeli Arabs serve in high-ranking positions in the government, military, and judiciary, and Arab politicians are often the government’s harshest critics. Arabs in Israel have more freedom, higher standards of living, and higher rates of education than in any other country in the Middle East. As well, contrary to Western stereotype, Jews are not categorically “white” and “European” – the Jewish diaspora stretches across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and more than half of Israel’s Jewish population is descended from these areas. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel and have had a continuous presence there for at least 3000 years.
The people in the Palestinian territories are governed by Palestinians: Gaza is governed by the terrorist group Hamas, and the West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority. These two governments have deprived their own people of many fundamental civil rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equality rights for women and gays. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank cannot criticize their governments or speak favourably about Israel without fear of imprisonment, and journalists in these areas who seek to do either are frequently threatened and silenced. Women and non-Muslim Palestinians are oppressed, and gays face imprisonment, torture, or hanging. Israel, which has no presence in Gaza and only a limited presence in the West Bank, has nothing to do with the denial of these rights – the blame falls squarely on Palestinian leaders.
Israel has tried on numerous occasions to establish peace with the Palestinians and end the conflict. In 2000, 2001, and 2008, Israel made increasingly accommodating peace offers to establish a sovereign Palestinian state in all of Gaza and nearly all of the West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem and a $30 billion fund to compensate Palestinian refugees. In return, Israel asked that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and cease hostilities against it. Palestinian leaders rejected all three offers for statehood. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in an effort to move towards peace; since then, the terrorist group Hamas has taken over Gaza and has launched over 14,000 rockets at Israeli civilians. The rejection of peace by Palestinian leadership and the continuing terrorism against Israel are the primary barriers to peace and are the reasons for Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank. Measures such as checkpoints and the security fence are not intended to create separation by race or religion – they are security measures intended to prevent terrorists from murdering innocent Israeli civilians.
Israel’s pluralistic and democratic society, its provision of equal rights to all of its citizens, and its good faith attempts to give Palestinians sovereign statehood and definitively disproves the apartheid myth. Of course, Israel is not a perfect country, and discrimination and unfairness exist there just as they exist in Canada, the United States, and every other country in the world. For example, Arabs in Israel are substantially overrepresented in the lowest quintile of household income, are underrepresented in the government, and have both lower life expectancies and higher mortality rates than the Jewish population. These are legitimate and pressing concerns, and Israel should rightly be criticized for these and other issues which reflect the gap between equality at law and substantive equality. However, the labelling of Israel as an apartheid state is plainly inaccurate and crosses the line from legitimate criticism to outright slander. By making the false and egregious claim of Israeli apartheid, IAW engages in disproportionate condemnation of Israel, which raises red flags about anti-Semitism and, at the very least, seriously calls the campaign’s alleged “social justice” motives into question. Not only is the apartheid myth offensive to Israelis and world Jewry, but it also demeans the suffering of the South Africans of colour who endured actual apartheid.